26. The Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) was
established within DETR following the 1997 general election, although
the Labour Party, when it first proposed the idea of an SDU, originally
planned to locate it in the Cabinet Office. It too was transferred
to DEFRA in June 2001.
27. In practice, the SDU made a significant contribution
in DETR under the leadership of the Deputy Prime Minister. The
Sustainable Development Strategy published by DETR in 1999 provides
an innovative and ambitious framework for the future.
The differences would appear to have more to do with Ministerial,
and indeed Prime Ministerial, engagement than with location. Had
the Deputy Prime Minister chosen to use the SDU as his own personal
policy unit, in a manner similar to the way in which the Prime
Minister uses the PIU, the SDU may well have achieved a comparable
status in Whitehall. This analysis suggests that Ministerial support
is the key factor for the SDU and that decisive leadership remains
one of the most important factors in delivery.
28. When we examined Mrs Beckett, she convinced
us of her personal commitment to sustainable development and
we were reassured to be told that "it is the intention of
the Government to make sure that sustainable development is a
vision for the whole Government".
DEFRA has already achieved some notable successes influencing
other Government Departments. For example, the Treasury has been
persuaded to make sustainable development an "underpinning
theme" in the spending review process and to incorporate
sustainable development as one of the key aims of the Office of
Government Procurement (no small achievement given the Treasury's
earlier intransigence on this point).
29. These concessions towards a sustainability
agenda on the part of the Treasury are significant, but the real
test will be to see what advances, what changes in practice and
culture, they engender. Initial indications are not entirely positive.
Moreover, the separation of those policy areas critical to progress
in sustainable development puts a greater responsibility on all
Ministers, regardless of their portfolio, to take sustainable
development seriously. That responsibility should be clearly articulated
in public service agreements (PSAs) so that performance can be
reviewed against agreed targets. We welcome the requirement
set in the Treasury's SR2002 guidance on sustainable development
that each department should prepare and submit a Sustainable Development
Report, but we are disconcerted by the bald statement, despite
the reassurances on joint working and effective communications
we received from DEFRA, DTLR and DTI, that "Departments are
not expected to add new 'sustainable development' targets"
to their Public Service Agreements.
To the contrary, we expect to see DEFRA working with other Departments
to ensure that sustainable development becomes an operational
priority across Government and for this to be reflected in Public
30. There have been regular calls for the SDU
to be moved to the Cabinet Office ever since it was established.
Comparisons have been made between the influence wielded by other
cross-cutting units which are located in the Cabinet Office, like
the Social Exclusion Unit and the Performance and Innovation Unit
(PIU) and the high profile way in which they were launched, and
the performance of the Sustainable Development Unit.
These units have become influential in policy making precisely
because they are in the Cabinet Office, nestled at the heart of
the Government machine. The SDU was originally part of the Deputy
Prime Minister's domainand he too is now working from the
Cabinet Office, taking a leading role in climate change and chairing
the Cabinet Committee on the Environment (ENV(G)). There would
have been arguments of logic and consistency in favour of moving
the Sustainable Development Unit to the Cabinet Office in the
post-election re-organisation. Combined with Mrs Beckett's and
Mr Meacher's support, it would have redoubled the chances of sustainable
development being taken seriously by other Ministers and Government
departments. That opportunity has been missed. To compensate for
this we recommend that central units such as the Performance and
Innovation Unit and the Social Exclusion Unit should be obliged
to take account of sustainable development in all their activities.
31. The Sustainable Development Unit needs
to have committed, consistent and overt support from all Ministers.
Under whichever Government Department it is placed, it can only
function effectively if it is treated as a critical component
of the very centre of Government.
32. We have argued before for the greater use
environmental appraisals of policy to ensure that environmental
issues are taken into consideration. The Modernising Government
White Paper in March 1999 and the UK Sustainable Development Strategy,
A Better Quality of Life in May 1999 both committed the
Government to developing a more integrated approach to policy-making.
The first step was the development of a Policy-Makers Checklist.
All Departments are required to maintain records of the outcome
of environmental policy screenings and to publish any free-standing
environmental appraisals that result from the screening process.
Departments are obliged to notify the Sustainable Development
Unit (SDU) when an environmental appraisals are published. To
date the SDU has been notified of only 55 such appraisals, of
which 45 had been undertaken by the DETR itself, suggesting that
other departments have been idle or have not taken the requirement
seriously. As the
most recent Greening Government report makes clear, "it
is somewhat disappointing that, despite promotion of environmental
appraisal, inclusion in the Policy Makers Checklist and screening
systems put in place by departments, relatively few departments
beyond DETR have produced published environmental appraisals".
Progress to date on implementing a thorough programme of environmental
appraisal of policy has been disappointingly slow. One of DEFRA's
key challenges is to ensure that it becomes routine.
33. To make progress on sustainable development,
all departments have to look beyond their immediate policy aims
to the wider social, economic and environmental impacts. The Greening
Government report commits the Government to investigating
the lack of progress on the implementation of environmental policy
appraisals. We will continue to monitor the Government's progress
on policy screening and environmental appraisals in the near future
as we review the whole of the Government's Greening Government
34. If DEFRA is to position itself as the
champion of sustainable development it will need to work effectively
across departmental boundaries, to demonstrate strong leadership
with a visible commitment to sustainable development, and to work
tirelessly to ensure that sustainability issues are integrated
into every aspect of Government policy and that all Ministers
recognise the responsibility they have to take sustainable development
into account, in much the same way that finance and expenditure
already are. DEFRA also has to operate in a transparent manner,
making itself open to audit and scrutiny. That is the challenge
that faces DEFRA.