Guest Contribution

A Common Approach to long term development

Reflections from Peter Davies, Commissioner for Sustainable Futures, in Wales, on the recent Ministerial statement on the Future Generations Bill.

Sustainable development has been an important part of the devolution story with the duty in the Government of Wales Act. The Bill is the next step in strengthening this commitment, learning from the experience to date and extending the duty across the public sector to enable a common approach to long term development. It is also in step with global developments aligned to the UN process of establishing Global Sustainable Development Goals and introducing structures to focus on the needs of future generations.

It is not a silver bullet that will address all our problems, but it should introduce mechanisms that improve our governance and decision making for the long term – so providing a better chance of delivering the intergenerational challenges that are beyond one term of Government and need the engagement of wider society.

These mechanisms for improving our governance for the long term should include:

  • Setting out principles that will underpin decision making across the public sector – engagement (participation or coproduction), preventative action (to save long term costs), collaboration and integration (working across boundaries to achieve economic, social and environmental outcomes) and focus on the long term
  • Introducing a process for setting, reviewing and updating our long term development goals and indicators, aligned to the UN Global Sustainable Development Goals but reflecting the specific needs and priorities of Wales
  • Ensuring an alignment between national and local delivery through applying the same principles to National, Local Government and other public bodies. This will include putting Local Service Boards and associated single integrated plans on a statutory footing
  • Establishing an independent Sustainable Futures Commissioner on a statutory basis as a “guardian of the long term” with specific duties/powers including the production of a Future Generations Report at a set point in the electoral cycle in the year prior to an election
  • Introducing  the Future Generations Report or “the Wales we want for future generations” -  would be prepared by the independent Commission on the basis of evidence review and engagement with communities
  • Requiring an incoming Government to take into account the Future Generations Report in setting key indicators of progress and demonstrating how a programme of Government would contribute to achieving key measures of progress over the term of Government
  • Requiring Public Sector bodies who would be subject to the Bill to integrate sustainability into their public reporting and identifying their contribution to the sustainable development goals
  • Ensuring compliance through the Wales Audit Office – who would have responsibility for identifying evidence of the application of the core principles in decision making and contribution to long term goals

Alongside the legislation there would also need to be other measures to support the objectives of the Bill, such as:

  • The Sustainable Development Charter www.sd-charter.net providing a voluntary mechanism for private and third sector bodies to sign up to the same principles and contribute to achieving the common goals – a form of “social contract”
  • Adoption of recommendations from the Early Action Task Force in interventions that can facilitate greater focus on preventative action
  • Enabling greater support for community/neighbourhood led development of visioning and action plans
  • Providing added support to Town and Community Councils that have local sustainable development plans based on community engagement

It will also be important to demonstrate that “we are not alone”. There need to be clear links to the UN process for Global Sustainable Development Goals, collaboration and shared learning with countries / regions who are following a similar path (e.g. Finland, Germany, Hungary and Catalonia), reference to key reports (like the Oxford Martin Commission on the Future “Now for the Long Term”) and engagement with key commentators like Jonathan Porritt.

We will need to be aware of the potential areas of challenge, that may include more bureaucracy at a time of austerity when we need to be focused on actions, or that it will simply be a set of declaratory statements, or top down statements of national Sustainable Development Goals.

The new Commissioner for Sustainable Futures will particularly be a point of focus as will the new statutory body being formed at a time of public sector austerity. It will need to have clear duties and powers and be formed through a simplification of existing structures – e.g. bringing in the Climate Change Commission, the current work delivered through Cynnal Cymru and potentially other functions related to its purpose carried out elsewhere.

Critically we will need to frame it in the context of a country committed to a sustainable future, well placed to deliver green growth in partnership with private sector companies with the same ambition.

The Ministerial statement set out plans for a national conversation on the Wales we want for future generations, which he has asked me to take forward in the New Year. This will be an opportunity to both trial the role of a Future Generations report and set the agenda for our long term goals – more on that will follow shortly.


Peter Daviesimages

Peter was appointed Commissioner for Wales and Vice Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission in 2007, providing independent advice to the Welsh and UK Governments. Following the decision of the UK Government to cut the UK Commission, Peter was appointed as Wales’s first Commissioner for Sustainable Futures by the Welsh Assembly Government in April 2011. This role is supported by Cynnal Cymru – the sustainable development forum for Wales.

Peter also was appointed as independent chair of the Climate Change Commission for Wales in 2010.

Posted by Future Justice on 10 January 2014