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Transparency and scrutiny: progress review

A year on from publication of the Coalition Government’s vision for sustainable development, Defra’s Sustainable Development Team reviews progress on transparency and scrutiny.

This report is one of a series of progress reviews across the themes of the Mainstreaming Sustainable Development vision.

Sustainable Development Indicators

The Government has committed to measure and report our progress through a new set of sustainable development indicators (SDIs), with Defra leading the Government’s work to develop these. The intention is that these SDIs will provide a high level transparent overview for ministers across government, parliament and the public as to whether the UK is developing on a sustainable path. The SDIs should also support our evidence base for policy development across Government.

The development of a new set of indicators provides an opportunity to take on board latest international thinking on indicators, to align the indicators with work on measuring national wellbeing, to ensure that they effectively support government policy on the economy, environment and society, and that information on progress is readily accessible.

A public consultation on the new set of SDIs will take place in the spring or early summer 2012. Stakeholders were asked for their views on the development of a new SDI set in September 2011 and this feedback is being fed into the development of the proposals for consultation.

We have also been working closely with the Office for National Statistics (ONS), who are leading on the independent development of measures of national wellbeing. In this way, we will be able to provide a comprehensive assessment of both current wellbeing and inter-generational wellbeing.

The inextricable links between wellbeing and sustainable development may result in some indicators sitting in both the ONS and SDI sets if they look at issues that are both relevant to current wellbeing and long-term inter-generational sustainability. The ONS consultation closed on 23 January. The ONS and Defra will be discussing the coverage and overlaps as these projects develop in parallel.

A recent article in SD Scene provides more information on the development of the new set of SDIs.

Annual Report and Accounts

For 2011/12 all UK government departments will be required to report on their embedding of sustainable development in their annual report and accounts, published and laid before Parliament before the summer recess. This is a new requirement for all departments and is an important part of the move to increase transparency and accountability.

For more detail on the reporting requirements for government departments on sustainable development, see our article Annual Report and Accounts: UK Government departments’ mandatory requirements.

Stakeholder engagement

We will continue to bring you news of our progress through SD Scene, the Government’s sustainable development news website monthly e-newsletter, which is sent to over 8,000 subscribers each month. SD Scene reports news and events from across the wider sustainable development community, including news from government of our successes and the challenges we face in delivering our vision of mainstreaming sustainable development across government. The interactive elements – including user comments, the SD Scene Twitter feed and online surveys – enables SD Scene to serve as our main stakeholder engagement tool, which is complemented by meetings and direct engagement.

Stakeholder engagement is crucial to the effective mainstreaming of sustainable development across government. An example of effective engagement was the invitation, announced through SD Scene in September 2011, for stakeholders to comment on the new sustainable development indicators – 242 stakeholders responded. Stakeholders were also invited to put themselves forward for stakeholder engagement in a survey in SD Scene in December 2011. We have already started a series of small focussed stakeholder events to access expertise to help inform the development of mainstreaming sustainable development policy starting with a session to discuss business plans in January 2012.

For further information on the results of the surveys described above, see:

External expertise: the Sustainable Development Research Network (SDRN)

The Government needs access to expertise and evidence on sustainable development in order to deliver on its challenging objectives. We have funded the SDRN for another 3 years to give policymakers across government links to sustainable development research. We have also broadened the SDRN’s scope to meet the changing sustainable development agenda, by covering both priority and cross-departmental policy areas, such as the Green Economy, wellbeing and fairness, natural environment, food security, the Big Society, mainstreaming sustainable development within government, and the social impacts of adapting to climate change.

In December 2011 Richard Wakeford was appointed as the new Chair of the SDRN Advisory Committee. Richard’s first task was to chair the successful December SDRN launch, debate and reception, titled “Sustainable development and economic growth: challenges for research and evidence”.

The SDRN’s work up to July 2014 will include:

  • Producing rapid and responsive research and evidence reviews and scoping reviews relevant to the Government’s sustainable development policies;
  • Creating a new Research and Practice library as an accessible database of sustainable development initiatives relevant to policy agendas such as the Green Economy and Big Society;
  • Compiling policy-relevant case studies, presenting a snapshot of community-led initiatives relating to the delivery of sustainable development;
  • Producing the SDRN’s fortnightly electronic mailing to members, collating and summarising information across UK-related sustainable development policy and research, including news on reports, publications, events and new research calls;
  • Holding a series of seminars and workshops, together with an annual sustainable development research conference;
  • Holding annual workshops with the devolved administrations to expand SDRN’s reach and promoting exchange of ideas on policy and practice.

You can find out more about the SDRN and how to become a member at www.sd-research.org.uk

Role of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC)

The EAC recently contributed an article to SD Scene outlining its remit, how it works, and its scrutiny of the Government’s progress on sustainable development and environmental policy.

The Defra Secretary of State has since been invited to attend an EAC oral evidence session with Oliver Letwin on 25 April 2012 to discuss the Government’s progress on embedding sustainable development, such as the quarterly reviews of departmental business plans and the plans’ ‘refresh’ for 2012/13 (including arrangements for transparency of the process as well as the results); sustainable development indicators; and the Greening Government Commitments and Cabinet sub-committee’s review of departments’ performance on the commmitments.

This article is one of a series of reviews on progress in the first year since publication of Mainstreaming Sustainable Development, the Coalition Government’s vision for sustainable development. Read all the articles here…

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