About the abolition of the Sustainable Development Commission.
Far more eloquently and reasonably than I could possibly manage (still being more than a bit pissed off about what happened earlier in the year), it lays out exactly what it is that the SDC does, exactly how it gets it done, and exactly what the outcomes have been. No false claims, no whingeing – just a comprehensive, very professional account of what happens today and what the Government will now need to get done by other means.
So let us have a look at the first couple of pages of the SDC report:
In fulfilling its remit, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) has advised on and advocated for improvements across priority areas of Government’s business, and reported on its progress. Drawing on extensive experience gained over 10 years, the SDC has identified four criteria for any new sustainable development (SD) arrangements in Government; Governance Arrangements, Mechanisms, Capability Building and Engagement (see Figure A, Section 1.3 below for further detail). These must be addressed if Government is to mainstream SD in its business, demonstrate leadership by example, and live up to its laudable ambition of being the “Greenest Government Ever”:
Governance arrangements must be put in place to drive SD through leadership, strategy, structures and scrutiny. They should also encourage innovation, long?term thinking and ensure effective cross?departmental working.
Political Leadership ?There is a need for political leadership from the very top of Government. Ideally, the lead for sustainable development should be the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister or Cabinet Office Minister with support from a cabinet committee which has a clear remit on SD and access to impartial, expert advice. SD could feature prominently in the remit of an existing Cabinet Committee, with Government setting out how any such arrangement would ensure that SD becomes an organising principle for the development of Government policy, rather than a ‘bolt on’ afterthought.
Strategy and Vision ? Government urgently needs to bring together departments, local authorities, civil society and business under a refreshed and inspiring vision of sustainability for the future that will retain and strengthen the UK’s position as a SD leader on the world stage. Any strategy must be explicit in how Government’s economic, social and environmental activities are mutually reinforcing, and set out how an improved quality of life within environmental limits can be achieved, both in the short and longer?terms.
Governance Structures – Governance structures should be reviewed to ensure that any bodies responsible for overseeing policy and operational performance are aligned and well co?ordinated to ensure effective and efficient delivery of agreed government goals for SD. Operational performance should explicitly help support and drive national policy ambitions. These bodies must also have clear remits and agendas covering the areas for which each is responsible, and be given appropriate levers and mechanisms to make effective change on cross?Government issues.
Scrutiny – Government must have an independent scrutiny/assurance function which is informed by robust evidence, developed in part through ongoing challenge which necessitates close and regular liaison with Government officials. Reporting on progress must be transparent and provide Parliament and the public with a comprehensible overview of progress. Independent, well? informed scrutiny is essential, not only for Government’s credibility on the SD agenda, but also to challenge departments and drive improvements in priority areas
Mechanisms must be established that enable Government to deliver its commitments set out in the SD vision and strategy.
Performance Management Frameworks – Currently Government is lacking an agreed holistic set of standards, indicators, targets or explicit goals against which it, and others, can measure impacts, performance and progress towards agreed pan?Government outcomes.
Delivery Plans and Tools – All public bodies need agreed plans which demonstrate how they will contribute to mainstreaming and delivering SD. SD must be embedded in all decision?making tools and processes for both its policy and operations. Examples include the Green Book, Impact Assessments, SD indicators, Business and Structural Reform Plans and environmental management systems (EMS). To date progress has been inconsistent and there is a risk that ongoing work (e.g. understanding impacts through the Green Book) will not go far enough in SD terms.
Monitoring and Reporting – Government must ensure that there is a timely and transparent process for reporting progress against agreed performance management frameworks for all elements of public sector business – policy and operations ? and that it provides easily understood information and progress reports for the public.
All the above mechanisms must be applied consistently across the three thematic areas of Operations and Procurement, People and Policy. Furthermore, SD mechanisms must be co?ordinated and driven centrally in order to make the most efficient use of Government–wide resources.
Capability building – Government will need a systematic approach to incorporating capability building into all aspects and levels of SD in Government – leadership, civil service skills, systems and procedures and tools to ensure the continuous improvement and efficiency of performance. This would need to be driven from a central focal point to ensure oversight, prioritisation and also the efficient use of Government?wide resources. Current practice, where each department largely pursues its own agenda with little sharing of resources, activities and benefits, is not as effective or efficient as possible. It is key to identify core competences for the various stages of decision?making and policy development; the civil service staffing hierarchy; and various business functions (e.g. HR and Procurement).
The central focal point for Capability Building would need a means by which it can assess which departments’ learning needs might best be met through centralised initiatives. These could include a range of learning interventions making best use of available resources which might require bespoke support for particular departments, or identifying which learning needs could be dealt by the department itself.
Engagement of business, civil society, wider public sector and international bodies is vital to encourage dialogue, debate and decision?making to improve Government policies and provide independent, expert advice to decision?makers. Government must therefore ensure it has arrangements in place for ongoing engagement in order to:
Inform domestic policy as well as influence the European and international agenda
Share best practice and learn from international examples
Act as a focal point and sounding board for those organisations needing advice and guidance on specific areas of SD relevant to their organisation’s aims. This will become increasingly important as a means for supporting Big Society initiatives as they start to gather momentum. It is also a critical part of the preparations for the Earth Summit.
To sum up, the previous Government made some progress on mainstreaming SD in a number of areas. However, given that the new Government has made a clear commitment to be the Greenest Government Ever, it not only needs to ramp up its ambition on operations and think beyond its estate boundaries and carbon; it should also ensure that SD permeates all aspects of its business, particularly its policy development. This document builds on the SDC’s experience and findings to date, highlights issues and risks and sets out a number of next steps for the consideration of the Coalition Government.
Now we thought that for the past decade the Old Etonian Baronet was working out how to save the planet. What he was actually doing for ten years was composing management consultancy guff of a level that would shame the most naive and inexperienced intern.
No wonder they abolished the thing, eh?