Embedding sustainable development across Government, after the Secretary of State’s announcement on the future of the Sustainable Development Commission

Written Evidence submitted by Localise West Midlands (ESD 10)

1.0 LWM is a thinktank, campaign group and consultancy promoting a localised approach to economic development and decision-making for sustainability and justice reasons. We only heard about this enquiry yesterday, so apologies that our submission is more poorly referenced and less detailed than would otherwise be the case.

2.0 Summary:

Localise West Midlands concludes that the following are the most important aspects of embedding sustainable development across Government:

· Learn from and implement as much of possible of the work that has been done by the sustainable development commission over the last few years, in particular learning from the Prosperity Without Growth work.

· Examine and resolve policy conflicts across the whole of Government business with sustainability objectives in mind

· High level sustainability education of senior civil servants and ministers

· Relatedly ensure that procurement is truly efficient in terms of long term costs and global resources

· Ensure the Green Investment Bank is set up with non-profit governance and a sensitivity to small projects.

· Use its influence within Europe to change competition law permit a greater freedom for national and local government procurement to buy social benefits even if this might entail more local sourcing.

· Find a way to replace the ‘watchdog’ role that the SDC formerly occupied

· Address the crisis in agriculture urgently.

3.0 Detailed submission

Was the SDC successful in fulfilling its remit? Which aspects of its work have reached a natural end, or are otherwise of less importance, and which remain of particular continuing importance?

3.1 From our perspective the work of the SDC led to a greater embedding of much genuine sustainability thinking into the previous Government and its is hoped that some of this survives in Whitehall. Clearly the current government see the SDC as a ‘task and finish’ organisation which has been working on embedding sustainability into the Government’s normal working practice and while we would agree with this, we would not conclude that the task is finished. In particular:

a) the work on Prosperity without Growth was met by much Government reluctance, and it is this sort of challenge that should have been given time to be explored and conclusions drawn before the SDC was abolished.

b) an independent watchdog role for sustainability is still very much needed

c) It is not the duty of any other Government department or quango to identify and make recommendations for resolving policy conflicts within central government. Policy conflicts are rife, particularly on procurement and the short-term efficiency agenda but generally across all departments and subjects such as transport, agriculture, food, health.

How can mechanisms to ensure the sustainability of Government operations, procurement and policy-making be improved and further embedded and mainstreamed across Government departments?

3.2 Attention to policy conflicts as above

3.3 High level sustainability awareness training for senior civil servants and ministers, including a rethink on economic scale ("strategic" does not necessarily mean "big" and small-scale enterprise, procurement etc must match the community empowerment of the Big Society concept) and on definitions of efficiency (ie it means long term resource efficiency, not short term cost savings)

3.4 Find ways to measure ‘net’ growth rather than ‘gross’ when identifying high-growth businesses, for example is a high-growth business simply displacing a number of smaller-scale enterprises (for example, Uk supermarket chains displacing smaller chains and independents) in which case the net benefits may be small or negative.

How can governance arrangements for sustainable development in Government be improved, and how can sustainability reporting by Government departments be made more transparent and accountable?

3.5 Identify an organisation to undertake the independent watchdog role

3.6 Extend the ‘Payment by results’ concept to Ministers for their action on climate change

3.7 Attention to cross-departmental achievements

In formulating a future architecture for sustainable development in Government, how can it take on board wider developments and initiatives (eg to develop ‘sustainability reporting’ in departments’ accounts) and the contributions that other bodies might make (eg Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement)?

3.8 The recent review of procurement efficiency by Sir Philip Green, while containing some useful case studies, is alarming in its lack of reference to sustainability criteria and its recommendations for greater centralisation. This must be weighed against the wealth of objective study on procurement for wider benefit that has been done over the last few years.

How, without the assistance of the SDC, will the Government be able to demonstrate that it is ‘the greenest government ever’?

3.9 Use its influence within Europe to change competition law permit a greater freedom for national and local government procurement to buy environmental and social benefits even if this might entail more local sourcing.

3.10 Create a Green Investment Bank that is fully able to deal with local-scale initiatives as well as large, and is governed on non-profit principles. The Wrigley report and the more recent report on the GIB by the Aldersgate Group does not sufficiently address the need for smaller-scale initiatives.

3.11 Address the crisis in agriculture and the food supply chain, in which farming is becoming less diverse and more intensive with farmers leaving the industry in increasing numbers, with implications for rural livelihoods, sustainability etc. Food is the single most urgent area to demonstrate sustainability commitments and one that should chime well with coalition priorities.

13 October 2010