Tests ahead for new Commissioner

Anna McMorrin explores the challenges facing the new Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.

The appointment of a Future Generations Commissioner for Wales marks a significant shift in how we want to move forward as a nation and create a globally responsible Wales. It is an opportunity to look beyond the short term pressures of daily life and focus on our long term legacy.

It may not mean very much to many and it is unlikely that the news will reach much further than the Cardiff Bay political posse. Critics may suggest this is yet another quango set up to deliver more red tape but if we get this right this is so much more.

As a nation we face many challenges. Climate change and threats to our scarce resources are reshaping our environment. Our economy is hampered by low employment, low growth and low wages and our people are living longer with a greater need for social care with rises in obesity and alcohol related problems. We need to make some fundamental changes if we are to make a difference.

The Well being of Future Generations Act has the potential deliver a fairer, stronger and more resilient nation. It can change the way we do business and the way we make decisions. And in doing so it can help eradicate poverty, share prosperity, promote growth and tackle the core drivers of climate change. The Act offers a focus for the everyday work of government, public services, business and civic society. It puts sustainable development at the heart of decision making and enables us to build a country that not only addresses the root causes of poverty but understands the universal need for development that works for everyone and is equitable and fair.

The UN sees this legislation as a leading example of how a national government can relate their own global goals to national action and is the first legislation anywhere in the world to include a direct reference to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It stands out on the global stage and according to the UN “captures the spirit and essence of two decades of United Nations work on sustainable development ….with action, more than words, the hope for our current and future generations.”

These are ambitious claims but none should be unattainable.

Delivering the ambition falls to the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. Ex-Labour special adviser and Deputy Police Commissioner for South Wales Sophie Howe has been appointed to take on the role which will be operational from next April. With a clear legislative framework in which to work the Commissioner will hold responsibility for ensuring the public bodies listed in the Act develop new ways of doing business and taking decisions.

This means thinking more about the long-term, working better with organisations, communities, businesses and each other, looking to prevent problems, tackling inequalities and taking a more joined-up approach. Get it right and it can help grow a sustainable economy, safeguard our natural resources and protect our vulnerable communities. Get it wrong and it threatens to be a bureaucratic white elephant that lies untried and untested on the statute book.

So where to begin? With such a broad remit it would be easy to be burdened by a myriad of red tape and processes or to focus too much on one area over another. Of course the Commissioner’s role is to ensure the public bodies specified in the Act comply with the legislation but in order to begin meeting the ambition the Commissioner needs to go further.

I believe there are three main areas on which the new Commissioner must concentrate if there is to be a fundamental shift in how we work and we live up to the UN’s claims.

Firstly to develop a strong focus for working and collaborating together across all sectors and industries. The new Commissioner must demonstrate early on that she is willing to bring representatives from every sector around a table to work constructively to develop new ways of working and begin to tackle the real risks we are facing. It will be essential to ensure that there isn’t a polarisation of the issues in one sector over another. This is an opportunity to radically alter how business and policy is delivered against a backdrop of some very serious challenges. The ‘Deep Place’ approach to equitable and sustainable places offers good example as to how this can be achieved.

A very real overarching threat within which to develop this sense of purpose and joined up approach is climate change. In December Paris will host the 21st UN global conference on climate change and member states are expected to reach an agreement towards a new, universal and legally binding climate regime, able to limit global warming below 2°C. It is now widely acknowledged that the action of countries like Wales is one of the key features for success with regional governments being seen as the key players to limit and efficiently tackle climate change. Almost 80% of actions necessary are implemented at this level. By collaborating, all sectors in Wales can work together to offer long term action and at the same time create and develop new ways of working to tackle this threat. This includes reaching out to those areas where the Act does not specifically focus, for example within industry and business to ensure the delivery of a strong sustainable economy.

The second real test for the Commissioner will be to demonstrate how this all works in practice. If we are to understand how the Act can bring about fundamental change we need to understand how it works. The legal structure is in place to alter how we balance our decision making but it will be important for the Commissioner to demonstrate early on how this can bring about positive change.

An example would be to change how we tackle the rising costs of caring for a steadily ageing population. High levels of community care are being delivered at great expense by our local authorities and are generally not providing the level of service expected with pay at minimum levels risking inhibiting quality care and the average level of provision under ten hours a week.  A restructuring of care services towards a social care cooperative could relocalise much of this activity, raise standards of care, and provide improved sustainable employment opportunities at higher wage levels. Solutions such as these need to be created by working across local governments and with the co-operative movement and business but can offer a very real and immediate social and economic impact on an area.

Finally – to be radical. Real change takes courage. It will take real courage to offer radical solutions to bring about the fundamental change that is badly needed and to stand up and speak out against some of the decisions being taken. We need to move away from judging developments on the basis of a potential conflict between the environment and the economy and move to a process where decision-making engages with local people to energise and empower. Whether this results in encouraging a more progressive taxation system which redistributes wealth rather than polarises it, whether it creates small scale renewables in every community across Wales, builds better transport links or invests in more flood prevention infrastructure, taking a radical stance and speaking out over how this meets the needs of everyone is key to understanding how the legislation can work and in leading its direction.

The role of the new Commissioner is one that offers us real opportunity. We have the legislation in place to provide real change but we need the Commissioner to deliver it. We need radical change that will set us apart from many of our counterparts. Change that will put us on a path to long term economic, social and environmental viability. By taking the lead in acting for the long term, making sure our patterns of production and consumption are sustainable, protecting the environment for future generations, speaking out for radical solutions and in working together to meet our biggest challenges we can help create a sustainable economy, community and an environment that serves all of us and our children for future generations.

Anna McMorrin was Specialist Adviser in the Welsh Government from 2008-2014 and is currently a consultant on external affairs, sustainability and tackling poverty.

15 thoughts on “Tests ahead for new Commissioner

  1. Good to see that Cardiff has now been chosen as the venue for the buzzword bingo olympics in 2020. I suspect there is a queue of hopeful consultants running twice round Cardiff Bay running right up to Ms Howe’s office door. Bags of work for all those who carry a labour party card and have never done a days work outside of the Principality then ? What is the welsh word for revolving door ?

    See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYbA2Xsu6VE

    I now await the appointment of the Commissioner for Legacy with baited breathe – should be another Taffia role good for £90K per year at least.

  2. As an environmental campaigner I am devastated that a career labour party adviser has been appointed who has no background or experience in this field, or indeed, even shown an interest . I am not alone, FOE Cymru has already expressed reservations. The job is to put sustainable development at the heart of decision making but I have no faith or hope in that happening with Sophie Howe. Will she challenge the Cardiff LDP plan to build thousands of unaffordable houses on our green fields or stop Cardiff labour shutting down recycling centres or their plan to send incinerator ash to Barry or stop the crazy inclusion of more car parking in the city centre even in front of the railway station or insist on a new bus station asap or stop cardiff labour stopping buses to relieve congestion (unbelievable) or do somthing about air pollution in Cardiff? There is a long list of unsustainable policy decisions being taken by labour in Cardiff and in Cymru too – where is she on the M4 for example. Would she even be able to identify sustainable development issues never mnd intervene. Or will she be just a speech reader to labour devotees and environmental quangos funded from the welsh gov?

  3. This should be the final nail in the coffin for WAG as this appointment (salary £95K approx.),plus the usual add ons,together with support staff is a DISGRACE. The whole shooting match of Commissioners for this and that,and including one how the put on a pair of shoes shows the constant complaint of UNDERFUNDING is not true. Lets be absolutely frank if there is someone who can see into the future,so as to forecast trends/disasters etc etc they would be earning £Millions and not a ‘mickey mouse’ council in Caerdydd.

  4. I wish Sophie Howe well in her new role and have been disappointed by one or two of the sexist comments made about her on social media. I am not one who accuses her of not being qualified for this role, as I am not clear what the role is. As someone who works in engineering linked directly to most people’s definition of ‘sustainability’, this concerns me.

    From my experience, Wales is very good about talking about communicating ideas, without actually getting around to doing it. The article above does not with respect, move us on from that position. If Sophie’s role is to bang heads together, ensure new ideas are shared and break the silo mentality that so often holds our nation back, then there is something good to come from this.

    She will have her work cut out.

  5. The Commissioner would need the wisdom of Solomon to do this job. No, she would need God like omniscience and possibly a time machine. Wales has a population only a fraction of the size of several obscure industrial cities in China but whatever we do here will be like squeezing a sausage shaped balloon; the conduct of our government will merely force unpalatable decisions onto our neighbours.

  6. Was McMorrin writing another grand speech from the Minister, conveniently forgetting past failures to implement similar grand visions?
    The role of the new Commissioner,,, offers real opportunity.. the legislation (for) real change needs the Commissioner to deliver it. …radical change to set Wales apart to put us on a path to long term economic, social and environmental viability…. lead in acting for the long term, making sure our patterns of production and consumption are sustainable, protecting the environment for future generations…

    Yet again Wales to be a world leader after 15 years lagging economically and failing environmentally. CO2 emissions continue to rise, as Wales fails the 3% per annum target for reduction in transport CO2, cuts bus services and resumes road-building. Rising CO2 is included in the special Welsh assessment (WelTAG) which hides it under the ‘benefit’ from raised fuel tax income, which they’ve failed to review. The M4 plan shows rising traffic is the Welsh sacred cow.

    What chance Sophie Howe would challenge this, let alone change it? No background in environmental issues, let alone understanding of the underlying accounting failures. Talking of holding 44 organisations to account sounds like more box-ticking, to divert attention while government itself continues with road building, waste incinerators, green-field housing , aerospace promotion, etc., with a few nods to renewable energy, recycling and bicycling, a Cardiff region Metro, while cutting rather than safeguarding bus services.

    Previous Minister from the Assembly’s early years, Sue Essex, turned up at the recent Cardiff LDP Inquiry session, despondent that she (and Kay Powell, her head of planning) had set up the planning system that allows the immense greenfield expansion and traffic congestion that is sinking Cardiff. But McMorrin being part of the current Labour establishment, is hardly capable of facing up to their 15-year failure.

  7. This article by Anna on challenges for new Future Generations Commissioner is solid stuff – way better than the sexism, abuse, disingenuousness and cheap political snideness that has dominated the reporting of the story for the last 48 hours

  8. If you want to know why the UK steel industry is no longer viable these people are a big part of your answer!

    They have forced up energy prices and imposed insane environmental restrictions which between them are killing off high energy use industries with metal smelting, and metal re-heating, operations becoming increasingly unviable.

    When future generations are reliant entirely on imported steel, aluminium, etc. then they will know who to blame! Enter the braindead unsustainable ….Future Generations Act!

    Do we really want to trust the wellbeing of future generations to a bunch of people who have never had a proper job in a 3rd rate legislature which has failed in almost every policy area it has devised or legislated on?

    I don’t – I would rather abolish the Assembly and the WG than the UK’s metal industries!

  9. According to the BBC website there were 40 applicants for this job – how duff must the others of been ?
    Appointment approved by a cross party Commitee hmmm.

    Of course he/she who controls the short listing exercise actually calls the shots. Old fashioned method used to be to put three no hopers against your own marginally better qualified candidate to ensure your favourite comes through on the day. Better candidates get excluded from the short list on a technicality.

  10. @Darran Hill
    “This article by Anna on challenges for new Future Generations Commissioner is solid stuff – way better than the sexism, abuse, disingenuousness and cheap political snideness that has dominated the reporting of the story for the last 48 hours”
    So that would be the sexism and abuse shown by the Plaid Cymru councilor who made the comment and the disingenuousness and cheap political snideness shown by the Labour supporting Trinity Mirror group and Tory supporting press such as the Daily Mail and Express, in the way they chose to cover it.
    If that’s what you mean then I agree with you the article is way better.

  11. And if you want to see an example of how all the bullshit works in practice take a look at http://www.monmouthshire.gov.uk/monmouthshire-engages-budget-201617 Every single proposal now has to be backed up with an eight page Future Generations evaluation – spectacular administrative overhead taxpayers get to fund because there is not enough red tape in the government sector already !

    What we really need is for WG to obtain extended tax raising powers so that they can bleed us all white funding even more jobs for cronies, unnecessary duplication of function, bilingual bog paper etc. They can of course borrow heavily in our names to build a shiny new ministry for barking schemes with strategy directed by mumsnet and the lights automatically going off at 4pm.

    Meanwhile poor sods like me, currently sitting in Madrid airport after a long week trying to generate hard currency earnings in the commercial sector to spend at home, are expected to fund all this. Welsh Labour please understand how odious you have become.

    What is the welsh for banana republic ?

  12. Brian: gweriniaeth fanana. You should know that. But you can’t grow bananas in Wales. How about a turnip republic: gweriniaeth feipen? But we are not a republic, unfortunately. So how about cringing subservient region of an anachronistic monarchy? That fits.

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