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

Further written evidence submitted by Jane Davidson AM, Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing, Welsh Assembly Government (ESD 29a)

Sustainable Development

I am responding to your letter of 14 October 2010 in which you ask questions in relation to your Committee’s inquiry into embedding sustainable development across Government. As you know, we have spoken about this inquiry, and I have already submitted evidence to the Committee. Your letter asks additional questions and I am pleased to set out my response to these below.

Does the Welsh Assembly Government intend to continue funding and working with the Sustainable Development Commission?

Following the announcement of the Secretary of State, I issued a written statement which confirmed that we would fund the delivery of the SDC’s agreed work programme this financial year. This will give us time to set in place new arrangements in Wales.

I announced that we would continue to seek independent advice on sustainable development, drawing on the best practice from the UK, Europe and internationally, to inform us as we take forward our policies. I also recognised the need for continued engagement and networking with all sectors and communities in Wales to ensure we can deliver our vision of a sustainable Wales.

My officials are shortly to advise me on options that will ensure that we have arrangements in place that are fit for our purpose here in Wales to provide appropriate advice on sustainable development and to catalyse and support action to deliver sustainable development in all parts of society across Wales.

I have also written to the Secretary of State for the Environment, and Ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, asking them to consider the proposition that the SDC is retained as a dormant company. This has the potential to offer the following benefits:

· It allows the option of retaining the expertise provided by the existing Commissioners of the SDC, for members of the SDC to draw upon, possibly on a "call-off" basis;

· The Commissioners could provide a body of expertise for the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee to draw upon;

· It retains the option of the re-establishing the SDC as a "live" company at some time in the future, should Members of the SDC wish to do this, without the cost of re-establishing a new company limited by guarantee.

What impact would the UK Government funding cuts have on your work with the Sustainable Development Commission?

There are three areas I would like to highlight:

· The work that the SDC does in Wales is informed by best practice from other parts of the UK. This allows an effective transfer of "on the ground" experience of delivering sustainable development, to inform practice in Wales. This element of the SDC’s work is of value and I would not wish to see it lost.

· It is extremely helpful to us to be able to draw on the authority and expertise provided by the Commissioners as we develop our approach to sustainable development in Wales. This element of the SDC’s work risks being lost, which is why I have suggested the option that the SDC remains as a dormant company.

· The SDC benchmarks the environmental management performance of the Assembly Government against other Whitehall Departments, through its Sustainable Development in Government reporting process. It is unclear if benchmarking in this way on environmental management performance will be practicable in the future in the absence of the SDC.

How does the Welsh Assembly Government expect to relate to the sustainable development delivery architecture that might be reconfigured after next March? Does it intend to work with the other devolved administrations, and if so how?

I wish to ensure that, as we develop the new arrangements in Wales, we build in the capacity to continue to draw on best practice in the UK and wider afield, to inform us as we take forward our sustainable development agenda. My officials are currently in discussion with other officials in the other Devolved Administrations about the practicalities of how this might happen.

Does the UK Government’s withdrawal of funding from the Sustainable Development Commission put at risk a consistent approach to sustainable development across the UK? If so how?

As I note above, we would wish to continue to draw on best practice in the UK and wider afield, to inform us as we take forward our sustainable development agenda.

25 October 2010