Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 65)



Sue Doughty

  60. I think it is very good, actually, to have the two of you together on a panel, because you two are particularly well placed to deliver, as opposed to influence. So the same question, but if you could answer it separately. Certainly, in terms of the multinationals, I think we have got somebody here representing one of the better ones of the multinationals, and an organisation that we know has done a lot to recognise the part it plays and the opportunities for sustainable development that they have in their grasp. How do you deal with those of your colleagues who fall a little short in that direction; what influence can you bring to bear on those who would dig holes in Alaska?
  (Mr Ghagan) I think you have to recognise that there are always going to be some businesses who are not the greatest in this field; we recognise that. I think the best thing that we can continue to say to people and encourage them is that it is in the interests of all businesses to bring forward initiatives that deal with sustainable development. The thing that has been placed high on just about every speech Sir Mark has made, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, Chairman of Business Action, is to say to companies, when he speaks to them, "If you want to be in business long term, you have to take sustainable development seriously, and prove it, because otherwise your customers, your suppliers, the NGO community, civil society at large, will make sure you're not around." And I think that is a very powerful message for them to hear from a senior industry figure. So there is a leadership role, very clearly, there, but you have to look at individual instances as well. We try to be as embracive as we possibly can. Business Action cannot, by definition, represent all business organisations, all businesses across the globe, but if we try to reach out not only to developed countries, multinationals, but also to southern industry. And one of the things that I had not realised personally was that the UN Secretary-General's initiative called the Global Compact that started out with around 50 companies, which were mostly the large ones, including Shell, again, Shell takes pride in taking a leadership role; since then that has moved on to over 500, with now the majority of those companies being from developing countries. So I think that, again, it is important to get down into that, important to get down to the supply chain, encouraging, actual, real progress, but showing from business we are committed to it. "Come and join us," I think is the message.

  61. And you may have some poor performers within your community; so the same question?
  (Mr Ashley) I think the first thing to say is that I think the performance of local authorities across the board has been extremely commendable, something like 93 per cent of local authorities have actually achieved the target of producing a Local Agenda 21 strategy of some kind. And I think that is part of the problem, that is very impressive quantitatively, when you look at some of those qualitatively they are much more patchy, some basically are authorities that have decided that in order to meet the Prime Minister's target and to get a tick in the Audit Commission box they would produce a quick survey right towards the end of the period, others have been engaged in this process for a very long time and have produced sort of outstanding sustainable development work. So, as with most things in local government, it is patchy. We have a leadership role in the Local Authority Associations, and, certainly, during the last ten years, we have tried to take a lead very strongly on sustainable development. The previous Local Government Management Board, and sort of an agency of the Associations, had a very effective Sustainable Development Unit, which basically provided a large amount of support to all local authorities, but focussing obviously particularly on those that we felt needed help. Sadly, five years ago, that Unit came to an end, when the LGA was established, and a new agency was set up; but I am pleased to say that, very shortly, a very similar unit will be established to provide detailed support to local authorities, not so much now perhaps on LA 21, as such, but to ensure that they could put sustainable development principles and practices into the entirety of their work locally, and to make sure that the new Community Strategies, that they are required to produce by law, are properly informed by sustainable development principles. So we are pleased with that.

Mr Francois

  62. Just a very quick question for Mr Ashley, if I may. Have you found, and I am not expecting you to mention individual authorities in this, that different tiers of local government have reacted to this in different ways; do you find that one tier perhaps has got a better record, in terms of trying to promote this sort of thing, than another?
  (Mr Ashley) That is a very interesting question. We have looked at that, and it is obviously a sensitive matter for a national association to do so. I think the honest answer is that you will find very good and very bad in every type of local authority, counties, districts, mets, unitaries; but perhaps the most interesting thing is that some of the very best examples of Local Agenda 21 strategies have been found where perhaps you would least expect them, in less-resourced, smaller district councils, including rural district councils. I do not mind mentioning an example, if, in a sense, it is a positive example, I get into trouble when it is a negative example, but Mendip District Council, for example, in Somerset, was a very good example, I think, in the first five, seven years, after Rio; that did extraordinary work, including not just, if you wish, environmental improvement. But one of the most significant benefits that I think has come out of the entire LA 21 process, which is actually the engagement by local authorities with their local communities on a partnership basis, and, in the case of Mendip, to do some excellent work with individual parishes, in terms of visioning exercises with people in a parish, to try to get them to engage with the abstractions of sustainable development by looking at what it actually means for them in development for their very local community. There are very good examples that you can find in the bigger cities, but also in small authorities, which might be less expected.

  63. And a good county, a positive county?
  (Mr Ashley) Hampshire, I am not sure if that is politically balanced, I cannot recall the political control of Mendip, but Hampshire certainly has done some extremely good work. Their Leader spoke to a conference that I helped organise, at the LGA, a few weeks ago, which was to try to kick-start local authority interest in the Johannesburg process, and we had a political balance there, the Leader of Leicester City Council, a Labour-controlled authority, gave an excellent presentation of the many things that they have done since they were called the first environment city in this country, and, on the other hand, Hampshire, Conservative-controlled, showed what they did, particularly in respect of waste strategy.


  64. Coming back to Government Departments, what involvement has there been from the DTLR, given its responsibilities for local government?
  (Mr Ashley) I would echo the points that Mr Nouhan made, in the previous session, obviously; at the PrepCom itself, there were representatives from the Government Departments that he mentioned. I cannot recall if he mentioned DTI but they were—

  65. DTLR was one?
  (Mr Ashley) They were not there, but DTLR are obviously aware of the process, insofar as local government, and UK local government, is involved. DTLR has a very considerable responsibility in respect of work in the European Union and local government connection with the European Union, much less so with, if you wish, actual international negotiations. But we included within our short submission to you our wish that DTLR become rather more engaged in this process, so that, for us, any outcomes, which we will need to implement at local level, they will be fully aware of and also prepared, hopefully, to finance, through Revenue Support Grant.

  Chairman: Thank you all very much indeed. It has been a very useful, if slightly foreshortened, session, and we are very grateful to you both; and thank you also, which I neglected to do at the start, for your submissions to the Committee.

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Prepared 25 April 2002