UK implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The continuing importance of aid

1.The Committee welcomes the International Development (Official Development Assistance) Act 2015 which requires the Government to spend 0.7% of UK GNI on ODA, and recognises that ODA remains an essential part of the financial commitment needed to achieve the SDGs, particularly for LDCs. (Paragraph 22)

2.As a respected leader in the donor community, the UK Government should continue to use its influence to persuade other countries to fulfil—and where possible strengthen—their ODA commitments as outlined in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and SDG target 17.2. (Paragraph 23)

Domestic resource mobilisation

3.We welcome the Addis Tax Initiative and the Government’s strong commitment to supporting the development of effective tax systems in some of the world’s poorest countries. Prioritising assistance to developing countries, particularly Least Developed Countries, in implementing effective tax collection systems will be crucial in enabling countries to raise the revenue needed to implement the SDGs. (Paragraph 28)

4.We recognise the impact of tax evasion on developing countries’ ability to raise revenues and welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to host the recent Anti-Corruption Summit in London, positioning the UK as a leader in this debate. Despite this, we remain concerned about successive governments’ approaches towards international tax cooperation and fairer tax rules. We believe that strong commitment to addressing these areas is essential. We welcome the progress made so far, as outlined by the Prime Minister. However, we urge the Government to ensure that the overseas territories and Crown dependencies introduce central beneficial ownership registries as soon as possible, in accordance with the Prime Minister’s statement. Discussions and decisions on international cooperation in tax matters need to be made within an inclusive body, such as the UN, rather than just the OECD, whose membership includes only developed countries. If there is a need for greater financial expertise, then it could work together with (for example) the IMF, whose membership also encompasses almost the entire globe. We are addressing this area in more detail in our ongoing inquiry into ‘Tackling Corruption Overseas’. (Paragraph 29)

Encouraging private investment

5.We welcome DFID’s commitment to encouraging private sector investment in developing and fragile states. We acknowledge that this will be essential for countries wishing to make progress towards the SDGs, contributing to the agenda by creating jobs, increasing incomes, providing services and increasing resilience. However, where private investment is encouraged by DFID or other arms of the UK Government in developing countries, we highlight the need for the UK Government to continue to champion sustainable and inclusive, pro-poor growth, as a way to combat extreme poverty and build more prosperous and equitable economies. (Paragraph 34)

6.The Government must ensure that the work it carries out to encourage private sector investment, through CDC, the Prosperity Fund and other initiatives, is focused on developing and fragile states that need most support. When considering an investment, CDC must actively and explicitly consider whether it will have a positive impact on the achievement of the SDGs (and thus poverty reduction) in that country, and only take forward those investments that it believes will align with progress towards the Goals. They should then report back on the impact of its work on the SDGs in its annual report. The Prosperity Fund must require bids to outline the impact of the project on the achievement of the SDGs, and to report back on its contribution to progress within its project reports. (Paragraph 35)

Maximising the capital markets

7.We recognise the potential—and need—to harness the trillions of dollars tied up in the capital markets to achieve the SDGs. London is the world’s leading financial centre, meaning that the UK Government is in a strong and unique position to look at how this could be done. (Paragraph 40)

8.We recommend that DFID and other relevant government departments, such as the Treasury and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, enter into discussions with the London Stock Exchange and the City of London to discuss how they might work together to create better incentives for sustainable development in the capital markets. We propose that the Government report back to us on their efforts in this regard in a year’s time. (Paragraph 41)

Multilateral organisations

9.Working through, and in partnership with, multilateral organisations seems logical and beneficial in the context of the SDGs. Achieving progress on global public goods such as environmental sustainability and financial stability will require strong multilateral collaboration. We encourage the Government to continue to work through and with multilaterals to achieve the SDGs as it encourages global cooperation, the sharing of ideas and innovation, an extension of influence for member states, and the ability to use their extensive networks to broaden the reach of development spending. We note that allocation of significant funds from DFID to multilaterals gives the UK a greater influence in their policies and programming. (Paragraph 49)

10.At the same time, we recognise the concerns over DFID’s ability to ensure that multilateral programmes are targeted towards the poorest countries, tailored to the context and represent value for money equivalent to its bilateral expenditure. We welcome DFID’s continued close monitoring of expenditure through multilateral organisations, by performing the Multilateral Aid Review, to ensure continued value for money. (Paragraph 50)

11.Following the forthcoming Multilateral Aid Review, DFID should lay out exactly how its engagement with multilaterals will help it support the achievement of the SDGs, either within the MAR document itself or an alternative strategy document. (Paragraph 51)

Civil society organisations

12.Civil society organisations—from the global north and global south—have a vital part to play in the achievement of the SDGs, through communicating and implementing the Goals, and holding governments to account on progress. We hope the crucial role of civil society in achieving the Goals will be recognised by the Government in the upcoming Civil Society Partnership Review, and that they will work closely with civil society organisations on the implementation of the Goals, both at home and overseas. It is also crucial for civil society organisations to be able to operate free from violence, intimidation and repressive legislative restrictions. We are concerned at the number of reports we have received of a reduction in the space for civil society to operate in a broad number of countries, including a number of countries in receipt of UK Aid. We urge the UK Government to use its links with governments across the world, (through DFID, FCO, MOD, BIS, Home Office and others) to communicate the importance of protecting and enhancing a vibrant civil society to ensure its vital role towards achieving the SDGs agenda. (Paragraph 56)

13.We recommend that DFID look closely at its civil society funding mechanisms to ensure:

a)small NGOs, particularly in the Global South, are not being discriminated against because of difficulties in disbursing and managing small amounts of money, and that they are not restricted due to levels of funding sources being external to the countries in which they operate;

b)innovation and collaboration to achieve the SDGs are encouraged through flexible funding and reporting;

c)CSOs are able to undertake the important task of communicating the SDGs to citizens across the world so that governments are held to account on progress. (Paragraph 57)

The private sector

14.We welcome DFID’s commitment to engaging the private sector in the SDGs agenda, from large corporations all the way down to SMEs, as the Goals are relevant to them all. However, there is still a long way to go to get a wide range of companies engaged, and the agenda is not just relevant to those businesses engaging in developing countries, but to all businesses. A very strong business case needs to be developed to encourage the private sector to take the Goals on board and incorporate them into their usual business practices. (Paragraph 62)

15.The UK Government should take a leading role in communicating the SDGs to a wide private sector audience in the UK, including through leading business organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Federation of Small Business (FSB). It should use the expertise housed within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) to support the newly formed Business and Sustainable Development Commission in devising a comprehensive business case for private sector engagement with the Goals. As a part of this, the Government should support the development of international benchmarks against the SDGs to enable companies to monitor and report on their progress against relevant targets. (Paragraph 63)

16.We recommend that DFID ensure a clear line of accountability through its own procurement chains, to ensure that its private sector partners are being held to a clear set of standards on mainstreaming the SDGs into their working practices, and maintaining the same high levels of transparency in the use of public funds that are required of civil society and multilateral organisations. (Paragraph 64)

Local government

17.The Local Government Association’s engagement with the SDGs is very welcome, as local implementation of the Goals will be crucial to ensure that no one is left behind. We welcome their offer to work with DFID—alongside the Commonwealth Local Government Forum—to help communicate the Goals to local authorities around the world and assist with important capacity building work. We hope the LGA will also encourage all UK local authorities to engage with the SDGs and incorporate them into their work, to support domestic achievement of the Goals. (Paragraph 66)

Domestic implementation of the SDGs

18.The Government’s response to domestic implementation of the SDGs has so far been insufficient for a country which led on their development as being universal and applicable to all. We remain to be convinced that responsibility for domestic implementation should lie with the Secretary of State for International Development, who already faces a substantial challenge in working to support international implementation of the Goals. While passion about the SDGs and understanding of them is important in planning implementation, a high level of influence across all government departments will be vital to ensure domestic implementation is on track. (Paragraph 74)

19.Engagement of government departments will be central to the success of domestic implementation, which itself has an impact on making progress on the goals globally. As such, we are particularly concerned that the SDGs have not been included in the 2015–2020 Single Departmental Plans of all government departments as was previously suggested by the Minister. Only DFID and the FCO’s plans reference the Goals. This indicates a worrying lack of engagement in, or ownership of, the SDGs by departments across Government, whose contributions will be essential to achieving the SDGs at home and overseas. (Paragraph 75)

20.Departments should be assigned specific responsibilities for making progress on the SDGs—as originally indicated in DFID’s evidence—to ensure ownership and clear lines of accountability. These responsibilities should be laid out clearly in each department’s Single Departmental Plan, which should be urgently reviewed accordingly with specific references to relevant SDGs by number. (Paragraph 76)

21.The Government must ensure that all Secretaries of State and government officials engage with the SDGs and fully understand the implications of the Goals on their department’s policies and programming. The Cabinet Office should lead on this work, in consultation with DFID, and we recommend that, if it has not already done so, it urgently produces a substantive and fully resourced internal communications strategy on the SDGs to ensure that all departments understand their responsibilities to deliver on the Goals. (Paragraph 77)

Policy coherence for sustainable development

22.It is clear from the evidence that policy coherence across Government will be crucial to SDG implementation. Although there are some good examples of policy coherence being addressed on a case-by-case basis by the Government, such as FGM (female genital mutilation), this approach is insufficient for tackling the universal SDGs agenda. We are deeply concerned at the lack of a strategic and comprehensive approach to implementation of the Goals. Without this, it is likely that areas of deep incoherence across government policy could develop and progress made by certain departments could be easily undermined by the policies and actions of others. It also reflects a worrying absence of commitment to ensure proper implementation of the SDGs across-government. (Paragraph 83)

23.The Government should identify a formal mechanism for relevant Secretaries of State or responsible Ministers to come together regularly to discuss the implementation of the SDGs across Government. Such a forum would ensure engagement from all departments at the highest political level. It should be used initially to discuss how the SDGs can be implemented coherently across Government, but could develop into a forum for discussion of particular areas of the agenda at regular, and defined, intervals. This would enable areas of policy incoherence to be flagged at an early stage, and dealt with at the highest level. We ask that the Government outline in their response the form that this mechanism will take. (Paragraph 84)

24.Reporting on policy coherence must be strengthened to ensure a more comprehensive approach. Current provisions under the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006 are insufficient and place the full burden of reporting on DFID, rather than making it a cross-government responsibility. The Government should commit to producing a biennial report on policy coherence for sustainable development. (Paragraph 85)

A national implementation plan

25.During this inquiry we have been concerned by the reluctance of the Secretary of State for International Development and the Minister for Government Policy to provide a cross-Government plan for implementation of the SDGs. Previous assertions that the manifesto equates to an action plan on the SDGs do not adequately reflect the commitment to which the Government signed up in September 2015. (Paragraph 88)

26.We welcome the Minister’s announcement that the Government will produce a report outlining the international and domestic approach to implementation of the SDGs by the end of the year but are disappointed at the apparent reluctance to call it an implementation plan and at the impression of a lack of urgency on this issue which has been conveyed, bearing in mind that the Government signed up to the SDGs well over six months ago. We welcome the reference to the Sustainable Development Goals, by name, in the Queen’s speech on 18 May 2016 and hope that this indicates a strong commitment to Government action to take forward implementation of the Goals in this parliamentary session. (Paragraph 89)

27.The forthcoming Government report on the UK Implementation of the SDGs should be urgently produced and must equate to a substantive cross-government plan for implementation of the SDGs. It must include clear lines of responsibility for each government department for domestic and international implementation of the SDGs. It must also clearly outline exactly how the Government will ensure policy coherence across the SDGs agenda. (Paragraph 90)

Where should DFID prioritise?

28.To be most effective and stand the best chance of success, governments’ implementation of the SDGs must be aligned to existing national priorities. National implementation must be a country-led process with opportunities for democratic engagement by citizens and civil society. We welcome DFID’s emphasis on encouraging national ownership of the SDGs in its priority countries. It can do this by supporting governments as they map the targets and indicators against national plans to identify where they align with existing priorities and where there are gaps. DFID will then be in a position, in partnership with other stakeholders, to offer support to the government to fill these gaps. (Paragraph 99)

29.In supporting countries to make progress towards the SDGs, DFID should assess where its work is likely to make the most impact. This will potentially require country teams to look at all of the areas outlined in evidence to us, such as: where DFID has particular skills and expertise to deliver; where other development actors are not already providing support; where there might be root bottlenecks which, if tackled, could have an impact on a number of goals; or indeed the goals where the country is most off track and may need the most support. These assessments will be country-specific and will help DFID contribute to a holistic response to the SDGs in its partner countries. (Paragraph 100)

30.Once an approach has been developed, DFID should outline how it is supporting countries to achieve the SDGs within the Operational Plans of each of its priority countries. (Paragraph 101)

Integrating the Goals into DFID’s work

31.In our recent Report on DFID’s allocation of resources we raised concerns over whether the new aid strategy had reduced the emphasis on poverty reduction. Similarly, and in light of the absence of clear linking of SDGs to policy priorities in DFID’s new Single Departmental Plan, it seems that the SDGs have not sufficiently informed the Government’s overseas aid strategy. (Paragraph 107)

32.We recommend that the Government produces a White Paper on International Development to provide clarity on its approach to Agenda 2030. Following the Multilateral, Bilateral and Civil Society Partnership Reviews, DFID and other government departments will be in a position to provide a comprehensive overview of their approach to international development over this Parliament and towards 2030, within the framework of the SDGs. A White Paper would serve an important function for the UK’s partners across the world, demonstrating the UK Government’s commitment to the Goals and explaining how it will support developing countries to achieve them. It would also be a useful exercise for the Government, bringing together different departments to ensure there is a coherent approach to Post-2015 development policy across all of Whitehall and all branches of DFID, from Westminster and East Kilbride to country offices across the world. (Paragraph 108)

33.The legislative framework determining much of the UK’s aid spending is also not fit for the post-2015 development agenda. The Government should use this critical juncture to consolidate and update the four International Development Acts (2002, 2006, 2014, and 2015) into one single Act. With the passage of the International Development (Official Development Assistance) Act 2015 and the agreement of the SDGs, many of the clauses within the 2002 and 2006 Acts are now obsolete. We recommend that the Government should consolidate these acts and update the provisions to reflect:

a)A legal requirement that poverty reduction (including through the provision of global public goods) is the primary purpose of all ODA spending (including by Other Government Departments);

b)A commitment to support the achievement of the SDGs, to incorporate them throughout DFID’s policy and programmes, and a legal requirement to report regularly on its contribution to progress in countries where it has bilateral programmes; and

c)A legal requirement of more systematic efforts towards, and reporting on, policy coherence across Government in support of the SDGs, substantially improving on the reporting currently conducted through DFID’s annual report which merely ‘cherry picks’ examples of collaboration. (Paragraph 109)

Data for development

34.We welcome the Secretary of State’s continued commitment to increasing the capacity of developing countries to collect and use data. We recognise that establishing where countries currently stand will be essential for identifying how far they have to go to achieve the Goals. We appreciate the vital role that data can play in enabling national governments to track progress against the SDGs, and for citizens and civil society to hold government to account on areas where they are falling short. We understand the importance of collecting disaggregated data to ensure no one is left behind, despite the clear challenges this presents. (Paragraph 117)

35.We urge DFID to continue to take a leading role in the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, encouraging innovation, localisation and partnership to find new ways of collecting data to establish baselines and track progress towards the SDG indicators. DFID should also continue to support capacity building in developing countries, through Paris 21 and the World Bank, but also bilaterally sharing the skills and knowledge housed within the Office of National Statistics to provide support and training for others. (Paragraph 118)

UK reporting against the SDGs

36.The UK Government should report annually on its contribution to SDG progress in all of DFID’s priority countries. This would be a helpful internal process for DFID, to assess where they are contributing to success and where their efforts are falling short, and thus where they need to take further action or reprioritise its efforts. It will also enable us, as a Committee, to scrutinise the efforts of the Government to support implementation of the SDGs overseas. The report should include the contributions of all government departments towards progress in those countries, including the positive and negative effects of government policies such as on tax, trade, the environment, migration and peace and security. (Paragraph 122)

37.The Government will be reporting against its domestic progress on the SDGs annually, as part of its responsibility to the UN’s global monitoring process. This report, and a full breakdown and analysis of the data (disaggregated where relevant) must be made publicly available, to enable the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) and departmental select committees to track progress and hold relevant Government departments to account on any areas where it is falling short. (Paragraph 123)

38.We welcome the Environmental Audit Committee’s continued engagement with the SDGs and the recent interest shown by the Women and Equalities Committee. We also note the establishment of the cross-party, bicameral All Party Parliamentary Group on the SDGs, the numerous debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords Chambers on the SDGs and the substantial number of Parliamentary Questions, which have been submitted relating to the Goals. The continued support for, and interest in, the domestic and international implementation of the SDGs is clear across Parliament and should be noted by the Government. (Paragraph 126)

39.We also welcome the Environmental Audit Committee’s ongoing work monitoring domestic sustainable development performance, which will be a big part of the UK’s response to the SDGs. We believe also that it is in the interests of other departmental select committees to engage with the Goals early, in order to assess any potential gaps in progress against the SDGs for which their department is responsible. It will also enable them to push for ambitious national indicators in a broad range of areas and to hold the government to account on anywhere it may fall short on these over the next 15 years. (Paragraph 127)

40.We recommend that all House of Commons departmental select committees engage with the SDGs, particularly those goals and targets most relevant to their departments. We encourage committees to: push for ambitious national indicators against the SDGs; monitor departmental progress against these indicators, once formulated, and use the data produced by the ONS annually to hold departments to account on their performance. Ideally, this scrutiny would culminate with an annual session with the relevant Secretary of State in advance of the High-level Political Forum on global SDG progress in July. The Liaison Committee may also wish to question the Prime Minister annually on progress. (Paragraph 128)

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

2 June 2016