Proud to live in Wales

Ant Flanagan, the co-ordinator of Gower Power Co-op, attended the Policy Forum on Sustainability in Wales on the 27th March, and was very inspired by Jane Davidson’s key note speech which gave a realistic assessment of the challenge that is still ahead of us with regard to sustainability in Wales. She told the story of the histories National Assembly and of the Future Generations Bill. We are awaiting the release of the Bill (due for release in June/July) with baited breath and sincerely hope it genuinely finds the ways of meeting this generation’s needs without compromising the needs of future generations.

Sustainable Development for Wales

Jane Davidson, Director, INSPIRE, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Thank you, thank you very much Gretel and good morning to you all.
I’m delighted to have been given this opportunity to put some of the discussions that you will be having later, with contributions from Milica Kitson and Peter Davies and others into the context.

I want to start in 1999 – and then I thought actually I’ve got to start before 1999. 1999, for those of you who remember, was the year in which the National Assembly started in Wales, but in a sense this goes back to 1997 when we had a referendum in Wales as to whether or not there should be an Assembly. Although it was won by the smallest possible margins, the commitment – and I’m just in awe now looking back at this – the commitment was to establish the Assembly within 2 years. So from the referendum to the establishment of the Assembly was literally around 24 months, and in a sense, if you look back at that it’s not surprising that therefore the powers that actually came over to the Assembly at that time were very small, they were only the existing power, the ad hoc powers that had existed with the Welsh Office. So you had real oddities in the sense that you had almost no powers in the terms of the economy, in education you could do things with the curriculum but you couldn’t do anything else. So in the short time between where we are now and where we were in 1999, huge moves have taken place and of course now there are substantial legislative powers in our legislative Assembly. So we do have to put a historical context on what we do.

The one thing that changed in the context of the previous powers and the powers that did come to Wales was Section 121 of the First Government of Wales Act. This was because a set of people in Wales – not politicians – were passionate about the idea that we should have a legislature in Wales that actually thought differently, that was able to think about the longer term. If you remember, then Assembly elections were on 4 year fixed terms, and some people were worried that we would end up with a new legislature in Wales that would only think about the next election, because we’ve all experienced that, haven’t we, about seeing Parliamentary elections on the basis of the 4 year or the 5 year term, so having fixed terms – for the first time in the UK – some people were worried that the new legislature would be focused on the first 3 years and then would do ‘Election bribes’, that’s what my constituents used to call them, and then move into the next 4 years.

And so a visionary group of people, which included some of the organisations here in this room, including people in universities, went to both Cynog Dafis, and to Ron Davies and to Sue Essex and said why don’t we do something completely different, why don’t we look to the longer term, why don’t we make Wales one of the only countries in the world which will have a commitment to always look to the longer term, and that commitment is up there in front of you. The big idea was that the new National Assembly for Wales would have a duty to have a scheme promoting sustainable development in everything that it did. at IIf you have a duty to promote anything, you’ve got to have some kind of check and balance in the system. An Annual Report is one check, and most importantly, and you will hear about the proposed new arrangements later, following an election to the National Assembly, when there might be a change of Party in Government, the new Government must publish an Effectiveness Report on how well the previous Government had committed to sustainable development. The idea of this was to make sure that this brought all parties into the equation, so all parties had a vested interest in working with each other for longer term decision making.
Now the early definition of sustainable development, (it’s still a current definition but obviously Wales is also looking at its own definitions now), was to work with the Brundtland definition, which you can see up there, and what’s always interested me about the Brundtland definition is actually those two sub clauses, firstly, the idea of the concept of needs; this is really important in terms of looking at the social justice agenda, and that’s so important in Wales that we always look at equity issues, that we always look at ways to give people more skills, more opportunities, more employment, and secondly, the idea of limitations imposed by the State, to define what is the appropriate role for the State to enable the legislature to make sure that they take sustainable decisions, and what is the appropriate role for legislature is exactly what is at the heart of the National Conversation now.

John Rawls says, ‘do unto future generations as you would have past generations do unto you’, and I think that’s a really important statement, if we think always about what our inheritance is, would we want to wish that inheritance on others or would we want to improve that inheritance? So these ideas are about permission to have really big ideas, to try and get consensual approaches of people and politicians across all parties behind them.

If we look at the timeline, we see that from that First Government of Wales Act, we had to have a Scheme, so there we are, the first Scheme, ‘Learning to Live Differently’, (the SDS on the slide refers to Sustainable Development Scheme), so ‘Learning to Live Differently’ was the first one, which I think, for those of you who remember it – and there probably aren’t many in this room who remember it, and it’s impossible to find on the website, by the way -, it was a sort of ‘10 things to do for a better planet’. And then there was the first Effectiveness Report which showed 10 things aren’t enough.

So the second Scheme was published, which could be characterised as ‘20 things to do for a better planet’, and then we had the second Government of Wales Act and the second Effectiveness Report, which said that the Scheme was getting better but what it doesn’t do is bring sustainable development to the heart of Government. And so ‘One Wales, One Planet, the third Scheme, was the first major attempt, with major consultation across Wales, solidly supported by the All Party All Sector Climate Change Commission, to put sustainable development as the central organising principle of then the Coalition Cabinet. The ‘One Wales Agreement’, some of you will remember, was the agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru for the Coalition period between 2007 and 2011. The title’ One Wales, One Planet’ recognises that we currently use three planets’ worth of resources, when we only have one, so how can we be more effective, but also make sure that there are really exciting and positive opportunities for life in Wales?

Along came the third Effectiveness Report and in parenthesis it basically says, great idea, but not enough, because what it still doesn’t do is bring this to the centre of Government thinking. We had hundreds of indicators, actually we didn’t have hundreds, there were about 46 or something, indicators around sustainable development, but they don’t influence policy development generally. So the big question was how you could have this big vision idea and how you bring that together with what Government does.

I left in 2011, but in the Programme for Government, I suppose my legacy was to put in the manifesto that this had to come to the heart of Government, if this is a serious proposition for Wales for all parties; for the people of Wales to be able to have a big vision, it had to be at the centre of Government thinking. Others will talk about what has happened since then in terms of the White Paper, the National Conversation that’s being conducted across Wales at the moment, and our Future Generations Bill, which is due in June. I’m still enough of a Minister to say June? As opposed to June. So we will see whether it’s in June….

I think it’s also important to look at the other influences that came in on this. The ‘Shared Framework for Sustainable Development’ in 2005 was something all countries in the UK signed up to, with four different political administrations, and I think there is a real idea there about what Governments should be doing, they should be wanting to ensure prosperity for their communities, but responsible prosperity, corporate social responsibility and more business type language, fairness, equality, equity, promoting good governance, and this very, very important element at the bottom of the slide, using sound science responsibly. I think we’ve seen quite a lot of sound science not being used responsibly over the last few years.

And then if you move on to look at what happened in Wales, Wales introduced Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship ESDGC) as a statutory element in the curriculum and on the slide are the areas that the ESDGC Working Group defined as important for young people in Wales to consider as they studied their subjects in school, in college and in university. And this is not about an ideology, this is about how to ensure that we create the next generation of critical thinkers, of curious people, people prepared to challenge because those are the enterprising people, those are the entrepreneurs that we do need, we are a country of small businesses, we are country of insufficient entrepreneurs, we need to create that exciting relationship between the education system and what people can do.

The Welsh indicators up on the slide are still existing at the moment. The way it works in Sustainable Development Schemes is that until your Scheme is replaced, your Scheme is the current Scheme, so these are still the indicators of the current Scheme, although I’m sure the team are looking at what appropriate indicators are going to be included in the Bill. But the importance, I think, for this audience, there are a number of people from the business sector here, it’s really important to have a strong economic indicator. You may argue whether GVA is the right one, but that was the one that was existing at the time; it’s really important to have a social indicator in terms of demonstrating social progress; it’s really important to have an environmental indicator in the context of our use of natural resources.

I think one of the most interesting indicators for me has always been the ‘ecological footprint’, what Wales consumes, because you can get a good qualitative and quantitative set of measures about what that looks like, whether or not you are going up or down – and wellbeing has become a really important part of Welsh Government agenda generally. Of course there’s been a lot of work from people like New Economic Foundation and others about the importance of individual and community wellbeing in people’s satisfaction with life.

But I think we then have to ask a fundamental question, do the existing arrangements work? Well if you’re not a fan of the idea that we should live more sustainably, or that we should be more responsible in terms of our lives, then you probably think they do., If you are a fan of the idea that we should live more sustainably,, they clearly don’t, because the Wales Audit Office in 2010 found, when it did an analysis of the business end of Government i.e. the civil service end of Government, that what the messages that the Director Generals were giving Ministers about it being embedded in the organisation were clearly not the case, so actually if you tested it down through the organisation, probably the only people who knew that sustainable development was in the constitution of Wales would be right at the top of the office and dealing with Ministers on a daily basis. I’m confident that that will be changing now.

The second key analysis was a policy report for WWF, which found that sustainable development was not embedded across portfolios, and although I had the overarching responsibility for sustainable development and although I felt it was written through me like a stick of rock, I was not immune to criticism in that report either. So it was really interesting that externally, you know, we were clearly failing. We had this big opportunity to do things differently in Wales, to be really visionary about futures, and yet on the policy side we were not delivering, and on the audit side we were not delivering, and therefore in a sense we had failed a double test, and that’s why there is going to be a new duty. But this is about how we deliver differently, how we think differently, and the essence of it is about better decision making, it’s about stopping short-term decision making, stopping particularly short-term decision making in short electoral cycles in confrontational politics in a small country. It’s about how you bind both people in Wales, and politicians as representatives of people in Wales into a more sustainable future.

If we look at the SD leadership in Wales, ‘One Wales, One Planet’ talked about using our fair share of resources by 2050. Now 2050 is only 36 years away. I remember being asked, you know, was 2050 the goal because it was sufficiently far away for us not to be able to worry about it in our short electoral cycles?In one sense it is a long way away, but actually, going back to that sound science point, by 2050 Britain is meant to have decarbonised by 80%. Every year we don’t do it, means that every year subsequently it will be that much harder, and so 2050 starts to become really challenging when you are trying to put sustainable futures alongside decarbonisation. Carwyn Jones, as First Minister, talked about ‘daily decisions being made in line with delivering a sustainable economy that delivers for our children a legacy that will outlive us all’. We are in pretty uncertain times generally in the world, we’ve had the worst flooding that we’ve had for many generations, for example, we know where the figures are on climate change, it’s as though sometimes we have this evidence in front of us but we want to carry on with business as usual.

The Programme for Government, therefore, did talk about making sustainable development the central organising principle of the Welsh Government and public bodies in Wales, so that it looks at fairness and equity, and the definition in the 2012 White Paper very clearly looks at enhancing economic environmental and social wellbeing of communities and achieving a better quality of life.

So this is a very positive vision approach, and this is a slide I borrowed from the Welsh Government that actually looks at how you bring all those links together to contribute towards the wellbeing of Wales.
In Planning Policy Wales in 2012, this definition on the slide was used so that it could influence what happened in the planning system, and now Wales is moving on towards the kind of goals which you’ll hear about from Peter and others later, about what kind of Wales we might want, and therefore what measures will actually give us measures for success in the context of those areas.

This last slide is a quote from Jeff Cuthbert when he launched the National Conversation, “The ambition is big, but you can’t have an ambition about being the best place to live, learn, work and do business and carry on with business as usual approaches to life”. I’m always reminded of that quote from Mark Twain, that “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always had.”
It is time to have a much bigger vision about how the people of Wales can work together for a more sustainable future.
Thank you very much.

Jane Davidson’s PowerPoint presentation can be downloaded from the following link:

NB Jane has not had the opportunity to verify the following transcript for accuracy

Back to News & Blog