Further written evidence submitted by
the Sustainable Development Commission |
This note covers four topics:
- 1. The policy risks due to the cuts.
- 2. Statutory obligations for SD.
- 3. Performance Management Frameworks.
- 4. Bureaucratic vs. democratic accountability.
SECTION 1 - POLICY
EAC Question: What evidence is there that new
policy decisions and government cuts are being made with consideration
given to sustainable development?
In its announcement of its Comprehensive Spending
the Government states it has been "guided by the principles
of freedom, fairness and responsibility" and has "prioritised:
- spending that promotes long-term growth, and
creating the conditions for a private sector-led recovery and
- fairness, with all sections of society contributing
to tacking the deficit, whilst protecting the most vulnerable
and providing opportunity for the poorest.
This is underpinned by a radical programme of public
service reform, improving transparency and accountability, giving
more power and responsibility to citizens and enabling sustainable
long term improvements in services".
In the Spending Review Framework 
the Treasury states that it will" look beyond near-term pressures
to support reforms that better position the UK for meeting long-term
demographic, economic, environmental and social challenges, any
of which could imperil long-term fiscal stability if left unaddressed".
The Government has said in developing the CSR it
has consulted widely with experts and the wider public, to get
their ideas and has been supported by an Independent Challenge
Group of Civil Service leaders and external experts, to bring
independent challenge to the Spending Review process. Their remit
was to "think innovatively about the options for reducing
public expenditure and balancing priorities to minimise the impact
on public services". There is one member with sustainable
With a focus on the long-term and on fairness and
with an approach that looks at economic, environmental and social
challenges, the Government has appears to have taken some SD principles
into account in its overall approach to the CSR. However, we have
not seen any evidence that the new policy decisions or proposals
or the overall package set out in the Comprehensive Spending Review
have taken a systematic approach respecting all five
principles of SD, in particular environmental limits.
Similarly whilst many, if not all, of the Government's
policy aims might contribute to sustainable development, these
aims need to be tackled with respect to each other, as a package
of measures, to ensure there is not conflict between goals. Furthermore,
it is how they are to be implemented and how they are monitored
to ensure effectiveness which also requires an SD approach. It
is not clear if all of the policy and CSR announcements have undergone
a Sustainability Impact Test for example.
For the first time, the CSR sets out an analysis
of the distributional impact on households of its tax, welfare
and spending proposals. The methodology it uses is new and looks
at understanding the impact of spending decisions on households,
combined with existing and long standing analysis of the impacts
of taxes, benefits and tax credits on households together with
forecasting and combining impacts across the entire four year
period of the Spending Review. However it caveats the analysis
saying it is a "static analysis" that "can paint
an incomplete picture of the actual outcomes of spending allocations
on people's lives".
The CSR does set out broad environmental impacts
but states that "the Spending Review sets spending totals,
the exact environmental impact will depend on the decisions of
However, these individual impact analyses do not help clarify
where there are wider effects and the tensions and conflicts between
policies. Nor does it help to identify where trade-offs have been
made and why. With an SD approach some policies, whilst underpinned
by all five principles, will place more emphasis on certain principles
than others. Trade-offs should be explicit and transparent.
All new proposals with significant public or private
sector impacts must publish an Impact Assessments which should
set out environmental, social and economic costs and benefits.
It is the role of the NAO to report annually on the quality of
the economic analysis of IAs. There is currently no body that
reports on how well sustainability has been integrated into IAs.
In the past, the SDC undertook a review of eight IAs to help inform
its thinking on how well IAs seek to deliver SD.
Finally, in previous CSRs under the previous Government,
the CSR announcements would have included agreed Public Service
Agreements (PSA) setting out key outcomes and related SD indicators
to be achieved. This enabled progress against key objectives to
be monitored. While Government has now put into place Structural
Reform Plans for each department, for this CSR there is no equivalent,
over-arching performance management system to PSAs which gives
a systemic view of performance, and it is unclear how the Government
intends progress to be measured.
EAC Question: Are there particular policies or
cuts that worry you from a sustainability perspective?
- Lack of clarity on what the Government means
by "Greenest Government ever"? How does Government
intend to measure its success when the only stated commitment
has been to reduce carbon on the government estate by 10% by 2010.
- Reforms to the NHS.
The reforms will give GPs power to commission patient care and
will abolish Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities
by 2013. Much good work has been done to promote SD within the
NHS at trust level. For example, there is a very high uptake of
its Good Corporate Citizenship (GCC) tool (over 83% of trusts
registered) but it is not clear whether DH will commit to continue
investing in GCC from April next year. This is additionally important
now that GCC has been mandated in Scotland.
- Given the importance of a sustainable future
to young people, and the DfE's stated intention not to have a
separate Sustainable Schools strategy, how will efforts
of the hundreds of charities and community organisations across
the country wanting to support sustainable schools be directed
towards consistent long-term aims? Government is committing in
the CSR to providing "capital funding for new schools, rebuilding
or refurbishing over 600 schools through the Building Schools
for the Future programme and investing in new school provision
in areas of demographic pressure". Compared to the ambitions
in the previous Government's BSF programme and given the importance
of cutting energy waste and saving money in public services, how
will the difference in emissions reduction be met?
- The abolition of the regional tier of governance
means there is a lack of strategic planning at a "larger
than local level" which would take an SD view. Leaders Boards
(and their previous structure as Regional Assemblies) had SD embedded
within their strategic planning function and the Regional Development
Agencies have a statutory duty on sustainable development. However,
the emerging Local Enterprise Partnerships will focus on driving
private sector job growth which could be prioritised over environmental
and social issues. How will Government ensure that any cross border
/ cumulative impacts of decision making, especially on respecting
environmental limits, be addressed?
- Local Governance and SD
-The CSR "provides a settlement for local government that
radically increases local authorities' freedom to manage their
budgets, but will require tough choices on how services are delivered
within reduced allocations". There is also a proposal to
give councils a general power of competence. How will Government
ensure local government plays its part in contributing to SD at
a time when resources are under pressure? And given that a key
regulator which helped drive local government improve SD performance,
the Audit Commission, is to be abolished how does Government intend
to assure itself that SD improvements will occur? One way could
be to require local authorities to contribute to the delivery
of SD (as the Greater London Authority is required to do and RDAs
did do) or to adopt SD as an organising principle (as the Welsh
Assembly Government has).
- Reforms to environment regulators such as Natural
England, Forestry Commission and Environment Agency. How will
their role continue given their importance to delivery of SD and
how will policies such as the mooted proposal to sell off forests
include safeguards to ensure sustainable development continues
under new ownership?
- The fairness of the proposed welfare policies.
Government differ from independent commentators such as the Institute
for Fiscal Studies on whether the proposals in the CSR affect
those on low incomes or not.
- Social policy reforms
such as the abolition of the Warm Front grants with respect to
fuel poverty; social housing programme changes with respect to
social cohesion and ensuring a strong, healthy and just society;
or the social care proposals
- Energy and Climate Change.
The work by DECC in the 2050 Pathway Analysis is optimistic that
the 80% cut in emissions by 2050 is "ambitious but achievable"
and the Annual Energy Statement sets out actions to accelerate
the transformation of the energy system and wider economy. As
we switch away from fossil fuel sources, even maximising energy
efficiency, the demands on the decarbonised electricity grid from
energy use will be enormous. There is a recognition by DECC that
even if overall demand for energy is reduced we face a "near
doubling in demand for electricity, as we shift industry, transport
and heating onto the grid". Consideration must be given to
moving beyond energy efficiency measures to fundamentally reducing
the demand for energy.
- Green Economy. Despite
Government's initial statement that there was a need for a more
"responsible economy" the announcements have all focused
more on greening our economy. Increasingly, across the world,
there is recognition, including by many business leaders, that
there is a need for fundamental change to the way business is
done and the way the world consumes, requiring rethinking of business
models, supply chains and how society values goods and services.
This is a key issue for the forthcoming G20 and Rio+20 Earth Summit
- Transport. Recent
announcements such as the abolition of Cycling England
and the go ahead for a new high speed rail line appear to be contradictory
in SD terms let alone in terms of VfM. It is unclear what analysis
has Government made on overall transport policy in the CSR process.
SECTION 2 - STATUTORY
EAC Question: Would putting targets for sustainable
development on a statutory footing (as under the Climate Change
Act for example) make any useful difference to Government performance
on sustainable development?
Targets should not be the focus of any statutory
obligation for sustainable development. It is unlikely that any
set of targets could capture the breadth of sustainable development
well enough to make such a statute meaningful. Instead the focus
should be on outlining what a government's duty to sustainable
development is, define roles and responsibility, provide a method
of enforcement and a framework for developing a future SD strategy
which aims to make government decision-making more transparent
and accountable to Parliament, private sector and civil society.
Underpinning any SD statute or act and a refreshed
SD Strategy should be a performance management framework for understanding
the impacts of public policy. This framework could be comprised
of key indicators and targets. For further details on performance
management frameworks, please see Section 3.
Any organisation or structure that is charged with
delivering policy that has environmental and social impacts needs
to operate within a single overarching statutory sustainable development
duty. Evidence suggests that where organisations are given a general
sustainable development duty in addition to other duties (e.g.
a duty to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development
and to economic growth) they struggle to interpret the additional
requirements of the sustainable development duty.
The SDC believes it is important that this duty is
not broken down into the separate elements of SD, as has been
the case with the Local Government power i.e. to promote economic,
social and environmental wellbeing. These elements need to be
integrated rather than progressed independently as interpretation
of the Local Government duty allows, without this environmental
issues will always be the poor relation.
The Welsh Example
A statutory duty to contribute to or to promote SD
does have the potential to make a meaningful difference to Government
performance. The Welsh Assembly Government has a duty with regard
to sustainability. Section 79 of the Government of Wales Act (2006)
requires ministers to publish a scheme "setting out how
they propose, in the exercise of their functions, to promote sustainable
development." The most recent scheme, One Wales, One
Planet, was published by the Cabinet in May 2009. This establishes
Welsh ministers' commitment to the centrality of sustainable development
in Wales: "Sustainable development will be the central
organising principle of the Welsh Assembly Government".
SDC Wales has produced a commentary on the Assembly
Government's progress on sustainable development for 2009-10.
It concludes that there are clear signs that the Assembly Government
is beginning to back up its commitment to sustainable development
with some real action. It has made some improvements to the machinery
of government and that there have been "tangible improvements
The Canadian Example
Canada's Federal Sustainable Development Act (FSDA)
received royal assent on June 26, 2008. The FSDA requires the
development of a Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS),
which aims to make environmental decision-making more transparent
and accountable to Parliament. Environment Canada is implementing
the FSDA and has published the FSDS in Autumn 2010.
However, the Canadian FSDA does not fully embrace
sustainable development as it considers only environmental issues.
Specifically, the FSDS will focuses on key existing environmental
- climate change and air quality;
- water quality;
- greening government operations.
This limitation is a serious risk to sustainable
development and must be avoided in the UK.
SECTION 3 - PERFORMANCE
An announcement made on ministerial government arrangements
for SD (e.g. the Home Affairs Committee) is welcome. However,
the follow-up question to such an announcement would be how will
the body understand trends and enact change? Specifically, what
mechanisms, levers and resources could be used for oversight and
change by any cabinet committee?
The current set of SD Indicators is under revision
and the revised set will be much more robust, more able to measure
progress and deliver wellbeing for individuals and society within
To convert the SD Indicator set into a proper performance
management framework, ownership for actual performance describe
by each indicator should be given to a discrete part of government
which the Cabinet Committee could then work with, and put pressure
on, to improve performance in a particular policy area. Ownership
for the indicator set itself and for monitoring performance across
all policy areas should still sit with the Cabinet Committee.
Such a performance management framework for policy
provides a systems approach that considers all aspects of Government
business and reflects the interplay of different impacts so as
to effectively manage performance and achieve goals. In designing
a Performance Management Framework the indicators and measures
of progress should:
- Add up to the high level goal/statement/priority.
- Be agreed with the relevant scrutineers.
- Be meaningful to the public.
Government should seek to develop performance management
frameworks for policy, operations and people as a package of measures
that when combined drive improvements in Government's sustainability
Lastly, any framework must be designed to improve
and effectiveness the level of both democratic accountability
and bureaucratic accountability. The differences between these
types of accountability and how they relate to transparency is
discussed further in Section 4 below.
SECTION 4 - BUREAUCRATIC
The drive by Government to improve democratic accountability
and transparency is laudable. This is key to improving performance
and delivering more sustainable outcomes. However, Government's
approach to increasing transparency through increasing the amount
of information and data available to the public is not the solution
in itself. Generally speaking, government and SD-specific information
is fairly esoteric and inaccessible to the layperson.
Real transparency necessitates understanding the
context of government performance, as well as the
potential for driving performance improvements.
The current focus on publishing so-called performance data will
satisfy neither criteria, and in any case policy performance cannot
be adequately summarised with data. Further, once data is published
it is already too late to address performance deficiencies. It
is surely far better to get things right first time. Therefore,
Government needs a system which:
- Helps departments understand and develop the
context for performance, and makes this accessible to the public.
- Develops this context to provide an honest understanding
of the real potential for improvement (the "Greenest Government"
- against what standard and aspiration?).
- Provides honest advice and rigorous challenge
to the formation of individual policy and operational delivery
All three feed off each other, and necessitate close
working with departments and, where possible, a "no surprises"
approach to advice, challenge and performance assessment.
One of the SDC's informal remits has been an interpreter
of this information by providing analysis, reports and recommendations
in an easily understood and accessible format. The SDC's reports
have given academics, NGOs, individuals and other government bodies
(particularly the EAC itself) an effective and efficient way of
accessing this information, and in turn accessing independant
expertise. The SDC has effectively been acting as an interlocutor
between Government and other parts of society on SD issues.
Governmental bodies can provide some interpretation
and analysis of SD-specific information, for example Defra's SD
Indicators in your Pocket or CESPs reporting on the SDiG data.
However, it is important that there is independent analysis and
commentary from an expert body that the public can fully trust.
The SDC does not feel that adequate arrangements
have been considered by Government to date on scrutiny and accountability
after the 31 March, 2010. The EAC is not resourced to offer the
type of accountability formally provided by the SDC. This point
is clearly made in the University of East Anglia's research on
the effectiveness of the EAC.
Therefore, the abolition of what Government perceives
as an unnecessary and bureaucratic part of this scrutiny model
is likely to provide less transparency to the public unless
suitable alternative arrangements are put in place. For example,
it is unlikely and impractical to assume that a private citizen
will examine operational data or look at how well an Impact Assessment
incorporates principles of sustainable development into policy
and then hold Government to account. A certain degree of bureaucratic
accountability is necessary to enable effective democratic accountability.
Indeed, one person's bureaucracy may be another's
8 November 2010
88 http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/spend_sr2010_keyannouncements.htm Back
IHPC (2006) Review of Statutory Sustainable Development Duties