Embedding sustainable development across Government, after the Secretary of State's announcement on the future of the Sustainable Development Commission - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

Further written evidence submitted by the Sustainable Development Commission


  1. CESP focuses on supporting improvements in Government operations and procurement, advising departments how to meet the environmentally-focussed SOGE targets and the 10% carbon reduction commitment. It does not oversee Government's sustainable development (SD) agenda, and does not advise on the sustainability of operations, and how these could help drive Government's broader policy aims on sustainable development.
  2. CESP's work does not cover departmental public policy. CESP does not scrutinise or advise on policies and their impacts, and has no in-house experience or expertise to do so adequately. CESP does not and cannot advise on cross-cutting policy issues in its current form and cannot provide department-specific commentaries or an overview of the adequacy of government's policies. All this will be lost when the SDC closes.
  3. CESP does not provide independent challenge and scrutiny of Government operations. CESP's work is entirely "inside track" and when the SDC closes, independent challenge and scrutiny will be lost. The SDC also advises on improvements outside the narrow scope of the SOGE targets. CESP and other Government departments have commissioned the SDC to undertake research and advice on specific areas such as sustainable travel and sustainable energy in the public sector. The SDC has also advised on how greater innovation can maximise government's influence beyond its estate.
  4. Scrutinising operations includes having a reliable and trusted system for measuring progress. At the moment, for example, the SDC sits on the Government's SOGE Baseline Panel which makes judgements about the baselines against which departments' progress is measured. Without the SDC, an independent scrutineer would need to ensure that these judgements are sound and trusted by the public.


With the SDC closing, it has been asked whether CESP could fulfil all the functions of the SDC in regards to Government operations and procurement. The SDC has identified the following gaps that CESP is not currently in a position to fill, and some risks going forward:

  1. The independent scrutiny and challenge offered by the SDC cannot be fulfilled by CESP given their "inside track" management and reporting structure which would result in a conflict of interests if it were to act as both the delivery body and the reporting body.
  2. CESP does not benefit from the direct access to a panel of SD experts which the SDC has in the form of its board of commissioners.
  3. CESP does not comment on departments' policies and does not provide any capability building support to help departments improve them.
  4. As CESP is the delivery body for the sustainable operations and procurement agenda, the link between Government operations and policy has never formed part of CESP's remit. The SDC has been responsible for providing this mechanism to directly influence departmental policies and their alignment with operational and procurement objectives. It is unclear who will take on this role.
  5. CESP's operational remit is limited to narrow environmental and financial issues, and not the wider social benefits that can be gained from an SD approach. It does not focus on how environmental, social and economic operational objectives can be mutually reinforcing.
  6. CESP has recently disbanded the "CESP Board" which is responsible for bringing together key stakeholders across government to better coordinate the improvement of Government operations and procurement. This should be reinstated or replaced with urgency to ensure Government is able to properly co-ordinate its operational activities.

Based on discussion between the SDC and CESP, it should be noted that CESP's remit appears to have narrowed since the 2010 national elections, with its focus narrowing almost entirely to carbon reporting; although it has committed to make the data for the final two years of the current SOGE Framework (2009-10 & 2010-11) publicly available.

Government established a series of targets in 2002 to manage the sustainability of its own operations, which have come to be known as the Sustainable Development on the Government Estate (SDGE) targets, replaced in 2005 by the Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate (SOGE) targets. Initially, responsibility for collecting and reporting data relating to these targets lay with Defra. In 2004, the SDC agreed to take on this function as part of its Watchdog role. In response to the SDC's 2007 annual Sustainable Development in Government (SDiG) report, the establishment of CESP was announced in the 2008 Budget to take the data collection process back into Government. 2009 was the first year that CESP managed the data gathering, cleansing and reporting process for the financial year 2008-09. As the day-to-day management of data collection was taken over by CESP from the SDC, it was important to avoid any unnecessary overlaps between the different roles of the two organisations, which was achieved through a Memorandum of Understanding (available upon request). The SDC clarified that the main differences are:
The SDC is Government's official independent adviser on sustainable development, working closely with Government while maintaining an "outside track". CESP is wholly within Government, positioned within the Cabinet Office, which allows the potential for greater influence over Government Departments in-line with Cabinet Office ministerial guidance.
The SDC reports to the Prime Minister, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. CESP reports only on activities taking place in Whitehall Departments, reporting primarily to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord President of the Council).
The SDC focuses on all aspects of sustainability across Government operations, procurement and policy; using advocacy, advice, capability building and appraisal, to help put sustainable development at the heart of Government by working with key stakeholders to drive through the changes needed. CESP focuses only on limited environmental targets across central Government operations and procurement, working with key stakeholders to share information and experience to drive through the changes needed to meet Government's existing SOGE and Sustainable Procurement Action Plan (SPAP) commitments. This has recently narrowed almost exclusively to carbon management.
The SDC scrutinises the SOGE data, develops & applies a scoring methodology to establish league tables, querys gaps in the data, requests contextual information for significant shifts in performance, comments on the data management and rebaselining process, and ultimately provides expert public recommendations and commentary (including, but not limited to the SOGE targets) to Government through the annual SDiG report. The SDC's work on operations includes innovative and ambitious research and recommendations for maximising government's influence beyond its estate - through supply chains and across communities, for example the broader behaviours of staff and public service customers. CESP manages the day-to-day collection, management and storage of the SOGE data, including building capability in data capture and reporting, focusing on improving quality, establishing trajectories, developing a clearer picture of performance and taking account of all the recommendations of the SDiG report when working with departments to develop delivery plans and lay out timescales for their delivery.
The SDC's work goes well beyond the SOGE targets, with staff working closely with Government officials across the UK on embedding SD into policies, building capability, and offering advice through our scrutiny work on Sustainable Development Action Plans (SDAPs), public policy, and departmental management systems. In addition to managing the reporting data for all Government operations and procurement targets, CESP is charged with producing six monthly updates on the delivery of sustainability initiatives made in Government's Sustainable Procurement and Operations on the Government Estate Delivery Plan and it operates the CESP Board (which has recently been disbanded).

28 October 2010

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