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.

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:

7 thoughts on “Wales’ ‘Future Generations’ law – beyond the jargon, this Bill really matters

  1. The one thing we are ‘world class’ at is producing more and more bodies that produce ‘hot air’.What is this sustainability ‘rubbish’??.The USA is booming ahead due in the main to fracking for oil and gas and is recovering jobs back from China,and petrochermical plants being built by german companies. There is the real world out there,like the WAG buying Rhoose airport and encouraging south walians to fly from there,rather than Bristol/Birmingham etc etc.This sort of thinking is a sideshow for 95% of welsh people,however the GREEN lobbies are doing very well out of public funds.

  2. This bill should be entitled “The Handcuffs and Ball and Chain Bill!””
    Local Councils will be free to take what actions they like as long as it is compliance with this Bill. No freedom at all.
    The Cardiff Bay Bubble of vested interests, New Labour, Third Sector Appointees, and other elements dependent on state had outs have had their say. To ensure their future they want an unelected Stalin type character to enforce their views and their position.
    What a disgraceful piece of legislation. Wales in 2014. Welcome to the D D R.

  3. 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.

    How can I put this politely? That statement is a tautology. If a bill is “effecttive” that means it has the effect you want. The statement however conceals a howling nonsense because such a bill cannot be effective. It is a piece of platitudinous motherhood where a policy ought to be. Decide objectives, determine means to achieve them, obtain and devote resources. Anything else – like this bill – is literature and displacement activity. The Welsh government used to have a vice; it though setting up a committee was a policy. Now it has a second vice; it thinks passing an aspirational law is a policy. Ann Meikle should find a more productive use of her time than feeding this fantasy.

  4. I hope that the champagne corks were popping in Welsh government circles with the introduction of this bill, or perhaps it should have been fizzy mead from organic sources! In any event, the proposed bill puts Wales in a singular position in relation to other jurisdictions. Well almost. There are commissioners in other jurisdictions that report to legislatures on matters sustainable, but the effect of what they have to say is debatable in the broader scheme of things.

    I am also mystified by the following phrase in the Written Statement as it applies to Public Services Boards:

    “The Bill will also strengthen the accountability of partnership working to local democratic scrutiny.”

    The version in Welsh makes more sense to me, so perhaps it’s wise to read both versions of the Written Statement to get the full gist of what the government has in mind.

    The expression in law of high flying goals and objectives for public bodies is not a simple exercise, so it will be interesting to see the final result when the members of the assembly have had their say and the bill is proclaimed. Also, to observe how various departments of the Welsh government, and local governments, align their priorities and actions from now on.

  5. What does the bill make illegal? Is the answer to that question only the lack of process and is mute on any outcome?

  6. I read the English version of the proposed legislation as being an expanded ‘mission statement’. I think that future generations will ditch this piece of tinkering as soon as they came of age and recognize it as out-of-date baloney. It requires so many different groups of people to agree to agree that little will get done, much to the chagrin of the future generations.

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