Short note on sustainable development


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This gives an outline of how I think sustainable development should work - and the type of questions it generates for each of the main areas of policy.

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Short note on sustainable development

  1. 1. Making Sense of Sustainable DevelopmentHow should we think about sustainable development as an organising principle for agovernment or society?We can frame an approach to delivering sustainable development under threeheadings:1. Pursuit of an overall objective: wellbeing or quality of life over the long term. A clear sense of what we are trying to achieve – the maximisation of wellbeing or quality of life over the longer term, together with greater fairness in the distribution of wellbeing. This is a ‘meta- outcome’ for a government, embracing environmental, social, economic and individual wellbeing.2. A set of ‘hard choices’ that the objective implies in the present. This is to prevent SD being just an aspirational statement about the future and to give some sense of how the SD central organising principle means we are different to a government that doesn’t adopt this principle. These hard choices include: (1) Long-termism: giving greater weight to better long term outcomes at the expense of lesser short term outcomes. Investing in prevention and early intervention where this gives better cost-effectiveness. (2) Silo-busting: breaking down barriers and reconfiguring what we do to achieve longer term outcomes in the most cost-effective way. Although this sounds obvious, it is a hard choice because the institutional architecture and inertia that maintains existing service configuration is very robust, with hard silo walls and strong defensive tendencies. (3) Evidence-based. This means upping our game on the use of evidence – especially cost-effectiveness evidence. The idea is to make the budget stretch as far as possible in achieving the objective. (4) Investment orientated: a focus on investment at the expense of consumption, building resilience and future proofing, to serve citizens better in the future.3. A political project, recognising that Ministers need to bring voters and stakeholders with them and be open to feedback from them. We could qualify the objective to reflect politics: the maximisation of wellbeing or quality of life in Wales over the longer term, stretching but respecting the art of the political possible. The ‘political possible’ isn’t fixed, but means we have give attention to how the government works – building trust, being transparent and accountable, having a clear consistent narrative about the
  2. 2. future and hard choices, becoming skilled at behaviour change and persuasion etc. We need to recognise that governments tend to overestimate what they can achieve in the short term, and underestimate what they can achieve in the long term.What does this mean in practice? The idea of applying the SD principle asdefined above is to engage us in developing and addressing strategicquestions about long-term purpose and how well we are factoring thatpurpose into current decision making and organisational design. A selection of‘starter’ questions of this nature is included in Appendix 1 to stimulatediscussion. The aim is for ministers and their officials to draw up their own setof strategic challenge questions as a basis for implementing the SD centralorganising principle.Strategic questions arising from the sustainabledevelopment principle – some startersThese questions are to stimulate discussion about how the SD principle wouldapply to policy-making in the Welsh Government. It is for ministers todetermine whether these questions or others are the right way to address theSD principle. We should also recognise that the Welsh Government hasmade many advance in this agenda and is far from starting from scratch.Education & skills• What should be taught in schools to best prepare young people for an uncertain and rapidly changing future? Is there too much emphasis on knowledge and not enough on capability or resilience? Note Eric Schmidt of Google raised this question as a strategic challenge for the UK.• For a fixed budget, what is the optimum distribution of resources between tertiary, secondary, primary and early years?• Are the long term costs (to public services, themselves, their communities) of a person’s failure at school properly internalised into the incentive structures for schools, so that they give the right emphasis to avoiding failure?• Should the school system do more to address the great disparity in parental capacity so that it mitigates the disadvantage of coming from a home where the parenting skills are weak, or the parents chaotic - for example by having a longer day and four terms, or more activity during holidays?
  3. 3. Families & community• Should we adopt family integrated services and intervene intensively for the 2-3% families at most risk? What is our model for drawing together multiple services to create a coherent support offering for such families? These families can cost £250k /year – to what extent are these future costs internalised into the approach we take to helping them?• Should the focus of help be on adults or children? Should assistance focus on improving parenting skills or on reducing dependence on the capability of parents to support children?• What are the quality of life implications of increasing isolation of older people – what are policy implications?• Relationship breakdown has negative wellbeing consequences for families. Do we have the right mix of measures to provide support for couples in difficulty and address potential drivers of breakdown (drugs, debt, prison)• Is there a ay to promote opportunities for neighbours to get to know each other, based on clear evidence that this tends to enhance wellbeing, improve resilience and self reliance?• Do major interventions like Flying Start and Communities First do what we hope they will – are we clear on who benefits and how?Health• What emphasis and resources to evidence-based preventative measures, and relatively less to treatment of illness – though recognising that demographics and societal preference will drive underlying demand. How would a financial transition to great investment in prevention work?• How to bring health and social care together to optimise care pathway and efficiency?• Is there a better ‘wellbeing’ approach to the last years of life – considering whether the expense and intensity of interventions in the last two years of life provide the dignified death that most people say they want• Is mental health a poor relation in health care spending and is there a case for greater investment in cognitive behavioural therapies?Crime• Given persuasive costs effectiveness evidence, should we be expanding ‘youth inclusion’ programmes?.• Focus prisons on reducing reoffending, with greater attention aid to preparing for law-abiding life outside, avoiding extremely disruptive short-
  4. 4. stay sentences and greater attention to transitions from custody to the community?• Are there better ways to handle transitions from prison back to the community?• Adopt a harm minimisation approach to illicit drugs – perhaps including prescribing?• How do we deal with savings made in crime prevention or youth inclusion through spending Welsh public money that creates savings in non- devolved budgets like prisons? Do we underinvest as a result? Should Wales receive ‘payment by results’?Economy• Which government interventions for long term economic success? Is it down to major slow-moving drivers: skills, regulation, tax, bureaucracy, infrastructure, entrepreneurship – or are there also ‘industrial policy’ measures to take with firms or sectors?• Give due weight to GDP – but are there other critical measures of economic ‘progress’ that could shape policy? Wealth, household disposable income, measures of income corrected for depreciation of natural, human and physical capital?• What works in helping transition from economic inactivity to productive activity? Should the focus be on unemployment and jobs at all levels in the economy, not just hi-tech or knowledge-based?• Reshape apprenticeships and other programmes for teenagers to strengthen psychological fitness to help young people find and keep work?• Can reshape transportation, housing and economic policy to reduce commuting time and allow a more localised economic and social geography?• Should Wales tend towards light-touch in regulation? Only go beyond regulations made at UK or EU level where the wellbeing case justifies it (applies generically)?Environment• What levers do we have to promote resource efficiency as a dominant environmental strategy?• Is there a more efficient way to fund flood protection through insurance: recognising total cost of flooding includes private costs (pooled cleaning up costs through insurance) and seek harm minimising allocation between avoiding floods, reduction of impact and costs of damage/repair.• Does the planning system block to much development? Should we give greater weight in the planning system to the high value that people place on owning their own home and living in pleasant surroundings?
  5. 5. • Should we more carefully differentiate protected areas – avoid overprotecting some and under-protecting others and give weight to access as a wellbeing driver.• Recast farming as a land management occupation and production of a mix of market good (food) and non-marketed goods and services – for which payments are made.• In energy sector transition, should we place even greater emphasis on the demand side and energy efficiency and relatively less on renewables. Be wary of high carbon cost technologies (microgen, PV etc)?