Wales’ ‘Future Generations’ law – beyond the jargon, this Bill really matters

Anne Meikle assessing the Wellbeing and Future Generations Bill, laid before the Assembly yesterday.






South-Wales-Valleys

It’s a pretty odd situation: a flagship law, pledged to be ‘ground breaking’ and central to the Programme for Government.

Yet when it comes to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill, the first hurdle in any conversation seems to be explaining what the law will actually do.

Yesterday the Welsh Government aimed to bring the Bill back down to earth with its launch event at Vetch Veg, a community growing project.

Like the vegetable growers of Swansea, at a national level we need to turn the idea of sustainability into something real and tangible, that delivers environmental, social and economic benefits.

In fairness to the Government, this is a hugely important concept but not always an easy thing to explain.

In short, the aim behind the law is to put sustainable development at the heart of the public sector in Wales. This means meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

In practical terms, this should mean a law which puts a duty on public bodies to meet our economic, social and environmental needs in a joined up way, not just in the short term but also with a firm eye on the needs of our children and grandchildren.

It might sounds obvious, but despite some good practice (cue projects like Vetch Veg) throughout Wales this is not yet happening across the whole public sector and every government department. Hence the need for a law to bring about consistent delivery.

Overall, the Government deserves credit for bringing this Bill forward and we’re pleased that the Government has responded to concerns about the lack of a goal within the Bill relating to the Welsh Environment.

However, it’s already clear that we need changes if this law is to be truly effective in delivering a sustainable Wales.

The Bill needs to give greater priority to the long term consequences of the decisions that public bodies make. All too often, the needs of future generations are ignored, and with a strong and effective bill we have a great opportunity to address that problem.

Also, this legislation needs to consider impacts outside Wales. Why does this matter?

Firstly, because the decisions we make here have an impact beyond our borders, whether it’s local authorities buying timber from sustainable sources to protect wildlife or ensuring good working conditions in companies supplying the Welsh NHS.

Secondly, because Wales needs to become ‘future proof’ in a world of fierce competition for limited natural resources such as water and energy. We must make sure that we are a resource-efficient, low carbon country to build resilience. This is vital to underpin quality of life, our environment and economy.

On the same day of the launch of the Bill, we saw the release of the interim ‘The Wales We Want’ report, the result of a major project to engage with the Welsh public.

It’s notable that the report highlights climate change as being seen as a key issue facing future generations. Yet as it stands, the bill itself falls short in terms of changing the way the public sector works to tackle such big, long term issues.

This is a complex bill and in the coming weeks we’ll be analysing it in more detail. I chair a broad Alliance of over 20 organisations supporting a strong and effective Bill, which has already won support from the likes of environmental campaigner Jonathon Porritt and business leader Sir Stuart Rose.

As the Bill now becomes reality, we’ll be continuing to work constructively to improve this legislation, so it really delivers The Wales We Want.

Anne Meikle, Chair of the Sustainable Development Alliance. For more details on the Sustainable Development Alliance, visit their website: http://www.shapingfuturewales.org/