Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Cabinet Office

ENQUIRY INTO UK PREPARATIONS FOR THE WORLD SUMMIT ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (WSSD): THE ROLE OF THE DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND THE CABINET OFFICE

INTRODUCTION

  1.  As requested in the Chairman's letter of 6 February to the Deputy Prime Minister, this Memorandum provides information on the input that the Cabinet Office has made towards preparations for WSSD.

  As explained in the Memorandum which the Cabinet Office submitted on 26 November 2001 for the Committee's inquiry into departmental responsibilities for sustainable development (Annex 1), the Prime Minister has asked the Deputy Prime Minister to take on a key role in preparations for WSSD. The intention is to raise the profile of the Summit with world leaders and to encourage them to attend, thus reinforcing the Prime Minister's early commitment to be present and sending a clear signal to all stakeholders of the political importance the Government attaches to a successful outcome to WSSD. The Prime Minister has also asked the Deputy Prime Minister to chair a Cabinet Ministerial Group (MISC 18) to oversee the UK's preparations for the Summit.

  As noted in the earlier Memorandum, the lead department for sustainable development is DEFRA, which has policy responsibility and deals with day-to-day progress and implementation of the UK's policies. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister works closely with DEFRA and with all other departments with a key interest on strategic and cross-departmental issues.

  2.  The membership and terms of reference of the Ministerial Committee for WSSD (MISC 18) are attached at Annex 2. A list of the world leaders whom the Deputy Prime Minister has met since the establishment of MISC 18 is attached at Annex 3. The Deputy Prime Minister takes the opportunity at all of his international meetings to emphasise the importance of WSSD.

  3.  The following material answers the specific questions in the chairman's letter of 6 February.

QUESTION 1: WHAT INPUT HAS THE DPM'S OFFICE AND THE CABINET OFFICE HAD TO THE UK PREPARATIONS FOR WSSD?

The internal co-ordination of the input of Cabinet Office Units

  The different units of the Cabinet Office work closely together on matters of common interest and concern. In the main, the work of the different Cabinet Office units is directed primarily towards domestic policies and activities, and in that way they are contributing to the UK's preparations for WSSD. Many Cabinet Office units, notably the Women and Equality Unit, the Social Exclusion Unit and the Government Offices for the Regions, play a role in helping to deliver the UK's sustainable development strategy and in the implementation of Agenda 21. In addition, the work of the units—for example the experience of the SEU in tackling poverty and social exclusion in the UK, and the reports of the Performance and Innovation Unit on resource productivity and energy—help to inform the UK's position in the international negotiations preparing for WSSD. A dedicated team within the Central Policy Group of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister supports and co-ordinates these efforts.

The relationship between the Cabinet Office and MISC 18

  As noted above, the Deputy Prime Minister chairs the Ministerial Group MISC 18. Through his chairmanship of MISC 18, the Deputy Prime Minister's key role is to ensure collective consideration across Government of the strategic issues, and to ensure a co-ordinated and agreed approach. To the extent that specific Cabinet Office concerns need to be reflected to the Ministerial Group, the Deputy Prime Minister is able to do so, with the support of the team referred to above.

  Input to MISC 18 from the Cabinet Office is co-ordinated through the Central Policy Group in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which provides general advice and support to the Deputy Prime Minister on matters relating to WSSD. Internally this involves regular liaison with the Cabinet Office Sustainable Development Unit, which handles domestic sustainable development matters, and co-ordinates the implementation of actions agreed by ENV(G) as they apply to the department; and with other units as appropriate. Externally, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister works particularly closely with colleagues in DEFRA, FCO, DfID, DTI, HMT and Number 10.

  The Deputy Prime Minister's role as chairman of MISC 18 is supported by the Cabinet Office Secretariat, as for all Committee chairmen.

  In addition to the work of MISC 18, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister provides support to the Deputy Prime Minister in his international role in the run up to the Summit, in particular for his meetings with international leaders. This role is detailed in the memorandum submitted to the Committee on 26 November 2001 (Annex 1).

  Officials from the Cabinet Office are members of the WSSD Inter-Departmental Working Group.

Cabinet Office papers/strategies/other work to support its contribution to MISC 18 and/or UK preparations, and reviews of progress

  MISC 18 keeps under regular review the progress of the UK's preparations for WSSD and has settled the UK's priorities for the Summit. However, it has been the practice of successive governments neither to disclose the agendas of Cabinet Committee meetings, nor the detail of their discussions.

  The Cabinet Office has contributed towards the Government's Annual Report on Sustainable Development (due to be published in April).

  The Cabinet Office Management Board has not yet formally discussed policy and day-to-day progress on UK preparations for WSSD. The Management Board will however shortly receive a presentation from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on its work concerning WSSD. Cabinet Office Ministers collectively have also received a presentation on UK preparations for WSSD.

  The Performance and Innovation Unit are working towards UK preparations for WSSD in the specific areas of resource productivity and energy. In particular, they are engaging with the European Commission, and individual Member States to ensure the EU will adopt a forward and proactive position on resource productivity at WSSD. The PIU is also engaging with the US on this issue, with key developing countries, and with the International Financial Institutions.

  The Women and Equality Unit will lead the UK delegation to the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March, and will promote the UK's priorities on the themes of environmental management and the mitigation of natural disasters and gender perspectives and eradicating poverty. The outcome of that meeting will form the CSW's input into WSSD.

The DPM's engagement with world leaders regarding WSSD

  An updated list of world leaders with whom the Deputy Prime Minister PM has engaged and raised WSSD is provided at Annex 3.

  The Deputy Prime Minister will be meeting Kofi Annan on 25 February, and Vice-President Dick Cheney on 11 March. He will be speaking at a conference on sustainable development in Vancouver on 15 March. The Deputy Prime Minister will continue to meet key world leaders in the run-up to the Summit to help ensure the success of the event.

How has the Cabinet Office publicised the preparations for the World Summit and its own involvement at home in the UK?

  The Cabinet Office has issued several press releases in recent months publicising the Deputy Prime Minister's work in raising awareness of WSSD and the issues that surround the Summit both at home and abroad, and the Cabinet Office's contribution towards the sustainable development agenda, for example through the PIU reports referred to above.

  The Government Offices for the Regions have worked with local authorities to raise awareness of the Summit at a local level.

  DEFRA have responsibility for the overall Government communications strategy for WSSD which has been agreed inter-departmentally.

QUESTION 2: WHICH SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT INDICATORS THE CABINET OFFICE HAS LEAD RESPONSIBILITY FOR AND WHICH OTHER INDICATORS ITS POLICIES PARTICULARLY IMPACT UPON?

  The Cabinet Office does not have lead responsibility for monitoring any of the UK Sustainable Development Strategy's headline indicators, although we maintain a strong interest in progress against each of them. Particularly relevant to the Cabinet Office are the indicators concerning poverty and social exclusion, and—principally through our operational activities—the indicators concerning climate change and waste. The Cabinet Office's internal arrangements for greening its operations is laid out in the Cabinet Office Sustainable Development Strategy.

  Current work being undertaken by the Social Exclusion Unit on transport and social exclusion is likely to impact on sustainable development indicators across government.

QUESTION 3: WHAT SYSTEMS DOES THE CABINET OFFICE HAVE IN PLACE TO MONITOR PROGRESS ON HOW FAR ITS POLICIES OR PROGRAMMES ARE CONTRIBUTING TO UK PROGRESS ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND THE ISSUES THAT WERE MAPPED OUT IN AGENDA 21 AFTER THE RIO EARTH SUMMIT IN 1992?

  A principal route by which the Cabinet Office monitors the contribution of its policies and programmes to sustainable development is via the Department's current work on the business planning round. Guidance on sustainable development has been circulated for use by all Units, to supplement the Policy Makers' Checklist. Each Management Unit will be setting out their contributions to the sustainable development agenda as part of their bids. These contributions will form the Cabinet Office Sustainable Development Report, which will be submitted to the Treasury alongside the Department's main bid in the 2002 Spending Review.

  The Cabinet Office Environmental Forum exists to assist the integration of sustainable development into new policy development and to reduce the environmental impact of the Cabinet Office's and its agencies' operations. The Forum takes into account in particular all commitments agreed by the Green Ministers' Committee (ENV(G)) which fall to the Cabinet Office. All principal Divisions of the Cabinet Office are represented on the Forum, as well as the nine Government Offices, the Government Car and Despatch Agency and the Central Office of Information.

  The Social Exclusion Unit has contributed towards progress on the achievement of sustainable development in the UK in particular through its work on the creation of sustainable communities and neighbourhood renewal. All the policy reports published by the SEU contain floor targets and performance indicators. Responsibility for achieving and monitoring these targets does not remain with the Cabinet Office but is passed to the Department leading on each policy area. For example, the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit (NRU) in DTLR was set up on the recommendation of the SEU to take forward its work on the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal, which complements work undertaken under Agenda 21.

  Following machinery of government changes after the 2001 election, the Government Offices for the Regions (GOs) became part of the Cabinet Office under the Regional Co-ordination Unit. In 1997, the Prime Minister set a target for all local authorities to have a Local Agenda 21 in place by the end of 2000. Over 90 per cent of all authorities in England met this target. GOs played a valuable role in the process, offering advice and support. GOs were also key players in developing the varied arrangements in each region that have led to the publication of Regional Sustainable Development Frameworks. These set out both the regions' overarching strategy for achieving sustainable development, as well as targets and indicators, and they provide a context for other regional plans, including the RDA's economic strategies and regional planning guidance.

  The Local Government Act 2000 introduced a duty for local authorities to prepare Community Strategies. These must demonstrate the way in which each local authority is contributing towards sustainable development in the UK. They build on the work of Local Agenda 21, and set targets that relate to their Regional Sustainable Development Framework. They are monitored by means of local sustainable development indicators.

  Government Offices continue to work with regional partners to support the implementation of sustainable development policy through the monitoring and review of Regional Sustainable Development Frameworks and through advice and support to Local Authorities on Community Strategies. The Cabinet Office is responsible for negotiating the Business Plans for Government Offices in which this work is reflected.

February 2002


 
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