28 November 2014
Article by Andrew Minnis, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
Having completed its consultation and evidence gathering for stage 1 of the legislative process for the Welsh Government’s Well-being of Future Generations Bill (the Bill), the Assembly’s Environment and Sustainability Committee published its stage 1 report on the Bill today. The report makes a total of 32 recommendations on the Bill.
The Bill was introduced to the Assembly to 7 July 2014 by Jeff Cuthbert AM, the then Minister for Communities and Local Government. Following a cabinet reshuffle in September 2014, Carl Sargeant AM, Minister for Natural Resources, became Member in Charge. As a Member of the Committee since September, Jeff Cuthbert did not take part in discussions on the formulation of the report.
The Bill is intended to embed sustainable development in Welsh public bodies by:
- strengthening existing governance systems by providing a clear focus on what public authorities are seeking to achieve through a suite of statutory national well-being goals, and evaluated and measured against national indicators;
- embedding sustainable development in specified public authorities by requiring them to set well-being objectives that contribute to the achievement of the national well-being goals;
- promoting the interests of Future Generations by establishing a Future Generations Commissioner for Wales; and
- putting integrated community planning on a statutory basis by establishing Public Services Boards (PSBs).
The purpose of stage 1 is to scrutinise the general principles of the Bill and make a recommendation to the Assembly on whether it should agree the general principles of the legislation.
The Committee received a total of 178 responses to its consultation, which included 100 automated responses submitted by individuals through the Sustainable Development Alliance’s shaping our future website. Additionally, the Committee held 14 oral evidence sessions, comprising two with the Minister for Natural Resources and 12 with a wide range of stakeholders reflecting the broad scope of the Bill. The full details of the Committee’s evidence gathering work are provided in annex 1 and 2 of the report.
The report summarises the Committee’s view as follows:
There was unanimous support among Members of the Committee for the policy intent of the Bill and we believe the Welsh Government is to be commended for bringing forward legislation in this area. However, we agree with the views expressed by the majority of those who gave evidence that significant improvements are needed in order for the Bill to have any meaningful impact.
The Committee report makes clear that the Committee did not unanimously agree on whether the number of amendments needed at later stages to address perceived shortcomings was manageable.
Consequently, the Committee’s recommendation to the Assembly that it agree the general principles of the Bill is “only on condition that the Welsh Government has made clear in advance of the stage 1 debate that it is prepared to accept and address” 12 key recommendations.
The 12 recommendations highlighted address the following issues:
- Recommendation 3: the strength of language used in the Bill
- Recommendation 9: the ‘sustainable development principle’ and the approach to defining sustainable development
- Recommendations 13 & 14: the wording of the goals and descriptors in the Bill and the aproach to amending goals
- Recommendation 16: the need for the Bill to be clear that it applies to all functions of public bodies
- Recommendation 19: the appointment of the Future Generations Commissioner
- Recommendations 21 & 23: the Commissioner’s powers and public bodies’ response to recommendations made by the Commissioner
- Recommendation 25: the role of the Auditor General for Wales
- Recommendations 27 & 28: scrutiny of proposed PSBs and their approach to assessing local well-being; and
- Recommendation 29: the consequential amendments made to other legislation to ensure that strength of current legislation is not lost in key policy areas.
The remaining recommendations address a range of issues including: the need to ensure the Bill makes clear that citizen engagement and co-production are a key element of applying the Bill’s principles; the need for clarity on how the Bill interacts with other existing and proposed legislation; accountability and participation in PSBs; and the cost estimates included in the Explanatory Memorandum and Regulatory Impact Assessment.
The stage 1 debate is scheduled for 9 December 2014. Should the Assembly agree the general principles of the Bill, stage 2 will begin on 10th December.