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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 4:


Page 3, line 6, at end insert ("and sustainability").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 4. These amendments seek to provide that we should include "sustainability" as a prime part of the Bill immediately after "economy, efficiency and effectiveness" and also as one of the main indicators.

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Your Lordships may think that the arguments in relation to sustainability will be a rerun of those in relation to fairness. Indeed, some, but not all, are similar. I start by pointing out one of the main differences, which I hope will cause the result of any Division to be rather different. Sustainability is a long-term issue. Economy, efficiency and effectiveness are seen as fairly short-term issues, both by councillors and council officials. Councillors have a duty to look beyond their term of office but, to be frank, they find it difficult to do that and certainly find it difficult to look at matters in the extremely long term. Sustainability is certainly not a short-term issue.

During the debate on fairness we touched on why we should move away from the ethos of CCT and the way in which councils have conducted themselves in the past; indeed, the way that they have been made to conduct themselves. What has been striking about councils in the past 20 years has been their short-termism. Sustainability is very much about how we pass on our environment to future generations.

Between the start of the Bill's passage through this House and now, the Government have published the very impressive A Better Quality of Life: a Strategy for Sustainable Development for the United Kingdom. In a very good introduction, the Prime Minister said:


    "We have failed to see how our economy, our environment and our society are all one and that delivering the best quality of life for us all means more than concentrating solely on economic growth". I believe that that could have been adapted--although I expect the Minister will give me reasons why it could not have been--to say that sustainability is equally applicable to local government services and that concentrating simply on economy, efficiency and effectiveness will not deliver sustainability.

I said that it is not an add-on. If those services are to reflect the sort of society and environment that we wish to see in 20, 30 or 40 years' time, sustainability must be on the face of the Bill.

In Committee, we discussed the Local Agenda 21 mainstreaming of sustainable development. The Minister said the Government expect local authorities to give expression to those principles primarily through the process of community planning. I believe that we need to do something different. We should go beyond expecting. We should require those principles. The way to achieve that is by including sustainability in the Bill.

I turn now to indicators of sustainability. Because sustainability must be considered in the long term, it needs indicators which measure in the long term. So far, those indicators have not been developed. Being of a fairly cynical frame of mind, I wonder whether sustainability indicators have not been included in the Bill because they are extremely difficult to develop. Those who have worked in local government trying to develop those sustainability indicators would agree with that. That is so even in relation to fairly simple issues; for example, how one measures how local authorities are doing in terms of sustainability.

The indicators referred to in Opportunities for Change are extremely basic. The first is in relation to how many local authorities have LA21 plans in place.

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On the face of it, that is an indicator. However, having those plans in place is not the key issue. The key issue is how many authorities have started to implement those plans and how many are doing so effectively. Therefore, I agree that effectiveness is one measure but without the sustainable angle, it does not add up to much action.

The other two factors mentioned are community spirit and voluntary activity. Rather touchingly, after both of them, in brackets it says, "to be developed". I am not sure whether it is the indicator that is to be developed or the community spirit. The paucity of indicators in that section indicates to me that those who are developing the indicators are finding it very difficult. They must be extremely sophisticated and I am not surprised that those who must draft them have balked at including them in the Bill.

If the Government are as committed to sustainable development as this document suggests they really need measurable targets which have sustainability at their heart. I should try to explain that in different words. I see best value as a mirror into which local authorities look to see how they are performing. The local authority may be dressed up in certain indicators and may be wearing certain standards. But if the mirror into which it is looking is distorted--and I believe it is distorted without sustainability being included--the reflection will not be accurate.

That may be a slightly difficult analogy but that is the nearest that I can come to explaining why not having sustainability and sustainable indicators in the Bill will distort the way that local authorities think about themselves and the ethos that drives them. New councillors will be directed to a new way of working which has at its heart economy, efficiency and effectiveness. As I mentioned before, they are already struggling with short-term issues. They find the long-term view difficult. They need something to indicate to them that sustainability is a long-term aim for which they must strive. Having it tacked on in guidance and performance indicators is not sufficient. I beg to move.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, I urge the Minister to consider the amendment with some seriousness. Perhaps, first, we can get some semantics out of the way because those of the previous amendment were enough to last us for the entire evening. The amendment refers to sustainability. I intend to talk about sustainable development and I hope that the Minister will accept that they are intended to be the same thing and we do not argue about whether they are different.

The point I wish to make was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. The ink on the Government's sustainable development strategy, which has only recently been published, is barely dry. The Deputy Prime Minister launched it with a great, if brief, flourish. It stresses the importance of the integration of sustainable development into the roles of a whole range of bodies, particularly statutory bodies, and is an excellent example of joined-up thinking and joined-up government.

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Best-value authorities are among the most important for the delivery of sustainable development in this country and this Bill provides the key opportunity to build the sustainable development requirement into the roles of the best-value authorities. In legislative terms, this is probably the only opportunity we have in the near future. The only other local government Bill that is likely to come forward in the immediate future in its current draft form appears not to take the opportunity to build in sustainable development duties.

There are of course other examples of sustainable development duties being laid on public authorities on the face of their Bills that have not brought them crashing to their knees with the weight of over-statutory requirement. Indeed, the Environment Agency has operated perfectly satisfactorily with a sustainable development duty which was on the face of the Bill establishing that agency for a number of years and doing perfectly well.

If the amendment were to be accepted, it would not lay any more onerous requirements on best-value authorities than I hope they would morally and spiritually feel was laid upon them by the sustainable development strategy. However, it sends an important signal about how seriously the Government are taking the sustainable development strategy. Therefore, I urge the Minister to encourage us all about the Government's commitment to sustainable development so that we can believe that the drying ink of the sustainable development strategy is not simply ink and is not drying too rapidly.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I support my noble friend and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for her comments, with which I heartily agree. As my noble friend said, sustainability, or sustainable development, is about the long term. It is also the big issue for now and for the start of the next century. I regard it as the sine qua non not only for local authorities but for all authorities and bodies which are within the Bill as best-value authorities.

I do not pretend that dealing with sustainable development issues is easy. It is very much about reconciling interests and finding the right balances. The point my noble friend made about the performance indicator referring to Local Agenda 21 was most telling. An indicator asking whether LA21 is in place supports my arguments that the term "effectiveness" is insufficient to promote everything that we would like to see promoted by the Bill. I endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said about the importance of the signals that the Government give, using this opportunity, which may well be the only one for a while. It is important to have legislation in place which, bearing in mind how the debate on sustainability is going, is fit for the purpose in the sense of being the right legislation for the developing debate concentrating on the importance of the issue.


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