Written evidence submitted by Department
for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs |
The decision to remove funding from the Sustainable
Development Commission (SDC) was made to enable government to
lead on sustainable development from within central Government,
strengthening accountability and ensuring government is scrutinised
by both parliament and the wider public. Defra is working closely
with the SDC to ensure relevant aspects of the organisations work
are mainstreamed into core government business.
The Coalition Agreement states that, "that we
need to protect the environment for future generations, make our
economy more environmentally sustainable, and improve our quality
of life and well-being." The principles of sustainable development
are embedded throughout Defra's own Structural Reform Plan, with
priorities on the natural environment, a sustainable food and
farming sector and the green economy.
Furthermore, Defra is committed, through its Structural
Reform Plan, to improve the sustainability of government as a
whole, ensuring effective ministerial governance to oversee performance
and putting mechanisms in place to embed sustainable development
in operations, procurement and policy making.
1. What is the rationale behind the Government's
decision to remove funding from the SDC?
1.1. The Secretary of State for Defra, along
with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, is
committed to mainstreaming sustainable development across the
whole of Government, and to lead on this from within departments.
Government believes this will strengthen accountability and lead
to the embedding of sustainable development more effectively in
policy development and operations. Ministers are accountable to
Parliament for carrying their duties, and there are already many
organisations and commentators who will continue to hold the Government
to account, including the EAC.
1.2. The Government is committed to transparency
and will continue to publish the necessary data for such scrutiny.
The change will also contribute to financial and efficiency savings,
in line with this government's overall priority of reducing the
2. To what extent, and how, does the government
plan to relocate the four main aspects of the SDC's work?
2.1. The extent of relocation is still to be
decided in discussion with the SDC and others. However, the Secretary
of State for Defra has already signalled her overall approach
to the four main aspects of the SDC's work:
2.2. Advocacy: "Promoting awareness of
the concept of sustainable development": Defra will continue
to champion sustainable development internally in policymaking
and operations across Government. Government will continue to
communicate the concept of sustainable development externally
through our existing communication channels and through our work
with businesses, individuals and the many external organisations
already working within this field who can support us in this task.
2.3. Capability building: "Establishing
good working practices within government": Much of the
capability building by the SDC has been focused on embedding members
of staff within key departments such as the Department for Education
and Department for Health. In line with the Secretary of State's
commitment to mainstream sustainable development across Government,
Defra will concentrate its efforts in two main areas. First, through
stronger political leadership we will ensure that good decision
making is driven from the top, and Defra is currently in discussion
with the Cabinet Office and DECC to ensure that better working
practices are established at ministerial, as well as official,
level. Secondly, through ensuring that decision making processes,
such as impact assessments and business plans take into account
the value of long term environmental, social and economic impacts.
2.4. Policy advisory: "Advising key ministers
and others across Government": This function is already
performed within government. Where the expertise does not exist
internally, Defra and other Departments commission additional
expert advice from a range of organisations, of which the SDC
has been one. In the future, the nature of any sustainable development
work we might commission will determine which organisations will
have the capability to deliver - but we would expect these to
include, amongst others, research councils, academic institutions
2.5. Watchdog: "Monitoring performance
against sustainable development targets and reporting on these":
Ministers are already held to account through Parliament,
and Defra welcomes the commitment of the Environmental Audit Committee
to carry out this scrutiny role, as demonstrated by this inquiry.
In addition, there are a range of other organisations and commentators
with experience and expertise in sustainable development who will
scrutinise and comment on government's performance. These include
national level non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academic
institutions and business groups, as well as international organisations
such as the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development
and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
2.6. Government will facilitate effective scrutiny
through open and transparent reporting of policy commitments and
delivery against them. Government has already demonstrated this
through the publication of Departmental Structural Reform Plans
and monthly updates on their delivery. Defra is also looking at
how to use existing macro level sustainable development indicators
to measure government progress against the long term objectives
on safeguarding the environment, wellbeing and economic growth.
2.7. On operations, government is already publishing
real time energy data from departmental headquarters and is reviewing
other sustainability commitments. We are committed to sharing
Government's sustainability performance so that Parliament and
the public can hold us to account.
2.8. Ministers in the Devolved Administrations
are responsible for deciding which of the SDC's functions should
continue in relation to their own Governments' work.
3. What is the proposed timetable for making
these changes and when will key decision be made? At what stage
is work currently?
3.1. Defra will fund the SDC for the remainder
of the 2010-11 financial year. We intend to have resolved which
functions and staff will transfer and have transferred the relevant
staff to Defra to meet this deadline. To achieve this the very
latest date for finalising a decision of which functions and staff
will transfer is the end of December, though it would be desirable
to decide this before then. However this process and timescale
will also require appropriate consultation with the unions.
Defra is working with the Devolved Administrations, who are
making their own decisions.
4. How successful was the SDC in fulfilling
its remit? Which aspects of the SDC's work have reached a natural
end, or are otherwise of less importance, and which remain of
particular continuing importance?
4.1. The decision to remove funding from the
SDC was not a judgement of success against its remit, but a decision
on the remit itself. As outlined in question one, this government
does not believe an arm's length body is best placed to give policy
advice on sustainable development and we do not believe that Government
should fund an additional body to scrutinise its own performance.
4.2. As mentioned in the ministerial statement
announcing the decision to remove funding, Government recognises
that the SDC has made a positive contribution to sustainable development
across Government and society over the past ten years, and acknowledges
the hard work of both their current and previous Chairs, Will
Day and Jonathon Porritt. Although all of the SDC's work remains
relevant, the decision to champion sustainable development from
the centre and at a ministerial level is a symptom of the success
of the SDC in moving the agenda forward over this time. This will
ensure that policy-making is focused within central government
and not diluted across different bodies, avoiding duplication
and making efficiencies, essential in the current economic climate.
It will also ensure that leadership is driven from the top, whilst
still enabling external bodies and parliament to challenge from
5. In which areas of the 2005 Sustainable
Development Strategy has most progress been made? In which areas
should action for future progress be targeted?
5.1. An internal Defra review of "Securing
the Future" was conducted in 2008. This found that although
the 250 commitments had largely been met, more progress was needed
particularly in the area of policy making. Further evidence has
indicated that work is required to mainstream sustainable development
into existing governance, reporting and policy-making processes
to move the agenda from an "add on" to something integral
to core government business. The Government Economic Service review
of the Economics of Sustainable Development found that further
evidence was needed to both identify and value social and environmental
5.2. As a result, Defra, in conjunction with
other Departments, is currently developing proposals around the
- Ensuring leadership for sustainable development
comes from the highest level through senior ministerial-level
- Improving accountability and transparency so
that sustainability is included within government's measures of
progress and core departmental reporting.
- Building capability of decision makers to ensure
that environmental, social and economic impacts are both understood
and valued in decision making processes.
- Enhancing cross-government collaboration on key
cross cutting policies.
- Ensuring that government's operations and procurement
are the greenest ever.
6. What role do other departments have in
developing sustainable development policy? How are departments
working together across government to do this?
6.1. Sustainable development cannot be delivered
by one department alone and Defra is working at a number of levels
across government to set the policy framework and delivery plans
to achieve this.
6.2. At a ministerial level, the Secretaries
of State for Defra and DECC are working with the Minister of Government
Policy in the Cabinet Office to ensure that government can deliver
on its commitment to mainstream sustainable development, including
through appropriate cabinet level working.
6.3. Defra is working in partnership with Cabinet
Office, DECC and DfT, as well as other departments to review Government's
existing sustainability targets, and to set milestones going forward
to ensure that Government operations and procurement are the greenest
ever. An action plan will published in October, with the final
policy announcements made in December. Performance management
of government's own sustainability and engagement with its supply
chain will be key aspects of a sustainable development in government
work programme. This will provide opportunities to deliver financial
and resource efficiency savings, demonstrate transparency and
government leadership, and drive change in other sectors.
6.4. Defra will also be working with Cabinet
Office, along with the Office for National Statistics to develop
a set of indicators to measure national progress on societal wellbeing
and sustainable development.
6.5. Defra chairs an official level cross government
sustainable development programme board and a supporting sustainable
development policy working group. These bodies provide oversight
of the development and delivery of sustainable development policy.
Their role is being considered as part of the review of the governance
arrangement for sustainable development.
7. To what extent are civil servants in your
department made accountable for working more "sustainably"?
7.1. Government action on sustainable development
focuses on the areas of policy making, operations and procurement.
7.2. Permanent Secretaries are accountable for
their department's overall progress against the existing Sustainable
Operations of the Government Estate (SOGE) targets and for ensuring,
key staff in their departments have related performance objectives.
Behaviour change is central to our efforts
to cut our carbon emissions by 10%. In a recent staff survey virtually
everyone who responded said they did at least one environmentally
friendly thing in the office and staff are being asked to sign
up online to a pledge to take this further and help Defra reach
7.3. On policy making, civil servants in Defra
are given training on sustainable development within the core
policy cycle training and are expected to address the environmental,
social and economic impacts of their policies or projects in both
Impact Assessments and Business Plans. However, recent reviews
showed that although awareness of sustainability is high within
the department, uptake and enforcement of formal reporting is
low. Improvements are needed to build capability of both policy
makers and decision makers within the department, and work is
being done to improve guidance and analysis.
8. To what extent has Defra been involved
in assisting other departments to address sustainable development
issues in formulating their draft Structural Reform Plans?
8.1. The Coalition Agreement states that "The
government believes that we need to protect the environment for
future generations, make our economy more environmentally sustainable,
and improve our quality of life and well-being." A number
of department's Structural Reform Plans (SRPs) include strong
elements of sustainable development. The principles of sustainable
development are embedded throughout Defra's SRP, including the
three priorities to:
- Support and develop British farming and encourage
sustainable food production.
- Help to enhance the environment and biodiversity
to improve quality of life.
- Support a strong and sustainable green economy,
resilient to climate change.
8.2. Defra has a particular role in enhancing
the sustainability of its remit on areas such as the natural environment,
adaptation to climate change, and food and farming. In addition,
there are a number of commitments in Defra's SRP that will drive
improvements in sustainability of government as a whole, such
as plans to establish ministerial governance arrangements to oversee
government performance on sustainable development, publish an
action plan on greenest government ever operations and procurement
and to produce guidance on sustainability and natural value in
policy appraisal. Furthermore, Defra's SRP commits us to working
with other departments on key policy areas such as the Green Economy
Roadmap and the Natural Environment White Paper.
8.3. In the future, Defra, in line with the commitment
to mainstream sustainable development, is looking to replace the
existing Sustainable Development Action Plans with a different
approach to ensure the inclusion of sustainable development within
core departmental business plans. Sustainable Development Indicators
will also play a key part of new cross-government work on measuring
21 October 2010