Legislation won’t deliver sustainable development. It requires a more fundamental change of culture and mindset in how each and every one of us lives our lives.
A Future Generations Bill certainly has the potential to help drive that societal shift and the rhetoric from the Welsh Government in the first few years of this Assembly was promising. Previously, Plaid Cymru as part of the One Wales Government brought in One Wales: One Planet, a policy document for sustainability that contains the vision for Wales to become a one planet nation -using no more than its fair share of the world’s resources within a lifetime of a generation. This is an ambitious vision that we hold to be a realistic aim for society led by a Government that sets a strong example. After all, climate change is the greatest threat to our planet today and our resources are becoming scarcer.
I’m afraid the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Bill has slightly missed the point.
Of course it would be difficult to disagree with the goals as set out on the face of the Bill: a prosperous Wales, a resilient Wales, a healthier Wales, a more equal Wales, a Wales of cohesive communities and a Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language. Who in their right mind would not want that?
But there’s no mention of climate change. Surely it’s a healthy and resilient environment that underpins a healthy and economically sustainable society? The Welsh Government’s own conversation with the public prior to the introduction of this Bill revealed that climate change is considered to be the biggest issue facing future generations. So why hasn’t the Government used this opportunity to enshrine in legislation clear targets for cutting carbon emissions – targets that already have cross-party support?
The description of a prosperous Wales speaks of making “more efficient and proportionate use of resources”. It doesn’t specify proportionate to what and it certainly doesn’t sound like the unequivocal commitment to a one planet Wales that many of us expected and that the First Minister assured me just last month would be central to the Bill. Instead, what we have is a Bill that imposes extra layers of bureaucracy on an already overburdened public sector.
The Bill creates 22 Public Services Boards which would undertake 22 separate well-being assessments subsequently leading to 22 sets of well-being objectives which would then be reported upon in 22 annual reports. Not exactly what I imagined when the First Minister said it would be ground-breaking, world-leading legislation! There is also a danger that targeting the public sector at a corporate level won’t necessarily lead to real changes on the ground.
Let’s look at the Welsh language. It’s particularly welcome that a vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language has been included as a goal. So how will the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Bill help deliver that goal? Most of our public bodies already have language schemes. There is a plethora of organisations and initiatives out there making their contribution. In education we have Welsh in education strategies and on the planning front we have Technical Advice Note 20 to supposedly protect the Welsh language within the planning process.
Research has shown that in recent years only 0.03% of individual planning applications in Wales have been subject to a Welsh language impact assessment. What is there in this Bill that will change that shocking statistic? It’s a question I asked the Minister in the Senedd last week and which he didn’t answer.
On a more positive note the creation of a Future Generations Commissioner is welcome. But even here there is disappointment that again we’ll have a Commissioner who is accountable to the Government rather than the National Assembly. As is the case with the Older People’s Commissioner, the Children’s Commissioner and the Welsh Language Commissioner, the public needs to be able to bring formal complaints against public sector bodies in cases where they believe those bodies have breached their duties. The Commissioner’s powers and responsibilities need to be clear to enable the public and the bodies subject to the Bill to understand what the Commissioner can and cannot do.
Some of the ingredients for decent legislation on sustainable development are in the Bill. It just seems to me that the Government has used them to create a bit of a mess. It’s also somewhat overcooked in that it’s much more complicated than it needs to be.
Plaid Cymru will work constructively to improve and strengthen the Bill so that it places clear duties on the Welsh Government and public bodies to seek “to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”