Published on 23rd Nov, 2022
THE architect of a ground-breaking policy to tackle inequality and promote wellbeing in Wales says the blueprint is being adopted around the globe.
Former Welsh government minister Jane Davidson was speaking at the launch of a new SCI discussion paper examining policies that could address persistent inequalities in Northern Ireland, where there has been a failure to sufficiently address issues such as poverty, inequality and educational underachievement.
The Future Generations Act was introduced in Wales in 2015 following a major consultation with grassroots communities to identify 'the Wales We Want'.
The outcome places greater obligations on public bodies, putting the wellbeing of communities and the needs of future generations at the heart of government decision making.
"I was given the opportunity to turn our commitment to sustainable development into an agenda that worked right across government," Jane told the SCI online launch event.
"We did that politically, but we did it without protection of law and we found that politically, it was very easy to embrace, because who wouldn't want to embrace the idea that you put the wellbeing of future generations at the heart of your policy making?
"But there was no way of describing what that looked like, with a duty to promote. I found out that as a minister that the civil service had taken evidence on this at the very start of the national assembly and found that the 'duty to promote' meant nothing.
"It meant we did have to produce a set of bureaucratic mechanisms, a scheme to say what we were doing, and then an incoming administration would determine if that was good enough - but not actually what promoting sustainable development meant in the context of the delivery of a policy agenda. I proposed what is now the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act."
It brought a sharp focus on what government had to do to ensure citizens have the opportunity for a decent life now and in the future.
'PERMISSION TO THINK DIFFERENTLY'
The Act established seven statutory wellbeing goals for Wales – aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals - and five specified ways of working based on the sustainable development principle.
Public bodies and Welsh Ministers are required to set and publish wellbeing objectives and to take all reasonable steps to meet them, while applying the five ways of working. The Act also makes provision for the establishment of collaborative Public Services Boards and a new Commissioner for Future Generations to advise and assist public bodies to make progress. It forced a change in how government is audited, due to the new legal obligations.
"The journey since then has been very important," Jane said, adding that the Welsh First Minister had made the act the 'rock at the heart of government'.
"If you make legislation like this, it has to be that. It is the framing of values, against which all other decisions are taken. And equality is an absolutely critical part of that. They are the values that the people of Wales have said they wanted incorporated in law."
Jackie Redpath, Chief Exec of Greater Shankill Partnership which promotes community-led regeneration, told the event that new approaches were required in Northern Ireland.
"This duty on government to make things happen...that duty should also cover interdepartmental collaboration.
"From a community perspective...it is a very difficult if you find yourself not lined up with policy.
"Once you're lined up with a policy that a politician has made and the administration the civil service is implementing, then you're in with a chance.
"It's a much more difficult thing if you're not lined up with policy.
"What we need to do, and this sounds a bit like motherhood and apple pie, but...you start with people."
DRAWING ON INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE
SCI's discussion paper examines policies around the globe which could be adapted for use in Northern Ireland.
The options include, not only the approach taken in Wales, but policies being used in Finland, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, Australia and Scotland. Adopting these new approaches in Northern Ireland would include:
- Legislative duties on equality of outcome & wellbeing
- Strengthening accountability and reporting
- Mandating new ways of working
The discussion paper is available here Reducing Inequalities and Improving Wellbeing - Options to help transform our public.pdf