Sustainable Development Goals in the UK Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Awareness and engagement

1.Raising awareness and encouraging engagement with the Global Goals will increase the number of people and organisations able to contribute towards meeting them. However, few people in the UK know about the Goals. Other countries and organisations have shown there are plenty of opportunities to make the Goals more widely known and understood. By contrast, the UK Government seems uninterested in raising the profile of the Goals, having undertaken no substantive work to promote them domestically. A focus on action abroad has left a doughnut shaped hole in the UK. This has to change. The Government should work with the BBC and other national media to launch a national campaign to raise public awareness of the Goals, and provide the public with ways to get involved and make a contribution. This could take place as part of Red Nose Day and Comic Relief, and link with charities working in the UK and overseas. The Government should look at possible changes to the national curriculum to provide ways for young people to become agents of change and engage with the Goals. This would form part of a national conversation about the Goals with a view to enshrining them in law, so that future Governments put sustainable development at the heart of every new legislative proposal. (Paragraph 25)

2.Several businesses are already engaging with the Goals and looking at how the private sector can contribute to this ambitious agenda. The Government has said that it sees value in international business benchmarks that promote responsible business behaviour and may support them, if there is sufficient evidence that they work. We recommend that the Government commissions research on the costs and benefits of utilising business league tables and report back to this Committee on its findings when it has them. The Government should also support other initiatives designed to raise awareness of the Goals among the business community. Voluntary action by businesses and raising awareness within the business community will not of itself ensure meaningful progress on the Goals. The Government needs to look at what measures are needed to support those companies who are already engaged, and incentivise or require others to do likewise. Action on the EU circular economy package, or waste policy, linked to SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production is a good example of this. (Paragraph 26)

Measuring, monitoring and reporting

3.Progress on developing measurement frameworks for the Goals is too slow. We recognise the progress of the Office of National Statistics to date and commend its efforts to engage with stakeholders and draw on non-official data sources as a way to fill the “data gap”. However, it is now almost two years since the Government adopted the Goals. During that time we have seen delays from both the Government and the ONS. Delays to the ONS’s work means delays to the UK’s achievement of the Goals. We are concerned about the amount of time it is taking to develop the national indicators given the ONS “contributed directly” to the development of the global indicators between March 2015 and March 2016. It should be a priority for the ONS to establish an early baseline from which we can judge the Government’s future performance against the roadmap it sets out. Perfection should not be the enemy of the good, so we recommend that the ONS focus its efforts on ensuring it meets its autumn 2017 deadline to report on the Goals to the United Nations. The ONS requires secure and sustained funding to carry out its job in relation to the Goals, and the Government should set out how much funding the ONS will receive at the start of every Parliament. (Paragraph 40)

4.However, we are concerned that the Government appears to have changed its mind about the ONS developing a set of national indicators. This suggests an attempt to bury data which will be seen by the public - and us - as going against the spirit of the Goals. This would undermine UK leadership on the Goals. If this is the case then two years of work by the ONS will have been wasted by the Government. It means there will be no aggregate scorecard or baseline against which to measure progress towards the Goals. This will harm public accountability and moves the country away from achieving the Goals. We can see that integrating the indicators into the Government’s Single Departmental Plans will ensure they are taken seriously by individual departments. But the move risks reducing the level of engagement and participation from non-government bodies and it increases the temptation for the Government to cherry-pick indicators and focus on areas where it is performing well. It is also not clear how well equipped Government departments are to ensure proper data disaggregation and therefore focus on the hardest to reach groups in society. The Government must clarify urgently in its response to this report whether the ONS will report on national progress towards the Global Goals. It must also ensure a timely and transparent release of information that monitors progress against the indicators. We expect these to be produced and managed in line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics to ensure confidence in their implementation. (Paragraph 41)

5.A key part of increasing awareness of the Goals will be using data to “paint a picture” about the UK’s progress against the Goals. The ONS has indicated a willingness to provide a narrative on the data it collects. The ONS could be much more ambitious, especially in working with business. We recommend that it should hold an open competition seeking ideas for how the results could be branded and communicated and look for partnerships with organisations who have expertise in communications and marketing, as well as working with stakeholders, effectively to communicate its findings in an accessible way and promote them to the widest possible audience. (Paragraph 42)

6.The Voluntary National Review is an important process to help member states publicise and measure progress towards the implementation of the Global Goals. A large number of developed and developing countries have already participated in or put themselves forward for the VNR. We are disappointed that the Government has not yet participated in this process but we are heartened by the Prime Minister’s statement about the importance of a transparent reporting framework. In order to show international leadership and demonstrate the UK’s continuing commitment to implementing the Goals in the UK, we recommend that the Government volunteer to participate in the national review as soon as practically possible - ideally in 2018. (Paragraph 43)


7.Despite adopting the Sustainable Development Goals and committing itself to working “tirelessly for the full implementation of [the Goals] by 2030”, the Government has shown little interest in, or enthusiasm for, implementing the Goals in the UK. The Government, worryingly, seems to regard the Goals as simply the Millennium Development Goals Mark II, and shows a marked reluctance to take this forward as a domestic agenda. Since the abolition of the independent Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) in 2011, Governments have failed to prioritise sustainable development. While this Government is making big claims about what it can do to implement the Goals on the international stage our inquiry has revealed that it is doing very little at home, leaving a doughnut-shaped hole in place of efforts to implement the Goals in the UK. The fact that Cabinet-level Ministers were not willing to appear before us (a break with the past) is a worrying sign that this issue has been downgraded in Government. There is no voice at the top of Government speaking for the long-term aspirations embodied in the Goals. There is no strategy or vision to achieve the Goals in the UK. Without strong and maintained leadership from the top, the Government is unlikely to achieve the cross-government working and policy coherence that the Goals are designed to produce. To address this accountability gap the Government should appoint a Cabinet-level Minister in the Cabinet Office with strategic responsibility for implementing sustainable development, including the Goals, across Government. The Government should also assign a Minister in the Treasury to help co-ordinate national implementation of the Goals, so that economic and fiscal policy is joined-up with efforts to implement the Goals. The Treasury should assess the need to create pricing mechanisms to correct the market failures which the Goals represent. (Paragraph 59)

8.The Government should keep its promise to publish a report setting out how it intends to take an integrated, cross-government and policy-coherent approach to implementing the Goals in the UK and how it will bring together the elements of the updated Single Departmental Plans that support the Goals. It should do so by summer 2017. The Prime Minister should take personal responsibility for ensuring the report is implemented. She should publically endorse timely and regular Government updates, through a Cabinet Committee set up for this purpose, on progress to achieve the Goals in the UK to Parliament and to the public in an annual report. As the UK leaves the European Union, demonstrating a deep and meaningful commitment to meeting these global commitments domestically would send a powerful signal about the Government’s ambition for a “Global Britain” in which no one is left behind. (Paragraph 60)

9.In a resource constrained economy it is logical that the Government should do everything it can to support partners (government agencies, local government, civil society, business and the general public) to contribute towards delivering the Goals. Some multinational businesses, for example, are already taking a lead on tackling the Goals in areas where we might have expected Government to do so. Partnering with these organisations would increase the Government’s chances of achieving the Goals and reduce the burden on Government. However, we have seen little evidence that it is doing this in the UK. The Government should immediately establish an SDG Partnership Working Group with the Cabinet Minister responsible, representatives from business, civil society and local government and develop and publish a strategy by 2018 setting out how it will support all stakeholders to contribute towards meeting the Goals in the UK by 2030. (Paragraph 61)

10.The Government has said that it wants to utilise existing government infrastructure to deliver the Goals. However, we believe there is a need for an independent scrutineer of progress made by this Government and subsequent Governments on domestic implementation of the Global Goals. The Government should establish an independent advisor on sustainable development in the form of a new statutory public body advising the responsible Minister and the Prime Minister. This should be modelled on the independent Committee on Climate Change. It should be run by a committee with members drawn from academia, business, and civil society and independently chaired. Utilising the data collected by the ONS it could produce regular audits on the progress towards achieving the Goals and provide evidence-based advice on what the Government could do to promote sustainable development and progress towards the Goals. (Paragraph 62)

11.The Government should work with public institutions such as local government, the NHS and police to create partnerships to deliver the Goals. Public services such as the NHS and the police will be key to delivering the Goals, by creating a healthy society and resilient communities, respectively. The Goals offer economic opportunities for businesses, but also for public services, in particular the health service. The Government should embed the Goals into the mandate of public services, such as the NHS. (Paragraph 63)


12.By adopting the Global Goals the Government has committed itself to implementing the Goals in the UK as well as overseas. The Government’s doughnut-shaped approach - seeing the Goals as something for the UK to help other countries do, rather than drawing on other countries’ experiences in implementing the Goals here at home - must change if it hopes to fulfil its commitment to work ‘tirelessly for the full implementation of this Agenda by 2030’. We are deeply sceptical and concerned about the Government’s view that updating the Single Departmental Plans to incorporate the Goals will do this. It is a necessary but not a sufficient mechanism. While it is positive that the Government is utilising existing governance infrastructure which Departments take seriously, it will not be enough to encourage cross-government working and policy coherence on sustainable development. (Paragraph 64)

13.The Government should demonstrate leadership and ambition from the very top of Government, set out in a report how it intends to take an integrated approach to implementing the Goals in the UK, and utilise partnerships with businesses, civil society and the public sector, some of which are already taking ambitious steps to tackle the Goals to establish national consensus. As the UK leaves the European Union a re-evaluation of Britain’s national economic, social, and political purpose is under way. Demonstrating a deep and meaningful commitment to meeting Global Goals domestically would send a powerful signal about the Government’s ambition for a “Global Britain” in which no one is left behind, and help forge a new cross-party consensus in the way that the creation of the NHS and the welfare state did after the Second World War. (Paragraph 65)

14.This report represents the start of our work to hold the Government to account on the Goals. We intend to monitor the Government’s progress over the course of this Parliament and will undertake any work we deem necessary to scrutinise the Government’s efforts and highlight any successes and failures to implement the Goals in the UK. In particular, we will look at the extent to which the Government’s updated Single Departmental Plans will facilitate a cross-government and policy coherent approach to tackling the Goals. The current and past inquiries undertaken by other select committees, along with the substantial number of statements and debates in Parliament, demonstrate that this ambitious and far reaching agenda needs to be scrutinised across the whole of Government. We will strongly encourage other parliamentarians and select committees to continue this work over the lifetime of the Goals. (Paragraph 66)

20 April 2017