Submissions & Letters

Submission to the Environmental Audit Committee’s Consultation on the Government’s Approach to Sustainable Development

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FDSD submitted a response on 1st September 2015 to the Environmental Audit Committee’s consultation on The Government’s Approach to Sustainable Development.

The EAC’s consultation aims to stocktake the current UK Government approach to sustainable development, as well as the kind of themes and inquiries which the EAC could pursue over this parliamentary term.

Our response included recommendations that the EAC uses the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a way to review the Government’s approach to sustainable development; the Cabinet Office adopt overall responsibility for SD coordination and oversight; and that the EAC conducts an inquiry into the government architecture and policy changes necessary to firmly embed sustainable development principles and practice. We also suggested that a review is undertaken, following the Wellbeing and Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, of the potential for establishing a similar independent office to oversee and scrutinise government and broader public sector action on sustainable development.

One of the main points of our response was the need to consider the potential for increasing public and stakeholder participation in policy development and scrutiny, as well as in the way the EAC itself works. We said:

“A complementary approach to rebuilding confidence in, as well as enabling, government commitment to sustainable development is to develop more effective and meaningful modes of public and stakeholder engagement. Much more is required than simple one-way communication from government or standard consultations that fail to attract attention or interest.

The transparency and participation agenda is a government priority: it is an active participant in the international Open Government Partnership and the Cabinet Office is leading on Open Policy Making. The proposed SDG 16 includes the aim to ‘ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels’.

Innovative ways of engaging the public in the policy process are being adopted around the world. There is increasing evidence that where participatory institutions are carefully designed to ensure considered reflection rather than knee-jerk reactions and raw preferences, citizens and other stakeholders are willing and able to deal with complex policy issues. Participation can generate commitment amongst participants, increase knowledge, generate new ideas, legitimise tough political choices, and challenge the power and influence of vested interests.

There has been some experimentation by Select Committees and other parts of Parliament in the use of more innovative engagement methods. The EAC is well placed to raise the political and public profile of sustainable development (and its own activities) through more systematic and innovative public engagement. And the oversight and scrutiny functions of any independent Office for Sustainable Development/Future Generations would be enhanced by embedding more systematic public engagement strategies.”

The last point is further outlined in Graham Smith’s FDSD report on The Democratic Case for an Office for Future Generations.

You can find our full submission on the EAC website here.