Sustainable Development Goals in the UK follow up: Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK Contents

3The Sustainable Development Goals in the UK

61.Our predecessor Committee’s 2017 inquiry on the Sustainable Development Goals identified what it called a “doughnut-shaped” hole, where the Government saw:

“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 … suggest[ing] that it has little interest in, or enthusiasm for, maximising the opportunities and benefits presented by the Goals”.107

62.The inquiry looked at Government’s approach to the SDGs in the UK across three broad areas:

63.This chapter will report on Government’s progress in these three areas. It will also examine Government’s readiness for the Voluntary National Review, which the Government is due to complete in 2019.

Implementation of the SDGs

Single Departmental Plans

64.Single Departmental Plans are the principle vehicle by which the Government intends both to implement the Goals and to measure progress in delivering them. Oliver Dowden CBE MP, Minister for Implementation at the Cabinet Office, told us:

The approach that we decided to take as a Government was rather than having separate metrics for each of the sustainable development goals, we wanted to entrench them in everything that the Government did through our single departmental plans, which are the guiding principles for each Government Department.108

65.Our predecessor Committee’s 2017 report found that only two departments, DFID and HMRC, mentioned the SDGs when their SDPs were published in 2017.109 The Government’s response in December 2017 committed to “work with departments to ensure Goals are embedded within them”.110 The Chair of the Committee subsequently wrote to the Cabinet Office in January 2018:

We were disappointed that only two Departments - DFID and HMRC - mentioned the Goals in their SDPs. We found that the read across from the Goals to identified departmental priorities was rarely explicit and sometimes obscure. … In the absence of well-defined references to the Goals, we would like to know how the Government intends to deliver on its commitment to report publicly on progress against the Goals in its Annual Reports and Accounts.111

SDPs were updated in May 2018, with all departments referencing the SDGs, apart from the Department for Exiting the European Union.112

66.The Fairtrade Foundation in their submission welcomed the revision of the SDPs, but cautioned that it has not yet gone far enough:

We believe there is still a lack of clarity regarding what concrete action the Government is taking to progress against the SDGs. The absence of mapping action against specific targets within the SDGs is concerning and reflects this lack of detail. We would emphasise that whilst the SDGs provide a clear and universal set of outcomes for all countries to achieve, to ensure and quantify progress, more tailored measures and actions designed to mapped against specific targets of the SDGs are required.113

67.UKSSD concur with this analysis, noting that

The SDPs do not link to specific SDG targets but connect existing departmental priorities to the SDGs at a Goal level. Therefore, the SDPs are not accurately integrat[ing] the SDGs and it’s unlikely they will result in their full achievement.114

68.The Bond SDG group go further, stating that “The Single Departmental Plans … while mapping out some activity linked to the goals, do not amount to a delivery plan.”115 Anna Taylor, The Food Foundation, highlighted that “significant areas [of the SDGs] can fall between stools and there is not a comprehensive overview of all elements of the SDGs across those plans.”116

69.Taking DEFRA’s Plan as an example, one of the Department’s aims is to develop a world leading food and farming system. The targets identified under this aim include an intention to:

Support our food and drink businesses to deliver high quality food and drink to more consumer markets across the globe by negotiating greater market access and working with the sector towards a Sector Deal to increase business capability to export (contributes to SDG 2)117

70.While the department may well be correct that this will contribute to the delivery of Goal 2, it is unclear from the SDP which aspect of Goal 2 this objective is intended to implement, and whether or not the Government is achieving it–performance information under this goal looks at the value of food exports and rural productivity, neither of which map directly onto the UN indicators.118

71.This issue is repeated across many SDPs, making it difficult to map government policy aims against the Goals, and to determine whether an initiative has been successful in delivering against the SDG indicators. As the Institute for Government illustrated earlier this year–targets in the SDPs are insufficiently specific to allow for objective assessment of whether or not they have been achieved:119

Figure 7: Priorities identified in Single Departmental Plans, 23 May 2018 (indicative)

Source: Institute for Government Analysis of Single Departmental Plans, 2018.120 Reproduced with permission.

72.Wildlife and Countryside Link suggest:

There needs to be an alignment of the SDPs to specific targets as well as the top line goals, without which it is difficult to identify gaps in SDG implementation.

The SDPs are not sufficient for an ‘action plan’ on the SDGs and the Government needs to develop a comprehensive implementation and coordination plan at the same time as developing its Voluntary National Review.121

73.There are also issues in relation to the effectiveness of SDPs in addressing Goals which cross policy boundaries. Goal 2: Zero Hunger is poorly represented, with The Food Foundation noting:

DEFRA’s Single Departmental Plan does not include a measure for food insecurity and the Department of Health and Social Care’s plan focuses solely on obesity. This limits the Government’s awareness of the prevalence of food insecurity in the UK and prevents it appropriately reporting on SDG2 and implementing a proportionate solution to tackling the problem.122

74.Similarly, there is no overarching framework for ensuring that there are no gaps in delivery of the Goals. Bond Sustainable Development Group highlight the lack of central oversight:

There is no common approach for how Government Departments have aligned existing plans to the SDGs, and no analysis of gaps and what goals and targets might be missing. It is therefore unclear how the SDGs have been translated into specific Government planning processes.123

Departmental Annual Reports and Accounts

75.The Government’s response to our predecessor Committee’s 2017 report suggests that the implementation of the SDGs can be tracked through reporting in departments’ annual reports and accounts (ARAs):

SDPs enable a department’s contribution to delivery of the Goals to be reported publicly in Departments’ Annual Report and Accounts, and enable progress to be scrutinised by parliament and the public.124

76.Written evidence shows that at present, annual reports are simply not capable of being used to track progress on implementation, and as a result it is difficult for Parliament and the public to hold Government to account on the Goals. Several respondents to our call for evidence note that DEFRA’s 2017–18 Annual Report contains only one reference to the SDGs, and that this is lacking in any detail.125 Similarly, the DWP make only two references which provide no detail on how the Department is performing against the Goals for which it is responsible.126

77.Analysis by the House of Commons Scrutiny Unit shows that few departmental annual reports provide an effective means of measuring performance, either against the departments’ goals or the SDGs.

Figure 8: Tracking the SDGs through relevant SDP Actions


Is the ARA structured around SDP “Objectives”?

Are SDP/SDG “Actions” included in Performance Report?

Is SDP/SDG performance illustrated through KPI/metric/discussion?





































































Source: House of Commons Scrutiny Unit

78.The 2017–18 Departmental Annual Reports were written against the previous Single Departmental Plans, before the Government’s commitment to include the SDGs, but this analysis shows that many departments have some way to go before the ARAs will act as an effective means of holding government to account.

79.The Scrutiny Unit Analysis highlights the lack of consistency between departments. Across the whole of Government there are some examples of good practice, with BEIS in particular setting out the Goals to which it is contributing and identifying actions taken in each area:

Figure 9: SDGs in the BEIS Annual Report and Accounts 2017–19

Source: BEIS Annual Report and Accounts 2017–18127

80.There remain challenges in linking the actions taken by Government to the targets under each goal, but this represents a minimum level of good practice that all departments should follow.


81.Our predecessor Committee’s 2017 report was particularly critical of the lack of leadership being shown by Government on delivering the SDGs, concluding that “there is no voice at the top of Government speaking for the long-term aspirations embodied in the goals”,128 and calling on the Cabinet Office to take ownership of this issue. It also emphasised the value of Government reporting an “aggregate scorecard or baseline against which to measure progress towards the Goals.”129 The Government’s response dismissed these recommendations, stating that “the Government believes that the Goals do not require a separate coordinating mechanism and are using existing mechanisms to embed and track delivery of the Goals”.130

82.However, submissions received for this follow-up inquiry suggest that further action is still needed to provide effective leadership on the SDGs. WWF state that “The SDGs have not been prioritised by the UK Government, there is no action plan in place for delivering the goals and little sign of political commitment to the goals.”131 UKSSD highlight a need for “clear Government leadership supported by cross-sector action from businesses, charities and individuals to ensure the UK achieves the SDGs as quickly as possible,”132 reiterating our predecessor Committee’s recommendation that ownership of the SDGs should be transferred to a senior Minister in the Cabinet Office.133

83.Mr Dowden told the Committee that while “each Department is responsible for all of the sustainable development goals,” “the Cabinet Office is responsible for all implementation.”134 However, he explained that SDPs “are reviewed each year by each Department”, and are “subject to clearance by the Cabinet Office and the Treasury.”135 Such reviews would allow a further opportunity for Departments to represent the SDGs at a target and indicator level in the SDPs, and highlight where the Cabinet Office should be taking a leadership role in ensuring that each Department is aware of their role in the SDGs and that each SDG target is accounted for in at least one SDP.

84.This strategic oversight might overcome the issues highlighted by our witnesses, and our findings from Chapter 2, which show an ongoing need for leadership on two levels:


85.Evidence also suggests that the doughnut-shaped hole is still present. The Government’s Agenda 2030 report offers a mismatched picture of government activity. For example, the government reports on its work overseas to address hunger and malnutrition but provides no detail on work to address this aspect of the SDGs in the UK.136

86.This is indicative of a broader failure to prioritise the SDGs in the UK context. WWF told us that, in spite of the UK Government’s role in championing the “Leave No One Behind” principle during negotiations on the 2030 Agenda, “they have not subsequently applied this principle to government policy.”137 This view was also shared by Bond SDG and Health Poverty Action.138 In their Measuring Up report, UKSSD assessed that in the overall implementation of the SDGs in the UK, “while there is an enormous amount to celebrate, the most vulnerable places and people in our society are increasingly being left behind.”139

87.Bond SDG recognise that the incorporation of the SDGs into the SDPs “represents some progress,” but they “do not believe that this is sufficient evidence of substantive mainstreaming or prioritisation of SDG implementation in its programme.”140 Similarly, looking at Goal 11, the Royal Town Planning Institute suggest that “there is no evidence that the government has an explicit action plan for responding to SDG11,” and that this would require “joined up policy across Whitehall” with “clearer direction and prioritisation from the centre of government.”141

88.The necessity of a joined-up approach is also highlighted by UKSSD, who note that:

There is a lack of policy coherence and failure to recognise that some policies may undermine the achievement of certain targets while contributing to others. This may result in inefficiencies and conflicts in the implementation of the SDGs, and the real value and benefits of the SDGs as an integrated, interconnected framework will not be realised.142

89.They also highlight the potential for gaps in coverage resulting from devolution of responsibility to departments in the absence of a central guiding force.143

90.There is also work to be done to make the Goals a meaningful part of the policy process. Wildlife and Countryside Link point to a failure to integrate the Goals into major policy proposals:

The UN SDGs are mentioned in the 25 Year Environment Plan. However, they are not mainstreamed throughout the Plan, and are only referenced under Chapter 6 on protecting our Global Environment. Again, this approach de-prioritises those targets and goals where national action is needed.144

Measuring the SDGs

91.The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development commits Governments to measuring progress against the SDGs at the national, regional and global levels:

“Indicators are being developed to assist with this work. Quality accessible, timely and reliable disaggregated data will be needed to help with the measurement of progress and to ensure that no one is left behind. Such data is key to decision-making. Data and information from existing reporting mechanisms should be used wherever possible.”145

92.The UN stipulates that disaggregated data should be broken down “by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.”146

93.The Office for National Statistics has begun publishing data on UK performance on the Sustainable Development Goals. In November 2017 the ONS launched its online data platform, which seeks to bring together all available data about the SDGs in the UK. The ONS have also published a series of narrative reports looking at specific aspects of the Goals. Recent reports include analysis of UK child mortality rates, data on domestic violence, and the proportion of people in custody.

94.This work has begun to provide a more detailed picture of domestic performance against the SDGs, although there remain several areas where data is not yet available or not of sufficient quality. ONS currently reports on 64% of the indicators (157 out of 244). It has a further 9% (22) in progress and is exploring the data sources for the final 27% (65). ONS are committed to fill these gaps and the breadth of data available is increasing all the time, with new data on undernourishment and local breed extinction risks added in September 2018. Ian Bell, Deputy National Statistician at the ONS, said that a lot of the focus is now on the disaggregation gaps, in particular aiming to “improve how we measure migration and population estimates” and “improve the income and wealth” aspects of finance data.147

95.There are, however, challenges with the currency of the data in some areas. For example, on the prevalence of food insecurity in the UK, there is only a single data point from 2015, derived from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation Survey. Data is also not of a consistent age–the most recent entry in the data series on children with malnutrition is from 2016, meaning it is difficult to get an accurate view of UK performance on the goals at any one point in time, or to track the impact of interventions across different parts of the Goals. Again, the ONS recognises this challenge and is working to address this.

96.The data on malnutrition highlights another challenge, which our predecessor Committee recognised in its initial report - in some cases there is no direct data on the targets set by the UN, requiring countries to use the closest available equivalent. For malnutrition, the SDG target seeks to measure the percentage of children who are two or more standard deviations away from median WHO standards for weight/height ratio, whereas UK data is based on NHS monitoring of the number of children classified as underweight. Similarly, there are differences in data frequency and type between the nations within the UK. For example, ONS sets out obesity data on children aged 4–5, but the data is only available for Scottish children aged 4–6. While England and Wales have data for 2016, Scotland’s most recent data comes from 2015 and Northern Ireland’s from 2014.148

97.The ONS has also been consulting on its approach to data reporting.149 As a result of this consultation it is working to improve the geographic breakdown of the data reported via the dashboard, with the aim of reporting all data to the lowest possible geographic level.150 It is also working to address other shortcomings in data disaggregation, in particular focusing on migrant status, where it is utilising new powers under the Digital Economy Act to improve migration statistics.151 Iain Bell, ONS, emphasised the breadth of ONS’s role in supporting data on the SDGs within the UK, beyond Government:

The role of the Office for National Statistics is to provide evidence for a wide range of users not just Government. Therefore, if there is a combined user need covering political parties, the third sector and others, it is our job to go out and measure this.152

98.The National Audit Office (NAO) has highlighted that “a good performance framework strikes the right balance between measuring outcomes and outputs, where outputs “are the direct results from an organisation’s activities” and outcomes are “the ultimate impact of these activities.”153 The NAO notes that the SDG indicators “primarily report on outcomes.”154 While it is therefore important to have some short-term metrics which are output focused while working towards the final outcomes, these should not be mistaken for outcomes.

Awareness of the SDGs

99.Awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals is critical for effective implementation and accountability. As Wildlife and Countryside Link note in their evidence, “increasing public awareness and understanding of the goals is important for public accountability. The public cannot hold governments, businesses or civil society organizations to account for delivering on the SDGs if they do not know about them.”155

100.The 2017 report described awareness of the Goals as “shockingly low.”156 The evidence received for this inquiry presents a similar picture. UKSSD report that they “have seen no evidence that the Government has taken any steps to raise awareness of the SDGs with external stakeholders, and particularly with children and young people.”157 This view is also shared by Wildlife and Countryside Link.158

101.Lindsay Boswell, CEO of FareShare, told the Committee that while business had driven forward action in relation to specific individual goals, such as 12.3 (food waste) where “the business industry is exemplary,” he “did not think the Government have done anything … to drive the awareness of the sustainable development goals forward.”159 Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, highlighted the importance of awareness of the SDGs, in creating a “framework … of accountability and reporting progress that is really critical if the goals are going to make any difference to anything.”160 She also highlights the opportunity for “genuine international collaboration and learning from each other.”161

Surely we can do a better job by getting around the table and working out what a positive food system looks like that benefits not only the environment but also human health equitably in the future. This is a global challenge that we are not grasping. The SDGs create a framework for doing that.162

102.David Rutley MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Food and Animal Welfare at DEFRA, highlighted the Department’s work in raising awareness through the Connecting Classrooms and Step Up and Serve initiatives, but recognised:

There is no question there is more to do in terms of raising awareness. When we look at issues like food waste and other issues, there is much more we can do. There is a ready and willing audience in younger people and we need to reach out to them more actively as well. I will take that challenge away and do more work within the DEFRA area but there is work ongoing, particularly on the environmental space.163

Role of the National Curriculum

103.The Government’s response to the 2017 report suggested that the national curriculum “already provides opportunities for pupils to be taught about [development] issues,”164 quoting the Key Stage 3 Geography curriculum which teaches pupils “how human and physical processes interact to influence and change landscapes, environments and the climate; and how human activity relies on the effective functioning of natural systems”.165 While there is scope for teachers to cover the Goals when teaching in this area, there is no requirement for the Goals to be explicitly mentioned. Indeed, there is no mention of the Goals at all in the Geography,166 Citizenship,167 or Science168 curriculums at Key Stage 3.

104.Evidence from DFID for this inquiry focuses on the curriculum, stating that it “enables teachers to impart knowledge and to raise awareness of the SDGs and sustainability issues teachers are free to expand upon topics specified in the national curriculum if they choose to.”169 As with the Government response, it ignores the fact that inclusion of topics relevant to the SDGs in the national curriculum does nothing to raise awareness of the Goals themselves.

105.The curriculum as it stands is therefore insufficient as a tool to raise awareness of the Goals among young people, both within and in addition to the national curriculum. To address this, the Bond SDG group recommend that the Goals should be taught as part of Citizenship education, noting that they “provide an ideal framework for teaching children and young people about global issues and the connections between the UK and the wider world.”170

106.The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleagues also highlight the challenges in higher education: “two thirds of students [have] not heard of the SDGs. We cannot hope to meet the SDGs by 2030 if we continue to produce graduates that have no idea what they are and the economic, environmental and social challenges and opportunities they represent.”171 They recommend that teaching of the SDGs be embedded into educational objectives, and underline the importance of teaching the SDGs beyond Goal 4 on quality education:

The Government needs to recognise the critical role of Higher and Further Education in acting across all the goals, and not being limited to Goal 4. What universities and colleges do matters to our shared ambition to create a more equitable and inclusive society, and be responsible custodians of our planet. The sector’s role in undertaking research and supporting innovation, alongside lifelong learning, underpin a global knowledge-based economy. Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders and change-agents–there is not enough understanding of this within Government.172

Awareness of the Goals in wider society

107.There are some good examples of awareness and engagement across wider society, but there is little consistency of approach. Bristol Green Capital Partnership report that “engagement at the regional level … has so far been limited”,173 although they highlight the work of Bristol City Council in appointing an SDG Ambassador for the city as an example of good practice,174 and note what can be achieved through citizen-led engagement, with the Bristol SDG alliance bringing together higher education institutions, charities, civil society groups and businesses to create localised targets for the City.175

108.Some businesses are also engaged with the goals. For example, PWC have developed a tool to help businesses “rethink strategy and business behaviour to align with the goals” and to “assess and evidence their impact.”176 The Business Retail Consortium’s Better Retail, Better World uses five SDGs as a framework to “mobilise the retail industry to meet some of the biggest global challenges.”177 Some of the supermarkets we heard from had detailed plans showing how their business could impact on the SDGs. Sainsburys was able to map the SDGs onto their guiding principles, and to demonstrate the interconnectedness of the SDGs.

Figure 10: Sainsbury’s Guiding Principles and the SDGs

109.Lord Bates, Minister of State for International Development, emphasised that the Government had engaged with business through the UN Global Compact, and through a speech by the DFID Secretary of State on the importance of the private sector engaging in the SDGs.179 However, some businesses are less engaged. For example, Asda did not detail any ways that it was aware that it was supporting the SDGs, beyond pointing to the Better Retail, Better World initiative.180

110.Corporate policies are also not always consistently applied. Evidence heard during our outreach events highlighted that while almost all supermarket central offices have policies to ensure that food surplus is donated or reallocated, this message is not always known or understood by the person managing waste “at the back door” of individual stores for any supermarket provider.181

111.In the Government’s response to our predecessor Committee’s report, it recognised the importance of engaging businesses, suggesting that the Government would consider how best to promote the goals to businesses.182 However, it seems that more action is still needed. As WWF put it in their evidence, “There needs to be concerted action and targeted policy making that engages a broad range of stakeholders including businesses, civil society, academic institutions and government.” The Environmental Association for Universities and colleges also call for “clearer linkages between the SDGs and the financial benefits of incorporating them within an institution.”183

The Voluntary National Review

112.Voluntary National Reviews are intended “to show what steps the country has taken to implement the 2030 Agenda… and provide an assessment of the results on the ground”.184 Dr Graham Long, from Newcastle University has provided a summary of the guidance on VNRs produced by the UN. He describes the four principles that should govern any VNR. They:

113.Countries wishing to conduct a VNR should follow a four-step process, as set out in the UN Handbook:

Initial preparation and organisation, during which the structure, scope and stakeholder approach are decided, and resources allocated;

Stakeholder engagement, during which the reviewing country should seek to hear from all levels of society;

Preparation of the Review, including data gathering, and reporting on ownership, integration and incorporation into national mechanisms, as well as providing analysis of progress.

Presentation of the Review to the High Level Political Forum.186

114.In its evidence the Department for International Development, which is leading on the UK VNR, describes the principles that underpin their review:

We are clear that the VNR should set out how the work of the Government will support the delivery of all 17 SDGs. This year’s theme of ‘Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality’ covers priorities for the UK Government, including economic growth, inequality, and peace and justice. We expect to highlight these areas in our report;

There should be a good balance between the UK’s domestic and international work; and

The VNR should adopt a data-driven approach to ensure it is robust and credible. We believe this is consistent with the VNRs presented by other countries and reflects UN guidance.187

115.In preparing the report, government should include a rigorous assessment of governance for, and implementation of the Goals; focus on those furthest behind in the UK context; and should report on awareness-building efforts, participation in the review and the presence of stakeholder perspectives.188

116.The UK VNR is due to be presented to the UN High Level Political Forum in July 2019, and the review itself will have to be submitted in May, leaving only five months for the process to be completed.

Conducting the VNR

117.Under UN guidelines, all levels and sectors of Government are expected to take part in the review.,189 and there is also a requirement for Parliamentarians to be consulted. It should “track progress in implementing the universal Goals and targets, including the means of implementation, in all countries in a manner which respects their universal, integrated and interrelated nature and the three dimensions of sustainable development”.190 This means that VNRs cannot cherry-pick–they must examine progress against all the targets which make up the SDGs, identifying challenges and difficulties as well as successes.191 The review should also evaluate the effectiveness of governance arrangements, in a “rigorous, self-critical way”192

118.In terms of gathering data, Governments should consider existing reports and information which may contribute to the process.193 These need not be restricted only to Government or its agencies–the Handbook suggests that any providers of data can be used to provide “Access to high quality, up-to-date, and disaggregated data [which] is vital for the VNR”.194 Many of the submissions to the inquiry highlight the UKSSD Measuring Up report as a good starting point for the Government’s analysis.195

119.However, the picture in the evidence submitted to the Committee raises questions about the Government’s approach. DFID’s own submission notes that in September 2018 the Department was still in the process of identifying leads within other departments to support the production of the Review.196 In October 2018 we asked Mr Rutley and Mr Tomlinson whether DEFRA and DWP had already started working towards a contribution to the VNR. Mr Rutley assured the Committee that DEFRA “will be making submissions” and that “the process is underway,” with officials “gearing up their activity and … liaising very closely with the Cabinet Office” to contribute to the VNR.197 Mr Tomlinson reiterated his commitment to work with DFID and other Departments, but told the Committee that he had not personally been aware of an approach by DFID for DWP to contribute to the VNR.198

120.Several other stakeholders also express concerns. The Royal Town Planning Institute state that “there is no evidence that MHCLG, or other government departments, are currently preparing for the Voluntary National Review Process.”199 End Hunger UK “believes the UK Government’s preparations for the Voluntary National Review process are insufficient.”200

Stakeholder engagement

121.As mentioned above, stakeholder engagement is a key principle of a successful VNR. The UN guidelines describe the importance of engagement as follows:

One of the founding principles of the 2030 Agenda is the requirement for processes to be participatory and inclusive. In practice, this means ensuring that all stakeholders, including all levels and sectors of government, civil society and the private sector, members of parliament, and national human rights institutions, are involved in the review and implementation processes.201

122.The London Sustainable Development Commission emphasised the opportunity presented by the VNR for “increasing stakeholder engagement with the SDGs and for building a more formal partnership with the Government to support the realisation of them.202 Evidence from DFID suggests that the Government intends to “[consult] with interested stakeholders to produce a strong report”, and there has been some initial work on engagement, with the first stakeholder panel taking place on 31 July 2018,203 and an online information gathering exercise launched during the summer.204 However, the evidence we have received suggests that engagement has so far been limited, and that time is running out to conduct an effective engagement exercise. Wildlife and Countryside Link state that:

To engage stakeholders in a meaningful way requires time and resources, given the deadline for submitting the VNR we are concerned that it is very late in the day to be reaching out to stakeholders. A timeline and process for engaging stakeholders needs to be communicated widely as soon as possible.205

123.UKSSD also highlight confusion around the stakeholder engagement process, noting that “It is still unclear what the scope and process for engaging stakeholders will be in detail”.206 EAUC report a similar lack of knowledge, saying that they are “not aware of preparations, mechanisms, or a reporting process”.207

124.Many of the submissions raise concerns about the lack of time remaining to complete the review. WWF suggest that “The UK Government has been very slow to develop a process and timeline for its Voluntary National Review (VNR) and we are concerned that there is now very little time to incorporate the contributions of stakeholders.”208

125.Given that the stakeholder engagement is intended to take place at an early stage in the process, it raises questions about whether the Government has sufficient time to deliver a full and effective review in line with the UN guidelines. Perhaps most worryingly, Government’s timeframe for conducting the VNR is unclear over when it will work with stakeholders and leaves no time for Parliamentary scrutiny.

Figure 11: Timeframe of key activities and deadlines for the UK’s Voluntary National Review

Source: website209

126.We raised this issue with Ministers as part of our oral evidence session. Lord Bates told the Committee:

We would be open to your advice on this as to how we engage with Parliament. There will be engagement with Parliament. The exact format of that is something that we are open to and discussing.210

127.He went on to make a commitment to the Committee on Parliamentary engagement:

If I could make the commitment, therefore, on behalf of the team of Ministers present, there will be a mechanism for consulting parliamentary colleagues on our progress towards a voluntary national review. That will happen before May. The exact format and structure as to how that consultation takes place is something we are discussing in Government, as you would expect, but we are also open to other colleagues in Parliament making suggestions to us.

Raising Awareness

128.Beyond the need to hear the voices of those involved with and affected by work to deliver the SDGs, a VNR also offers opportunities to raise awareness of the Goals within the reviewing country. Awareness-raising is part and parcel of the VNR process, as set out in the UN Handbook.211

129.The Department for International Development make only limited reference to awareness-raising in their evidence to the Committee, focusing mainly on raising awareness of UK good practice overseas:

The Government welcomes the VNR process as an invaluable opportunity to review progress, including learning more about what people, communities and businesses are doing across the country on this agenda, and share experience and lessons with the wider international community.212

130.From the evidence received by the Committee, there seems to have been little activity in this area, and limited enthusiasm from Government to take advantage of the VNR process to raise awareness of the Goals in a domestic context. WWF comment that:

The VNR is an excellent opportunity to have a broader public discussion about the SDGs, for example in schools, with communities, and increase awareness of the Goals. However, we have not seen any indication that the Government will use the VNR to increase visibility of the Goals.213

131.Many contributors, like the Fairtrade Foundation, express a desire to engage with Government as part of the review and view it is an opportunity to raise awareness.214 But the risk is that the opportunity will be missed. Wildlife and Countryside Link summarise the situation:

The UK’s Voluntary National Review (VNR) is an excellent opportunity to raise public awareness of the goals, and build momentum for their implementation, including across the public, private and non-profit sectors. However, so far we have not seen any indication that the UK Government will use the opportunity of the VNR to engage the public and increase communication on the goals.215

Conclusions and Recommendations

132.In their present format, Single Departmental Plans are wholly inadequate as a means of delivering the SDGs in the UK. The omission of the SDG targets relating to hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition is just one example of where SDG targets have been overlooked in Government planning in the domestic context. Government’s failure to ensure that all SDG targets are covered in the new SDPs has left significant gaps in plans and accountability. Further work is needed to enable Government to fulfil its commitment to work “tirelessly for the full implementation of [the UN] Agenda by 2030.”

133.Awareness of the SDGs has grown in some parts of business and civil society, for example the work of the Better Retail, Better World project and supermarket awareness at a central office level. However, understanding of the role of the goals does not always filter down to the people who can influence performance, and Government could be doing more to increase awareness and illustrate its commitment to the SDGs, particularly among government agencies, the civil service, business and the public.

134.ONS has made some significant progress in developing metrics for the SDGs, reporting on 64% of indicators in its online portal. However, gaps still exist both among the indicators which they are yet to publish and among the existing indicators in terms of geography, demographic data and frequency of data updates. There is also currently a lack of outcome focused metrics, and a lack of set actions to respond to poor outcome performance.

135.The VNR offers an opportunity for Government to audit its own performance so far against the SDGs, and to raise the profile of the SDGs. As promised by DFID, there needs to be a mechanism for consulting Parliament on the Voluntary National Review, allowing for Parliamentary scrutiny of the full VNR before it is submitted.

136.We welcome Government’s commitment to put the SDGs “at the heart of the Single Departmental Plans”. However, the SDPs need to be explicitly linked to each SDG target, and mapped against underlying indicators. The Cabinet Office should be responsible for ensuring that no target is left out from the SDPs and should allocate accountability where required. It should facilitate cross-departmental working on targets where more than one department may influence the UK’s progress. Progress towards the SDGs should be aggregated into a single annual report by Government, as previously recommended by our predecessor Committee.

137.We reiterate the recommendation made in our initial 2017 inquiry that Government should do everything it can to support partners (government agencies, local government, civil society, business and the public) to contribute towards delivering the Goals.

138.ONS should continue to develop its metrics to cover all SDG indicators. Government and civil society must work with ONS to ensure that Government is able to work from timely, UK-wide metrics to measure its performance, with sufficient disaggregation to identify areas of need. It should consider the existing data to determine whether it is fit for current purpose, and to ensure that it covers the outcomes of actions, rather than just outputs. Government should also ensure that it establishes specific mechanisms for action if performance is poor. The Government should show leadership by introducing an SDG impact assessment as part of the cost-benefit analysis undertaken by Government, or for politically strategic events such as the Queen’s Speech and Budget.

139.Government must ensure that it engages with stakeholders, MPs and civil society groups in the Voluntary National Review Process. It must also fulfil its commitment to bring the VNR before Parliament for scrutiny before it is submitted. Senior Ministers, civil society and Parliamentarians should be present when the VNR is presented at the High Level Political Forum in July 2019.

107 Environmental Audit Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2016–17, Sustainable Development Goals in the UK, HC 596, Summary

108 Oliver Dowden, Q47

109 Sustainable Development Goals in the UK, para 55

110 Government Response, p.6.

112 Department for Exiting the European Union, Single Departmental Plan, Updated 23 May 2018, accessed 18 December 2018

113 Fairtrade Foundation (SDF0026)

114 UKSSD (SDF0027)

115 Bond (SDF0012)

116 Anna Taylor, Q2

117 DEFRA, Single Departmental Plan, accessed 16 October 2018.

118 Ibid.

119 IFG Blog, 1 June 2018, Too many priorities mean no priorities, accessed 17 October 2018.

120 Ibid.

121 Wildlife and Countryside Link (SDF0015)

122 The Food Foundation (SDF0017)

123 Bond (SDF0012)

124 Government Response, p. 8.

125 Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (SDF0003); Wildlife and Countryside Link (SDF0015); Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (SDF0006)

126 DWP, Annual Report and Accounts 2017–18, p. 21. There is a nearly identical paragraph on p. 83.

127 BEIS Annual Report and Accounts, 2017–18, p.35

128 Sustainable Development Goals in the UK, para 59.

129 Ibid., para 41

130 Government Response

131 WWF (SDF0009)

132 UKSSD (SDF0027)

133 Sustainable Development Goals in the UK, para 59

134 Oliver Dowden, Q56 and Q95

135 Ibid., Q50

136 Agenda 2030, the UK Government’s approach, p. 6.

137 WWF (SDF0009)

138 Bond (SDF0012); Health Poverty Action (SDF0013)

139 Ibid., p.4

140 Bond (SDF0012)

141 Royal Town Planning Institute (SDF0011)

142 UKSSD (SDF0027)

143 Ibid.

144 Wildlife and Countryside Link (SDF0015)

145 UN, Agenda 2030, para 48

146 Ibid., para 74g

147 Iain Bell, Q30

148 ONS, Indicator 2.2.2, accessed 4 December 2018

149 Office for National Statistics (ONS) (SDF0031)

150 Ibid.

151 Ibid.

152 Iain Bell, Q24

153 National Audit Office, Environmental and Sustainability Metrics, 2015, p.8

154 Ibid.

155 Wildlife and Countryside Link (SDF0015)

156 Sustainable Development Goals in the UK, para 6.

157 UKSSD (SDF0027)

158 Wildlife and Countryside Link (SDF0015)

159 Lindsay Boswell, Q35

160 Anna Taylor, Q34

161 Ibid.

162 Ibid.

163 David Rutley, Q64

164 Government response, p.2

165 Department for Education, Geography programmes of study: key stage 3 National curriculum in England, accessed 15 October 2018.

166 Ibid.

168 Department for Education, Science programmes of study: key stage 3 National curriculum in England, accessed 15 October 2018.

169 Department for International Development (SDF0029)

170 Bond (SDF0012)

171 Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (SDF0010)

172 Ibid.

173 Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Bristol SDG Alliance, Cabot Institute (University of Bristol) (SDF0007)

174 Ibid.

175 Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Bristol Method+ Driving the Sustainable Development Goals agenda at city level in Bristol, p.12, accessed 15 October 2015.

177 British Retail Consortium, Better Retail, Better World, accessed 5 December 2018

178 Sainsbury’s (SDF0030)

179 Lord Bates, Q63

180 Asda Stores Ltd. (SDF0035)

181 Waitrose & Partners (SDF0037); Aldi UK (SDF0036); The Co-op (SDF0034); Ocado (SDF0033); Tesco PLC (SDF0032); Sainsbury’s (SDF0030); See Outreach events, Appendix 2

182 Government Response, p. 4.

183 Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (SDF0010)

184 UN Handbook, p.15.

185 Dr Graham Long (SDF0019)

186 United Nations Handbook, accessed 15 October 2018.

187 Department for International Development (SDF0029)

188 Dr Graham Long (SDF0019)

189 Ibid.

190 UN, Agenda 2030, para 74b, accessed 17 October 2018.

191 Dr Graham Long (SDF0019)

192 Ibid.

193 UN Handbook, p. 15.

194 Ibid., p. 14.

195 For example, Bond (SDF0012)

196 Department for International Development (SDF0029)

197 David Rutley, Qq101–102

198 Justin Tomlinson, Qq103–104

199 Royal Town Planning Institute (SDF0011)

200 End Hunger UK (SDF0021)

201 UN Handbook, p. 13.

202 London Sustainable Development Commission (SDF0023), see also UKSSD (SDF0027)

203 WWF (SDF0009)

204 Available at, accessed 17 October 18.

205 Wildlife and Countryside Link (SDF0015)

206 UKSSD (SDF0027)

207 Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (SDF0010)

208 WWF (SDF0009)

209, About the Voluntary National Review, accessed 5 December 2018

210 Lord Bates, Q93

211 UN Handbook, p. 54.

212 Department for International Development (SDF0029)

213 WWF (SDF0009)

214 Fairtrade Foundation (SDF0026)

215 Wildlife and Countryside Link (SDF0015)

Published: 10 January 2019