The Well-Being of Future Generations Bill – but is a mere duty for sustainability enough? by Liz Silversmith

The Well-Being of Future Generations Bill (#fgbill for tweeters) has the potential to be a groundbreaking piece of legislation, with Assembly Members (AMs) across the political spectrum welcoming the chance to embed a duty of sustainable development in every public body.

Under this Bill, all local authorities will have to work towards fulfilling several ‘national well-being goals’ in accordance with sustainable development. Local Service Boards (which brings together local leaders in public and third sectors to plan services – see more here) will become Public Service Boards, with a duty to develop their integrated plans in line with local well-being goals.

It will also instate a Future Generations Commissioner to promote sustainability and to advise, monitor and assess public bodies in their achievement of their wellbeing objectives.

These objectives or ‘national well-being goals’ are:

  • A prosperous Wales
  • A resilient Wales
  • A healthier Wales
  • A more equal Wales
  • A Wales of cohesive communities
  • A Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language

The Welsh Government says that the National Conversation for ‘The Wales We Want’ will very much influence the Bill and the idea is that ‘on-going conversations’ with the FG Commissioner will continue to produce a regular Future Generations report. The public is asked to imagine what state they would want Wales to be in by 2050.

However, there are many reasons to only be cautiously optimistic about this Bill. It is certainly a step in the right direction, but there is already much debate as to whether ‘resilience’ is a better concept to work towards then ‘sustainability’, although it is encouraging that ‘a resilient Wales’ is one of the objectives. It seems there is a clear complement in the two principles and any public body that is truly forward thinking would want to incorporate both in equal measure.

Sustainability would seem, on the surface, to suggest that an organisation and its guiding forces can be kept going perpetually. It’s funding would be sustainable, its staff well-skilled and well-resourced and all its services aimed to benefit the health, well-being and prosperity of its communities.

However, the idea of resilience can seem more useful as it alludes to the idea that our environment is changeable. The funding is not certain. The services may have to be flexible. The staff may have to be multi-taskers that are ready for anything they come up against. But this kind of organisation can still be sustainable and resilient. A truly sustainable Wales would be able to withstand all fluctuations in our economy and our environment, while still never falling back on short-term planning or unsustainable economic models again. A resilient Wales would build up renewable energy resources, keep its workforce well-paid and its NHS funding bountiful enough to deal with an ageing population and future health crises that we may never be able to fully anticipate.

As the Welsh Government embraces the Bill’s principles, Ministers will have to ensure that it underpins decisions made across every department. This could create a difficult balancing act when they have to make unpopular decisions like further investment in roads or supporting carbon-intensive industries. There is also no clear Welsh Government view on what kind of energy generation we should or should not be allowing; particularly fracking. These are all difficult questions that a Future Generations Commissioner may be able to advise on, but the Welsh Government would still have to take that advice if they do not want to be accused of hypocrisy.

The Future Generations Bill could create real change, but embedding just a ‘duty’ may not be enough. It will be interesting to see how it develops and what Wales decides it really wants in 2050. Among funding cuts and an unpredictable future, Wales may have to just focus on what it really needs.

Liz Silversmith does political monitoring at @newsdirectwales and political commentary as @lizsilversmith. Her background is in working for Welsh MPs in Parliament and Welsh AMs in Cardiff, as well as running campaigns. She currently coordinates the housing campaign Let Down in Wales.