Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus - Y Bumed Senedd
Public Accounts Committee - Fifth Senedd14/12/2020
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Angela Burns MS|
|Delyth Jewell MS|
|Gareth Bennett MS|
|Jenny Rathbone MS|
|Nick Ramsay MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Rhianon Passmore MS|
|Vikki Howells MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Adrian Crompton||Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru|
|Auditor General for Wales|
|Jess McQuade||Pennaeth Polisi ac Eiriolaeth, WWF Cymru|
|Head of Policy and Advocacy, WWF Cymru|
|Llyr Gruffydd MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor Cyllid|
|Chair of the Finance Committee|
|Matthew Kennedy||Rheolwr Polisi a Materion Cyhoeddus, Sefydliad Tai Siartredig Cymru|
|Policy and Public Affairs Manager, the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru|
|Matthew Mortlock||Archwilio Cymru|
|Ryland Jones||Pennaeth yr Amgylchedd Adeiledig, Sustrans Cymru|
|Head of Built Environment, Sustrans Cymru|
|Tim Buckle||Archwilio Cymru|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Claire Griffiths||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Tom Lewis-White||Ail Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:45.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:45.
I welcome members of the Public Accounts Committee to today's meeting, and, also today, we're joined by Llyr Grufydd, the Chair of the Finance Committee. So, it's good to see you, Llyr. Thanks for being with us. No apologies have been received and no substitutions. Do Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make at the start? No. Okay. The interpretation has just been tested, and you're all aware of how to speak, obviously.
So, item 3 on today's agenda: barriers to the successful implementation of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. It's our first evidence session on this, although we have had a stakeholder event previously. So, can I welcome our witnesses to today's meeting from Audit Wales, on the other side of the table to us today, unusually? But, Adrian, would you like to give your name and position for the Record of Proceedings, and your colleagues as well?
Thank you, Nick. Yes, I'm Adrian Crompton, the Auditor General for Wales. Matt and Tim, introduce yourselves.
Yes, I'm Matthew Mortlock. I'm one of the Audit Wales audit directors.
I'm Tim Buckle, and I'm an audit manager with Audit Wales.
Good. We've got a number of questions for you today. So, thanks for being with us to assist in our enquiries. I'll kick off with the first couple of questions, and, in terms of the key barriers to the implementation of the Act, can you set out what you consider to be the key barriers to the implementation of the well-being of future generations Act, both for the Welsh Government and also for other public bodies?
Certainly. Thank you, Nick. We set out the barriers, as we saw them, in our report in 2020, and I think they remain the ones I'd draw your attention to. So, firstly, a set of issues around funding arrangements. So, we see frequently issues for public bodies, because of the short-term nature of some funding flows, which hamper their ability to plan effectively for the longer term, and we see that in all sectors, in local government and in health, but also in the central government sector with public bodies that are in receipt of annual remit letters from the Welsh Government; a lack of flexibility in how some parts of grant funding can be spent; and, alongside that, sometimes, a disproportionate requirement for monitoring that is seen as inhibiting, again, the ability of public bodies to plan for the long term and to focus on longer term outcomes. Sticking with grant funding, sometimes, public bodies are only made aware of the availability of funding very late in the day, or late in the financial year, which again hampers their flexibility.
The second theme, I think, is around legislative complexity, and this would be an issue for Welsh Government, as the instigator of the vast majority of legislation, but also for the Senedd more generally, as the legislative body. So, ensuring that different pieces of legislation actually tie up and are congruent with the requirements of the future generations Act. So, as a practical example, we've seen in this Senedd term the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 pertaining to planning policy, both of which have very obvious read-across to the future generations Act, but, in some ways, act counter to it.
The third theme, I think, which I've touched on already, is around the reporting and regulatory requirements that sit alongside different parts of legislation and policy. Again, these can, on occasion, act in a way that disincentivises some of the activity that we would want to see in the spirit of the future generations Act, so driving a shorter term focus in many cases.
And finally, the old chestnut of the general complexity of the partnership landscape in Wales. We are a small country, but we have an awful lot of parts to our public service. And there are very few, if any, of the wicked issues that the public service is looking to tackle that can be solved by a single public body alone. Partnership working is absolutely the right thing to do, but, in the context of the Act, we have the public services boards, but the same partners who sit on those boards are likely also to be participants in other structures as well. So, we have the regional partnership boards, the city deal regions, education consortia and a whole myriad of mandatory and voluntary partnership arrangements.
Adrian, can I interject there? Okay, there may be a lot of criticisms of the Act, but clearly it was groundbreaking and something that's not been attempted, certainly not in the UK, so I think we have to be mindful of that. But part of the Act is getting a mindset and culture change, isn't it—actually changing the whole way that thinking happens across all these bodies? So, from your position as the auditor general, standing back from it, do you think that that culture change has happened, or is it in progress in any way, or is there really a long way to go before people actually get the full impact of what changes are required for this Act to work?
Certainly in progress. Our national report and all of the more specific reports that underpin it point to a lot of very positive activity that reflects on the leadership and culture that we see in many parts of the public service. So, plenty of good examples where public bodies have embraced the Act, embraced the partnership working that comes with it and are genuinely looking to apply it in their activities. There is a 'but' though. We clearly see scope for considerable improvement in how the Act is applied, and in particular how the five ways of working are applied. So, to give you a practical example, we see plenty of evidence of public bodies thinking about the long-term implications of their activities, but we see less of a genuine attempt to plan for the longer term with all of the resourcing decisions and flexibilities that come with that. So, commitment, generally speaking, yes, but a long way to go if it's to become genuinely embedded.
Okay. Just before I bring other Members in, right up to date now with the pandemic and dealing with that, do you have any take on how the pandemic will affect the implementation of the Act over the short and medium terms?
On one level, of course, it has required, understandably, a focus on the very short term to manage the impact on businesses and on people and on their health. It will bring with it huge challenges for the public purse that will make many of the challenges that we've already identified for further embedding of the Act even harder.
More optimistically, I think the five ways of working enshrined in the Act are eminently sensible principles upon which to base a governance system. And so, if our recovery out of COVID can be based around those principles, I think that gives us a cause for optimism for the future. And, indeed, over the course of the last year, we've seen that some activity forced upon the public sector out of necessity is actually absolutely squarely in line with the spirit of the Act. So, I'm thinking here around the way that different parts of the public service have collaborated in new and effective ways, the way in which some public bodies have reached out to the citizens they serve to find different and innovative ways to reshape services and restart the services that they provide. So, out of necessity, there's some evidence of exactly what the Act is about, but huge challenge as we rebuild to ensure that we do that with the five ways of working firmly embedded.
Okay. Thanks, Adrian. I'm going to bring in other Members now, and Angela Burns on the examination of public bodies.
Yes. Thank you, Chair. Good morning, Adrian. It's quite interesting—when we looked at the results out of the stakeholder workshop, there was quite a bit of commentary about the way you're approaching the examination of these public bodies. Some of the councils suggested that the audits did not add significant value to the process. They were criticising that single-step, deep-dive approach that you've decided to take, whereas the approach you're taking with Welsh Government is a number of different types of audit—three steps. Why did you go for that deep dive, because the feedback that we got was that they felt that you were drilling down on something that was, as yet, still in its infancy, and actually it would be much better to give it a broader view, to look at the use of public funds, the probity elements of it?
Okay, thanks, Angela. I'll kick off, if I may, and then I'll ask Tim or Matt to come in, who have a closer grip on this than I. Part of the logic behind our focus on a single step came from our engagement at an early stage with public bodies. So, in trying to design the approach that we were to take, a message we took from that was that we should actually make sure that we engage with the operational reality of the business of different public bodies, rather than staying purely at a corporate level. So, partly for that reason. And partly pragmatic—we're dealing with 44 public bodies that deliver a vast array of services. There's no way that we could or should offer a view on every part of that. So, we have tried to select steps that are significant and representative of the activities of individual bodies. The Welsh Government is a bigger beast, and so we picked a key theme for the Welsh Government and then chose three steps that are critical to that, so a reflection of the size of the beast. Looking forward, I think I'd like to see us change our approach slightly, in response to exactly the point you make, Angela. I think, over the next five-year term, we're going to have to give greater focus to higher level corporate embedding of the ways of working, and look for evidence of genuine commitment at a senior level to the kind of financial planning that is needed to see the Act come to fruition. Tim, I don't know whether you want to say anything further about the issue of the choice of steps and so on.
Yes, thanks, Adrian. I think, to probably build on what you've said already, one of the main principles, I guess, of the way we approached this entire area of work, was to work very closely with public bodies from the outset. So, I think we were talking about probably 18 months of work in terms of designing the approach, but also then running 10 pilot projects with a range of public bodies from different sectors. So, I think, as Adrian said, the focus on the step was very much, I think, in response to this view that we needed to look beyond the strategic plans, beyond the high-level stuff, because if the Act was actually to be embedded, it would be happening throughout the organisation from top to bottom. So, the focus on the step was very much partly around that.
The second observation, I think, on that: again, as Adrian said, we have two years of a five-year reporting period. One of the principles we recognised through our examinations was that this was a long-term thing. This wasn't going to happen overnight. Changing behaviours, changing culture, will take a long time, and therefore we thought the way we could add value, probably, in the immediate term, was to take a more deep-dive approach on specific areas as well. So, I think that, again, that was absolutely behind the approach.
I think the last thing, as well, to probably highlight, which maybe we haven't highlighted clearly enough, I suppose, and it is mentioned in the report from May 2020, is that we didn't only look at a single step; we also looked at a briefer, albeit more high level, look at the corporate approach, I suppose. So, we asked questions around what was being done to embed the Act—again, similar things, really—and what were the key barriers. And that wasn't reported locally in the sense of a formal report, but it was included and it did inform our findings for the overall national report. So, I suppose we did take a broad look, to an extent, but I would agree the focus was more on the individual step.
And I think the last point, I suppose, to make on this is that we've also undertaken our own survey from public bodies in terms of what they thought of the work we've done, and, very much again, in principle, we're working with them throughout this process. Overall, the responses were positive in terms of the way they felt about the examinations and the way we'd approached them. So, absolutely, we accept we didn't get it right everywhere and we accept that others will have differing views and absolutely appropriately. But I think, overall, we're broadly satisfied with the response we got on that and we've got lots to work on, going forward.
Thank you for that. I think it's obviously a very difficult line to walk, because some of the responses were quite strong about the role of the Welsh audit office, the fact they didn't think you'd got your own act together in terms of how to apply the Act within what your remit was going to be, and applying the Act within your own working practices. I think a deep dive is a very good way of fleshing out a particular problem or concentrating on key areas. I suppose I can understand the feeling, by some of these public organisations, that this Act was still really new. They're still trying to embed it, and to go on a deep dive on one particular aspect of it would probably be quite tough. And I heard what you said, Adrian, about how you might change it for the next Assembly term, but perhaps—I just wonder what your view is—should it have been the other way around to begin with? That, to begin with, while they're trying to put the Act in place, it should have been all high level, looking at how the management structures were taking it on, looking at how they were going to drive it through, and then, on the second term, that's when you start really looking down and saying, 'Right, guys, have you actually managed to drive the principles and practice of this Act through to the lowest common denominator within your organisation?' It just seems that it was done the wrong way around.
I'm comfortable with the way we've gone about it. I think our approach has been a good one. Just to step back from it, if I may, what we are effectively doing here is trying to audit organisational behaviour and culture, and that's a very different space for us to operate in, a very different space for any audit institution to operate in. So, in this regard, we're leading the world, frankly. So, we have focused, as Tim said, an awful lot on trying to work with the 44 bodies to help us shape our approach to audit. And, as Tim mentioned, the reflective work that we've just completed with public bodies suggests that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, we got that right. And so, most public bodies feel as though we took appropriate steps to get to know and contextualise our work and understand their work, and that our approach struck the right balance between challenge and support and has helped public bodies to learn, as we are learning, about what the Act means in practice. So, we can undoubtedly improve, but this is very, very novel territory for us as auditors as well as for public bodies looking to implement the Act. So, like I say, I'm very comfortable with the way that we've gone about it, but, clearly, in every single case, it seems we might not have got that quite right and we need to learn from that.
Just a last, very quick question: the feedback that you talked about, Tim, was that formal or informal?
Yes, it was formal. So, we ran an anonymous survey so those people could say exactly what they felt, in essence. So, yes.
Okay. Thank you.
We can let the committee have details of that, Angela, but, just from memory, I think we surveyed, or received responses from, 39 organisations, 30 or 30 plus of which described the overall tone of their response to us as positive.
Thanks, Angela. I'm going to bring in Vikki Howells now, unless anyone else has any supplementaries. Just to warn you, I may disappear momentarily because I've got to deal with a lighting issue in the office; I'm being blinded by light from my right side. So, Vikki, you hold the show for half a minute or so. Over to you.
Thank you, Chair. I've got some questions, auditor general, about how your office works directly with the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. In the written evidence that we've taken, there was a view there that there's some confusion about the respective roles of yourself and the commissioner. What would be your response to that, and do you think that there is any duplication of roles?
The Act is clear in defining what the respective roles of our offices are, and also clear in requiring us to work closely together and to collaborate to avoid any duplication. That we certainly do. I last met the commissioner on Friday, and she and I will have another conversation early in the new year, and our offices, operationally, work really closely and frequently together.
The focus for me and for Audit Wales essentially is on how public bodies are applying the sustainable development principle to the setting of their well-being objectives, and the steps they take to get there—so, an internal focus to our work. The commissioner's role is much more on the achievement of those objectives. So, I think that distinction is clear, but, clearly, you can't talk about one without talking about the other. And so that's where the focus of our efforts, between the two offices, lies, to ensure that we don't duplicate in our work.
In practical terms, that means that our staff work together. The commissioner's staff certainly supported us in the development of our audit methodology, and you will see in the commissioner's summary national report clear reference to our body of work as informing hers. So, I think our respective roles are very closely aligned. It's right that we ensure there's no duplication and overlap, and I believe that is what we have done over the last couple of years.
Thank you. So, how has the memorandum of understanding with the commissioner worked in practice?
I'll draw Tim in here as well, if I may, as he would have been around when the MOU was drawn up. Like I said, in practical terms now, we don't use it as a tool that we refer back to and hold one another to account on; it's not that kind of relationship. But the commissioner and I meet frequently and regularly. Operationally, as I said, our staff work very closely together. The commissioner's office has, for instance, supported us in a lot of our good practice exchange work, to help deliver good practice messages to the wider public service. But, Tim, perhaps you could say a little more about how, in practice, it affects your work.
As Adrian said, if I can use the phrase 'more operational level', I and my predecessor in the role—the permanent occupier of my role meets probably monthly, on average, with the commissioner's office, to talk about areas of mutual interest, joint work et cetera. Adrian mentioned good practice exchange events. So, for example, we would have run one or two in the autumn. We postponed them because of the pandemic, but we're certainly planning, and we were in discussions last week about resurrecting those, hopefully, in the summer sometime. So, that's still ongoing.
I think one of the areas where, in particular, I suppose there's an opportunity to further reduce the risk of any duplication or confusion is around our respective work on progress. The commissioner has a role in assessing progress against well-being objectives, and we think that we can actually work more closely together on that. So, essentially, we may well, for example, collect some evidence around that work through our other work, and potentially the commissioner could rely on that, for example. So, that's not something that's set in stone, but it's something we're certainly actively discussing and hope will be a really good demonstration of how we can improve that. That should at least seem more seamless on the outside to public bodies.
I suppose, just to add to Adrian's observations, in practice, it's a very close working relationship, obviously with appropriate boundaries, and the commissioner's office has helped us in terms of developing methodologies, speaking to our staff in terms of internal training sessions, for want of a better phrase, as well, so I think that has worked well. But, as always, I think we can take that further and improve, as I said. So, that area is probably the main one.
Thank you. Auditor general, what's your view on whether the commissioner should have stronger powers of enforcement under the Act?
I don't think that's an area where I should or do have a particular view. I think the commissioner has a broad and challenging remit under the Act to both promote and encourage, and also to hold to account and monitor, and that is challenging for any commissioner or regulatory or inspectorate organisation to do, to navigate that line. I think striking that appropriate balance between the degree to which a commissioner is there to encourage and promote, or to hold to account, is always going to be a challenge. But as for the policy implications of whether the commissioner should have different powers of enforcement, that's not one for me to comment on, I'm afraid.
Okay, thank you. I think—
Just before you go on—
—you might give me a similar answer to my final question, but I'll give it a go anyway—
Vikki, just before I bring you in, Rhianon, did you have a supplementary on that point, or do you want me to bring you in after Vikki's finished?
Sorry, I'll keep mine, if that's okay, Chair. It's fine; it's about an opening remark of the auditor general's. But it'll keep, thanks.
Some of the written evidence suggested that the number of recommendations in the future generations report is unmanageable and that it should have been more focused. How would you respond to that observation?
It's not a matter for me how the commissioner met the duty that lies upon her to report. What I would say is that her remit is extremely broad. The Act is huge in its potential coverage and implications, so it doesn't surprise me at all that, in order to meet the requirements that are placed upon her by the legislation, her report would have to be very full and wide-ranging. If you take the body of work that we have undertaken during the lifetime of the Act, it would be similarly massive. We adopted a slightly different approach to our summary report at a national level in May, by just drawing some headline conclusions and drawing that up to a national summary report, but sitting underneath that are some 70 or so individual examinations with specific recommendations for individual public bodies. So, it's a reflection of the sheer scale, scope and ambition of the Act.
Thank you very much. Thank you, Chair.
Thanks, Vikki. Delyth Jewell.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Sorry, I always forget whether I'm meant to unmute myself or not. We've been speaking about the need for cultural change in organisations so that the spirit of the Act is adhered to and not just the letter of it, but if the Act is going to be as transformative as it could be, the public need to appreciate it as well, and I think that's definitely one of the biggest challenges that have been highlighted in the evidence we're getting. What level of understanding do you think there is amongst members of the public about the existence of the Act, especially any kind of further detail in terms of what that would mean for practical day-to-day life, and how do you think that understanding could be strengthened?
Even within the bodies that we audit and the Act applies to, there are differing levels of understanding. And, crudely, I suspect the more you get into the body of an organisation, the lower the level of understanding and appreciation of the Act and its implications are. Outside that, in the public at large, I would speculate that the level of appreciation and understanding of the Act is very low. And that is important, because without a higher level of public awareness, I think some of the critical elements of the Act are going to struggle to really bite. So, for example, if public bodies are to get buy-in to a different form of spending—so, more of a focus on preventative spend or more of a focus on long-term outcomes at the expense of some shorter term gains to service delivery—that is going to require public understanding of why they are operating in that way. So, it's absolutely crucial to get that public understanding, I think.
Thank you for that. Do you think that there are specific ways that that public understanding could be developed more? I know this is always a challenge with any legislation, and particularly something as broad as this, but this is legislation that would potentially lend itself to there being public understanding. Should that be happening through—? This might well be picked up later on in further questions, but is there a role for certain bodies to engage more with the public because of this?
I think one of the things that would aid public understanding is addressing the major strategic barriers to implementation that I identify in my report, and so that's about positioning the national debate about policy making at a national level in the context of the Act, time and time again. And so that is not an approach that relies on an individual organisation running a publicity campaign saying, 'This piece of legislation is in force and it matters, blah blah blah'; this is about changing the nature of the political debate that takes place consistently over time. And so over time, the public get more of a sense that the direction of travel is in keeping with the Act. It doesn't matter that people know there is a piece of legislation called the future generations Act and this is what it means; it's complicated. But it does matter that people understand that we're trying to shift the focus of our governance and behaviour in the public service in the ways that are enshrined in the Act.
Thank you. I'm sure that this is something that one of my colleagues will delve into further. You mentioned in one of your previous answers—to me just now, actually—that the further you get into some organisations, the less in depth the understanding and appreciation of the Act can be. And we've heard in a number of submissions of evidence that we've received that there's a tendency at least towards silo thinking with this Act, and that it doesn't, with the civil service and some public bodies—that it's not something that is ingrained into every single layer of an organisation, including the civil service. I realise that these are very broad questions, but do you think that there are specific things that could be done to change the way in which organisations and the civil service approach this Act? Do you think it's something that's specific about this legislation because it's broad, or are there particular reasons why this could be intimidating for organisations? And again, some of my colleagues will be coming back to whether or not this is to do with financial aspects, but do you think it's about this legislation in particular, or is this more of a challenge, and what do you think can be done to try to overcome this tendency?
Tim, Matt, you may want to come in on this as well. I think the first thing I would say is that some of the very best examples that we have seen will have been there because people at operational level within organisations really get the Act and have embraced it and are advocates for it and drive the change within their areas. So, I wouldn't want to make this a sort of hierarchical point—far from it. It's about the scale of the challenge that the Act presents, and therefore the scale of the challenge in getting true mainstreaming of the thinking that underpins that right through 44 different public organisations.
I think, as always, in any organisation, lots of this comes down to the tone from the top and the leadership that is provided in any organisation and the degree to which that is pushed through other parts of the organisation. So, that, I think, is the area where all public bodies are going to need to give some focus in the next reporting round. It links back to Angela's question about our own focus and maybe we will shift some of that upwards to make sure that that messaging is really genuinely being embedded. And also that we shift our approach to one that is looking not to treat the future generations Act as a stand-alone thing that we investigate and comment on, but that we start to mainstream it into much more of our value-for-money work more generally, so we start to see SD driven through a value-for-money lens more routinely. Tim, Matt, I don't know whether you've got any more specific observations.
I was just going to come in and observe that there's a danger that people see the Act as a corporate planning and reporting piece, and, obviously, it starts from there, and we've touched already—Angela's question earlier—around, you know, you can look at the corporate level, but, actually, what it's about is service provision, changes on the ground, getting everyone involved. So, in response to your question, Delyth, it's about how do you get the individual in a public service on the front line to appreciate how they're delivering that service differently because of the Act, what the opportunity is to collaborate with other organisations to do things differently, what are the opportunities to involve service users in the provision of the service. And that goes well beyond corporate planning and reporting. It kind of takes you back to the point around even our approach on a step and a deep dive, because, actually, unless you go a bit further in the audit process—and we could perhaps do this more in future as well, to actually get right down the levels of management hierarchy to those actually providing the service at the front line, and the users as well, to understand what it means for them. And involvement is one of the principles, of course, one of the five ways of working—that's involving service users, but also involving those providing services in helping to reshape and come up with ideas of how things can be done differently. So, I think there is a big danger that it's just simply seen as a corporate-planning piece and challenge here; it's about much more than that.
Can I just bring in Rhianon Passmore before we move on?
Thank you very much, Chair. I was wanting to come in at the beginning, but it's been inferred again, really. So, I suppose what I'm trying to understand in regard to the comments that have been made around the themes of complexity in organisations across Wales and then the congruence of legislation and alignment of that, and then the comments in regard to the short-term strategic financial planning—the themes that you've mentioned again now and inferred again now—these are very big generic strategic themes that you are bringing up, so I suppose my question, really, about what has just been stated, is that unless there is some radical pruning back of public organisations, or radical alignment of legislation, and then, additionally to that, some change to the strategic financial planning, to organisations' long-term planning, across Wales, bearing in mind Wales does not have that security in itself also, because we don't get that from the UK Government—. Is that a fair analysis, that you would like to see progress in all those three areas?
To the auditor general. Sorry.
Yes. So, you mentioned funding, Rhianon, and that clearly is critical, and you're absolutely right to point out that not all the levers and controls lie within Welsh Government's hands on that front. But, absolutely—to the degree that they do, as I outlined in my report, if the Welsh Government and the Senedd are serious about wanting to go much further with the Act and to make this the all-encompassing framework within which other pieces of legislation nestle, and within which the operation of the public service sits, then those are exactly the things that need to be addressed over the next five-year period if we're going to go beyond what we're seeing already.
Okay. Thank you, Chair.
Okay, thanks, Rhianon. We need to make some progress, so, Delyth, you'd finished, hadn't you?
There's just one quick question left, Chair. I'll be brief with it. Tim was saying earlier about the efforts that your office makes to work with the commissioner's office. All of those points notwithstanding, there is a perception in some of the evidence we've had that there is a disconnect between how your office or Welsh Government and the commissioner approach the legislation. How would you respond to that perception, and how do you think that that could be addressed, please?
Well, I think, clearly, we need to continue our efforts to clarify, and, as Tim alluded, we have some thoughts about how, in the next reporting round, we might further align our efforts in that regard. But I think it's important too just to step back and challenge that assertion just a little. I detect in one or two of the consultation responses that the committee has received some kind of sense that public bodies want to be told how to do it, and that's very definitely not the right approach, in my view. So, yes, support and guidance and some helpful, supportive work, but, ultimately, as Matt said, this is about hearts and minds and thinking right through organisations, and organisations need to embrace that and then find the solutions themselves. So, of course, I'm sure there's more that we could do to clarify, to simplify, to avoid duplication, to minimise any burden that we impose on any part of the sector, but a little bit of pushback from me too, that actually organisations need to embrace this and take responsibility for themselves.
Okay. Diolch, Cadeirydd.
Thanks, Delyth. Jenny Rathbone.
Thank you. Earlier on, you described Welsh Government as a bigger beast than other bodies. Five thousand people, or just over five thousand people, work for the Welsh Government, compared with, say, 14,000 working for Cardiff Council, which is the largest local authority. So, I wondered if, in response to my question, you could also elaborate on what you mean by 'a bigger beast', and that is in relation to what action Welsh Government needs to take to create the conditions for the cultural change required by the Act.
Sorry, Jenny, your question is—?
Well, the action you think needs to be taken by the Welsh Government to create the cultural conditions—the change required to really get the best out of the Act.
Okay. So, I think that it falls into two parts for the Welsh Government. The Welsh Government, because of its position—and this is what I meant by it being a bigger beast—has a leadership role for the whole of the public service in Wales, so the Welsh Government itself, as an organisation, needs to demonstrate that it is embracing the Act as fully as any part of the wider public service. So, it has a leadership role that is important if it wishes the rest of the public service to follow suit, and it also has a role because it is the organisation that can do most to address those major strategic barriers that I identify.
Fine. Okay, so it's five years since the Act was passed. Could you just elaborate on those aspects of Welsh Government policy, guidance and legislation that you think only make a marginal or unclear reference to the Act? What do they need to do to fix that?
I can't give you a categoric list of things that do or don't, but Tim may be able to give specific examples.
Well, I think specific examples might be helpful for just illustrating what we're talking about. Tim.
Tim, can you—?
Yes. I think probably where the neatest description of this is probably in our 'Better law making' report, which we published earlier in the year. And I think the other thing to highlight here is that some of the Acts, some of the legislation, predate the future generations Act anyway, so it's not necessarily fair to say in hindsight, clearly, that they didn't reflect it, but, equally, they still don't, so, therefore, it's still an issue even if it's 'nobody's fault', in inverted commas. So, some of the examples we talked about in that report were around the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2009 for local government. I think there have been a number of comments in various guises from local authorities around the difficulties of regimes that the two Acts therefore produce. The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which, in many respects, has similar principles, or even maybe the same principles, but the language is slightly different—so, that's caused some, I think, difficulties for public bodies. And I think the other example was some of the planning guidance and legislation that we also referred to in that report as well.
So, I think it's—. So, those are some of the specific examples, but I think it's the general point, really, around the cohesiveness of the legislation and whether or not that (a) causes difficulties, but also confusion as well, and I think the confusion point is probably best described by the use of 'integration' in the social services and well-being Act and 'integration' in the WFG Act, which mean similar but slightly different things. So, I think there's something else around that too.
How significant is that difference, in the sense they're all supposed to be following the five ways of working in dealing with different specific things?
I think it's a broader issue in terms of—. So, on the previous question, I think I would probably add to this point about that there's difference between awareness and understanding. So, first of all, there's awareness of the five ways of working in this instance, and then there's understanding of them. One of the things that we saw in our examinations, particularly around integration, was a misunderstanding of the term. That can cause problems, because that directs organisations, essentially, down the wrong path, and they're trying with the best will in the world to follow that. So, 'integration' was one. I think even as simple as 'long term'; some people, some organisations, saw 'long term' on its own, where, actually, the Act talks about balancing long and short-term needs.
So, I think, whichever legislation we're talking about, in terms of the WFG Act, the understanding of those terms, having a common understanding of them, is really important. So, anything that leads to confusion or, potentially, organisations doing things with the best will but not necessarily following the policy intent, can cause problems.
Okay. Obviously, the Welsh Government's got a dual role both as a public body but also its leadership role, which the auditor general has already referred to. Could you indicate some examples of where the Welsh Government has been particularly successful at implementing the Act, and perhaps those where it's faced particular challenges?
Well, the three steps that we examined for the Welsh Government, actually, the reports were very positive—so, a real demonstration of innovative ways of collaborating with citizens, for instance, in terms of service design; so, certainly, some positive examples within the Welsh Government in that regard. But through our wider work—and Tim alluded to the 'Better law making' report that the committee saw just a few months ago and you're familiar with—the bulk of our value-for-money national studies programme, through that we see, repeatedly, examples where we're seeing decisions taken by the Welsh Government that are not entirely congruent with the spirit of the Act. So, some examples of very good practice, but it's a large organisation with a vast array of policy responsibilities within it, and genuinely to get the whole of that machine operating in a way that is internally joined up enough to make a reality of the Act, I think, is a huge challenge.
Can I just come in there, Jenny?
We're into the last 10 minutes or so, or maybe 15 if we push it, and there are some key areas that we need to cover.
Okay. I'm happy to leave it there.
You're okay if we leave that, and then I want to bring—. Right, so I'm going to bring in Llyr Gruffydd next, with some important questions. Then I propose to bring in strategic partnerships, which will be Rhianon and you, Jenny, and then Gareth Bennett, if that's okay with everyone. So, over to you.
Forgive me if I'm eating into your time as well. If there are issues that we don't cover fully, then of course we can feed that into you separately in writing.
Thank you, Chair. The nub of the issue for me here is that we have a Government on the one hand trumpeting that this is world-leading legislation, and on the other hand we're not seeing world-leading change, which brings the first statement into question, really. Whilst it's radical in its intentions, we're not seeing the radical action that we were hoping to see when the Bill was passed five or so years ago. We can all point to isolated examples, or individual examples and case studies, and the Government are very good at doing that, really. Wrexham council, in their evidence to us, said that the enthusiasm and this radical approach is
'often crowded out by resource and capacity pressures, legislative overload'—
we touched on that slightly—
'consultation fatigue, plus external distractions such as austerity, Brexit and Covid 19.'
It's frustrating that we're not where we'd like to be, and resource is the area that I wanted to pursue, really, in terms of—. We've seen with the social services and well-being Act that resources have been allocated, and whether that sort of subconsciously, then, knocks it up the agenda in terms of public bodies thinking, 'Well, that must be a higher Government priority because they're allocating funds to it.' So, my question really is: do you agree with the future generations commissioner that, actually, money should be allocated to this work?
So, I think—. If you step back from it, for the medium and longer term, this is about doing things differently rather than doing extra things. So, it doesn't follow naturally that more resourcing needs to be there for us to operate in line with the future generations Act. Indeed, we produced a piece of work earlier in the year looking at rough-sleeping as an example of one of the wicked, cross-cutting issues that can only be effectively challenged if organisations work collaboratively in the way that the Act envisages. The cost of reactive responses to rough-sleeping is in the order of £200 million a year in Wales. That is money that we would not be spending in the same way if we addressed the problem at its root cause—so, a different way of utilising public resource, rather than additional cost.
However, to get from A to B will require some specific resourcing, I suspect. You pointed to the RPBs, I think, as 'This is a channel where some significant sums of money are being placed.' If you look at the city deal partnerships as well, it's unsurprising, I think, that partners will give focus to areas where resources are available, first and foremost. So, what's needed, I think, is an approach from the top, and the responsibility here lies on Welsh Government but also on the Senedd itself in passing legislation and holding the Government to account for the decisions and actions that it takes, to ensure that we are incentivising the kind of organisational behaviour that is required if the Act is to bear fruit. It's enormously challenging—I don't deny that—especially at a time when we have a kind of perfect storm of COVID, of departure from the EU, of deep inequalities, of climate change, et cetera, et cetera, to shift organisational behaviour and funding decisions away from short-term activity to more preventative forms of spend and so on. That is a difficult thing to do and so, if resourcing is to be put into the system, I'd say what we need to be sure about is that it is incentivising the kind of behaviour that we want to see for the longer term.
I was just going to add that I think it's for organisations to be brave, as well, in some of that decision making. We reported on the integrated care fund in 2019 and quite a significant amount of public money has gone into project development work to change service provision models of care, but, actually, issues around them mainstreaming those new services. So, there's a danger as well that with resources comes grant dependency and, at some point, public bodies have to take the brave step of funding themselves and stepping back from one model of provision and moving on with another within their existing resources. So, there was a real challenge there; the whole principle around ICF was essentially pump-priming to prove what works and then for those changes to be mainstreamed, but we weren't seeing that, partly because of other funding pressures that have arisen because of austerity, but that's the challenge, really, in terms of changing service models. There's been lots of pilot work in various funding programmes, but not necessarily the step change then that sees things sustainable for the longer term.
Yes. And it's those pilot schemes that very often end up in glossy reports as demonstrating how wonderful this Act is and it isn't leading to that sort of deep-rooted fundamental change that we all want to see, really.
We touched earlier on the need for longer term funding security, but of course, local authorities aren't going to not be funded overnight, so surely—. I understand that there's an element of necessity in having that long-term funding guarantee, but clearly, that shouldn't be an excuse to hold back some of these changes, should it?
I think Matt is right that individual public bodies do have their own control over many of the decisions they're taking here. I think the kind of barriers that we identify in our report and that public bodies will report to us and to you are real and genuine, and if those can be addressed, then we have a greater chance of success with the Act. But you're absolutely right, Llyr, that public bodies have their own decision-making and governance arrangements and can take their own decisions. And we do see that in some of the better performing bodies, in the context of the Act, that they are already willing to take those kinds of decisions and shift behaviour and decision making in the way that the Act requires.
Thank you, Chair.
Okay. So, as I said, if we move on now to strategic partnerships and Rhianon Passmore and then I'll bring in Gareth Bennett at the end. Okay, over to Rhianon.
Thank you very much, Chair. Just very briefly, you've mentioned the major challenges: EU exit, deepening inequality and the austerity agenda, climate change and COVID, and the current landscape. I'm just wanting a view with regard to how much of a pipe dream you actually feel it is for this sea change, which is underlying and absolutely imperative within the Act, when we're dealing with these major, major issues and with no extra funding because there isn't really that extra funding there. Are you being realistic in your asks?
Well, I'm being realistic in reporting to you what my work demonstrates. So, I would not want to underplay how difficult the environment is; it would have been difficult even without COVID and COVID has completely transformed not only the public finances, but the nature of the issues that we have to grapple with. So, huge challenge, yes, but I'll just come back to my starting point, that the Act, in my view, presents us with a model of governance and organisational behaviour that makes eminent sense. So, these are good principles upon which to base a national framework of governance and legislation, and so applying it, in whatever circumstance, is a sensible thing to do. It may have become even more challenging financially to enable us to do that. But, I would argue, all the more reason, therefore, to ensure that we do all that we can.
Okay. Thank you for that. So, in regard to the earlier conversations around the plethitude or the landscape that we've got around strategic partnerships—which is busy across Wales, and has got busier—what is your view on that? I think that you've already highlighted this previously, so do you think that the introduction of corporate joint committees will have an impact on how the Act is implemented, and in what way will that have an impact? And, in regard to your assessment on the additional resourcing that may be required with that inclusion of the new corporate joint committees, what is your opinion on that?
So, I think that the diagnosis of the issue that we have is clear. We've had numerous reviews and examinations of the partnership landscape, and, fundamentally, they all say the same thing—that it's too complicated. So, in the case of CJCs, I think that they have the potential to do good or not, frankly. Because if they are embraced by local authorities, genuinely, as better ways of doing things, and they commit to them because of that view, then I think, yes, they offer some potential to simplify and deliver some positive benefits. If, however, they are felt to be an imposition, and just another partnership burden placed upon the same organisations, and, often, the same individuals within those organisations, then I'm afraid that the outlook would be less positive.
And in regard to the comments that were made earlier in regard to any additionality of funding being used for incentivisation, what does that look like in regard to this additionality to the partnership landscape?
So, we see it at work already in different forms of partnership arrangement. So, the public services boards within the framework of the Act do not receive any meaningful financial support for delivery. So, I think that it's not surprising, as I said in response to Llyr's question earlier, that public bodies that are thinly spread across numerous partnership duties are more likely to give effort up to those partnerships where serious funding potential is available to them.
So, it comes back to the same point. It's about incentivising the kind of partnership activity that the Government wishes to see, and, linked to that, if serious sums are to be pumped through partnership arrangements, putting in place appropriate governance structures around that, to make sure that you and the Welsh Government can hold to account the organisations that take part in those partnership arrangements.
Which I fully accept, and, obviously, that would then add additionality to that landscape. So, does the Welsh Government then give sufficient priority and resources to public services boards, and do you think that their structure, footprint and remit need to change in order for them to operate more effectively?
So, I produced a report on the operation of the PSBs earlier in the year, and the absence of dedicated funding for the PSBs I identified as one of the obstacles to their further development. So, I think that point is clear. But whether the PSBs should be developed, or whether any of the other partnership arrangements should be developed, is not one for me to say. That's a policy decision. What I would say is do not make the matter worse by adding complexity into an already complex system, and, if you do anything at all, simplify it—
But, to interrupt you, on your earlier point, surely corporate joint committees will be adding that additionality.
Well, they are, undoubtedly, another thing, but I think the logic is that they would draw up to that level some things that otherwise would have been done at a lower level. And so, as I said, if that is borne out in practice, and organisations see that as a better way of doing things, all well and good.
Okay. Thank you, Chair.
Okay. As I said, I'm mindful we're short of time. So, Gareth Bennett, would you like to come in now with your questions?
Yes. Thanks, Chair. How far are public bodies able to effectively meet the monitoring and reporting requirements placed on them by the Act?
Tim, Matt, feel free to chip in here. I think, Gareth, this is all part of the same story here. It's about the extent to which monitoring and reporting requirements act in a coherent way or cut across each other. So, understandably, there is a need for monitoring and reporting requirements on different parts of the public service to enable us to judge performance in the here and now. But, for the Act to really bear fruit, there needs to be a longer term focus, and much more of a focus on outcomes from policy actions, rather than just current performance. So, I think the tension there is one for the Senedd, and for the Welsh Government primarily, to strike that balance between holding organisations to account for performance today, but doing that in the appropriate context of the longer term direction of travel. Matt, Tim, I don't know whether you've anything you want to add in that regard.
Just to reiterate, I think the committee will be familiar, from previous work, with some of the issues we've flagged around NHS finance and NHS performance and the regime perhaps driving, at times, a different mentality to that that is now expected under the well-being of future generations Act. But some of that is about turning around the oil tanker of many years of the way that the health service has been managed and the individual NHS bodies have been held to account. But that's certainly an area that I know the committee has looked at in previous work as well.
Just to add to that—not to disagree with what's been said already, but it's quite a fundamental point in this regard as well—that the Act shouldn't be seen as something different if this is to work, and, therefore, the fact that we talk about reporting requirements in different sectors placing different requirements on organisations, over and above what the Act expects—I think that potentially is the issue in itself. So, rather than the amount of reporting, which I'm sure public bodies will have a view on themselves, in terms of whether they can service that or feel it's proportionate, the key point I think is alignment, as Adrian I think said in his opening remarks on this point, and that if the Act is seen as something different, where you need to report on something in a different way, then I think that fundamentally it's not therefore embedded in those arrangements.
Yes. Thanks. Some of the public bodies, when we had the consultation with them recently—some of them have suggested that the audit and regulatory requirements drive a focus on compliance with the process, rather than promoting the spirit of the Act. So, what do you think about that?
It goes back to Angela's question earlier on for me, Gareth—that actually we have placed a great deal of effort on ensuring that that isn't the approach that we take. There was a very clear message when we embarked on this journey that we should not be taking a tick-box compliance approach to our audits at all. So, I think, of all the strands of work that we do in Audit Wales, this is one of the strongest in that respect—that we very genuinely have attempted to get under the skin of organisations and understand the context in which they're operating, rather than just looking for evidence of compliance. Tim, on a practical level, anything to add to that?
I think, first of all, the guiding principles, which are in our May 2020 report and are quite well known, absolutely set that out explicitly. And one of those principles, based on the feedback that we received, was exactly that—stakeholders told us they didn't want us to focus on compliance with, for example, reporting requirements. I think that was the exact phrase that they used, and we accepted that. If you look at the examinations reports we've produced, I think it's fairly evident from that that the last thing we've been concerned with is compliance with reporting requirements, with the kind of minutiae of process; they have focused very much on ways of working. We have talked about, I suppose, the process itself, rather than the reports as well, as we described earlier—because we engage in, for example, feedback workshops with organisations at the end of each examination, where we discuss with them, in a very much two-way conversation, what the issues might be. In relation to that particular step, we left it with organisations to largely determine what they felt they should do about it. That was a really important point from the start with the examinations. We didn't, I don't think, issue any recommendations through this work, any formal recommendations; we instead had a discussion with bodies, asked them if they understood, essentially, the areas for development we'd identified, and really left it for them to work out what they should do about it. So, I think, yes, absolutely, right through the examinations process, we were trying very hard to avoid that focus on compliance and tick-boxing, for want of a better word.
Okay. Thanks, Tim, for that. We are totally out of time, because we need to start the next session at 11:00. I propose we take a very short break. So, can I thank Adrian, the Auditor General for Wales, and your team from Audit Wales for being with us and helping out with our inquiry today? There was one other section I wanted to ask you on bodies not covered under the Act, but I'll write to you with those, if that's okay, Adrian. Okay. I suggest we take a short break now and reconvene at 11-ish.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:57 a 11:02.
The meeting adjourned between 10:57 and 11:02.
Can I welcome everyone back and welcome our witnesses? Thanks for being with us for this morning's inquiry into the barriers preventing the implementation of the future generations Act. Would our witnesses like to give their name and position for the Record of Proceedings? Jessica, did you want to start?
Hello. Jessica McQuade, WWF Cymru, and I work as head of policy and advocacy.
Great. And Matt.
I'm Matt Kennedy, I'm the policy and public affairs manager at the Chartered Institute of Housing in Wales.
Good morning, all. I'm Ryland Jones and I'm head of built environment for Sustrans Cymru.
Great. Okay. Well, thanks for being with us today. We've got a number of questions, so I'll kick off with the first ones. You've already introduced your organisation; could you say just a little bit, by way of introduction, about how your organisation's work has been affected by the well-being of future generations Act? Jessica, would you like to start?
Sorry, I just had feedback then because I was watching on the tv and it was coming back through, so can you just say that question quickly again?
Yes, no problem. It's a very general opening question, really. We know the organisation you're from, I just wondered if you could say just a little bit about how the implementation of the well-being of future generations Act has affected your work as an organisation.
WWF Cymru has been heavily involved in the design of the Act, and then also assessing and watching and collaborating on the implementation of the Act. So, in the run-up to the Act, we were part of the reference group, we helped come up with the concept of 'One Wales: One Planet', which was the core vision behind the Act, trying to support sustainable development being a central organising principle, and then we advised on the legislation, we supported Senedd Members through the process of that et cetera. So, we've got a very strong understanding of what the intent of the Act was designed to do legally.
And then we've watched, certainly for first three or four years—we watched quite heavily and tried to come up with concepts and design methodologies for assessing the Act's implementation, which is quite complex. So, we did a series of reports and evidence-based stakeholder engagement on that. I've listed the reports that we have worked on, for example, reviewing the Welsh Government's implementation of the Act primarily, and coming up with a methodology of how you would do that. That was back in 2015, perhaps—I haven't got the dates in front of me. Then we worked with the Welsh Government and co-designed three or four sessions with probably over 100 participants, looking at the altogether, how you can successfully work together on the implementation of the Act—discussions and a report that came out of that. And then, more recently, in 2019, we did quite a detailed analysis of enabling effective voluntary sector participation in the Act. We've also done quite a lot of reviewing of international sustainable development goals implementation to give us a comparator of how sustainable development is done internationally. I think it's really useful to helping us assess how Wales is doing on its well-being Act, because they are comparable; even though the SDGs are Government policy, not legislation, they have very similar methods.
Okay. Thanks for that. Thanks for that, Jessica. Matt, did you want to say a little?
Yes, sure. So, I guess as an organisation, we are a membership body, we work across the housing sector—so, professional things, social housing for housing associations, local authorities and, increasingly, the private rented sector too. I guess we as an organisation have had heavy, direct involvement in the initial stages of the future generations Act and its implementation, but so much of what it enshrines, I guess, is already present within the sector, and was before 2015. But what we have seen is an increase in activity. So, if you particularly think about housing associations, for example, they were already well set up to do things over and beyond delivering the homes. We see increasing activity around community engagement, increasing that—things like community gardens reduce isolation—things that we know actually help people thrive in the communities in which they live, and that kind of thinking within the Act has definitely helped progress that further and make it more consistent in the sector.
I guess where we've seen real challenges, then, is around—and I guess we can go on to explore this further, hopefully—how that works across tenures. So, if we think about private landlords, for example, who, understandably, aren't subject to the Act, nonetheless, the thinking and progression within, for example, social housing and how that works in supporting tenants and communities can create potential inequalities in experience and access to resources, support, advice, that sort of thing that those organisations are naturally working on. So, even though we feel like it's been excellent for progressing our thinking, and definitely has built up to more innovation, we've also seen some inequalities in terms of how some tenants might be left behind across different tenures.
Okay, and Ryland.
Within the sustainable transport sector, we've certainly been involved in some of the implementation processes that have come from the Act, particularly in terms of things like transport appraisal assessments of large schemes, and in terms of the procurement process for transport schemes as well. The Act has been written very much into those, and, at a policy level, we've also advised the future generations commission grouping around a number of the initiatives that have been linked to the transport sector—not least things like evidence around the M4 inquiry and some of the other larger scale schemes that have happened within that.
So, we are continuing to provide policy-level guidance in relation to the transport sector on it, but we're also really pushing for change in terms of how the Act is implemented practically, day to day, in terms of scheme appraisals, in particular.
Good. Okay. Thanks for that introduction. So, moving on, Delyth Jewell has the next questions.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. We've been talking in our earlier evidence session quite a bit about the lack of public understanding of this piece of legislation, and the danger that it can be treated in a corporate way that misses the opportunity for cultural change to happen. Can I ask you first, please, what role do you see for organisations that may not be subject to the Act themselves, but who are still seeing an impact on their own work because of the Act? What role do you think that organisations in that category have to help promote awareness of the Act with the public? Whoever wants to go first.
I think everyone has an opportunity to look at this from the point of view of culture change, really. One of the problems is that a lot of work can be done on a policy level, but it's how organisations and individuals see this relating to their everyday lives, really, and what impact it can have on them. I think what we've certainly tried to do is try to make this very relevant in terms of how the ways of working, in particular, actually become meaningful in terms of their everyday impacts. So, I think it's how do we drive that cultural focus, really, to think about sustainability, think about inclusivity, in a practical way, going forward, for people and make it meaningful. That's the key to it for us, I think.
Thanks, Ryland. Jess.
Yes, thank you. Thank you, Delyth. So, public awareness—there have been no real surveys to get a sense through an evidence base, really, to anticipate how much public awareness there is, but I think, anecdotally, if you ask any of your family or friends what the well-being Act is, I think everyone would find a blank look on faces. So, we anticipate that awareness is quite low amongst the public. And partly—. What we've seen in other countries are larger scale public engagement-type programmes. So, you'll see in—. There's a recent report by the United Nations that lists all the different ways that third sector, civil society, has been involved. So, South Korea, there's been a massive school movement with teachers; in Germany, they have hearings for communities; different countries take out surveys every two years of the general public, just to get a sense of public awareness. So, there are lots of mechanisms that can be used by Government to engage.
In terms of the role of the third sector—both your national organisations but also then your more local community groups and organisations, often we're seen as trusted intermediaries, and we probably have more access or understanding or trust than Government would have. So, what you often see, not just for the well-being of future generations Act, but other engagement topics, is that the third sector and community groups will have a role then to engage with the wider public, and that can be done very successfully. So, I think there's that role that we can take, but often that has to be funded, or integrated into our funding, because it is a resource-intensive activity, and, again, we've called for that resourcing to happen.
Also I think highlighting not just our role in public engagement but also as expert advisers on the implementation of the Act, on what sustainability means, on what radical transformation, system change, can look like—both the policies and the design and the evaluation of that is a critical role for the third sector. Again—I think we might come back to it—we've got some concerns that that might not have happened to the extent that we'd hoped, feeding into Welsh Government. But also I think we have roles as movement builders. So, we can be part of or lead the changes that you'd expect to see for the sustainable development outcomes and the goals that we've set within the Act. I think we had something starting like that with the run-up to the Act and the design of it with 'The Wales We Want'. There was a big movement of people, community groups, public sector. We haven't really seen anything like that since by the Welsh Government. So, it would be interesting to understand a bit more around if they plan to do that in the future.
And I think one thing that certainly is quite interesting is around enforcement or mechanisms for change. What you actually find is that, with something like this legislation, which is, in fact, a principles-type law and legislation, it's the change in expectations, or the belief that something is inevitable, that actually will lead to the change. So, third sector organisations have a big part to play in shifting those expectations, both with the policies and the ideas that we bring through, but also bringing our supporters that fund us to have and create from our perspective better environmental outcomes.
I like that, that the belief that something is inevitable is part of what's—. I like that, thanks. Matt, was there anything that you wanted to add?
I think I'd just add, really, that I think it's a really good question, because I guess it also begs the question, 'How much does it matter?', as well. For me, there's something there around as long as organisations do what the Act inspires for those who aren't subject to it, that's excellent. We set up a category, I think it was last year, in our Welsh Housing Awards specifically capturing practice around improving the lives of future generations, obviously hinting at a link with the Act itself. And it's been encouraging to see organisations putting in applications around carbon-neutral housing, energy positive housing, things we know that are inspiring thinking about how we design our homes, but also initiatives aimed at improving the lives of communities. I think there's obviously an element there around we don't understand where there might be inconsistency around practice and make sure everything is held up to the same best practice so we continue to improve things across Wales. But, for me, it's all about how organisations actually do it in practice, rather than necessarily communicating the finer points of legislation to the public in a very effective way.
Thank you so much. Just checking before I go on: I can't see Ryland any more. Have we lost Ryland's connection, or is it just the video that's gone off?
It does look like he's disappeared, doesn't it?
Yes. Do you want me to wait?
Chair, I'll ask IT to check.
Okay. Should I wait, or should we carry on?
I would carry on, because we don't know how long he'll be, if we can get him back, so we can always revisit the questions with him.
Okay, no problem. So, Jessica had touched on this in terms of—well, you said explicitly that you think that resource should be made available to support organisations in some of the points that all of you have been making in terms of engagement with the public, raising awareness. To the extent that some organisations who are affected by the Act are not fully aware of how it works and its scope and the opportunities that it kind of throws up—to the extent that organisations are not aware of that, how do you think this could be addressed? And I know that Jessica's already pointed out that resource could be made available—so, Matt, it'll be interesting to know if you agree with that—but also we don't want to be pointing fingers with this, but we do need to know where the responsibilities would best lie. So, what would be the most obvious link, in your opinion? Should that come from the Welsh Government, should that come from the commissioner, should it come from the auditor general's office, or should there be another layer? Should there be—? How do you think that would best work, please? Again, whoever wants to go first. You're both being polite. [Laughter.]
We explore this in one of the reports we did, 'Enabling Effective Voluntary Sector Participation', and we're acutely aware of the tightness of resources, especially with COVID coming in, but the amount of money that would need to go into a third sector voluntary organisation forum that had a role to engage, advise, support third sector organisations on awareness of the Act, but then also could take on a role as that intermediary engager with communities or movement building, that is marginal. So, I think looking to work in partnership with the future generations commission, because their role is primarily the public sector, but they've been starting to build more connections with third sector infrastructure through WCVA, so it might be that there's joint funding that we could apply for for that to happen; there are institutes et cetera out there that would fund such a thing. But also the Welsh Government's role in this, because they do have a role to engage with the public, I would argue. So, if we can find a collaborative space for that, to do that, whether it's through funding or not, I think that's critical. So, those conversations need—well, recognising that there is an issue, first, has to happen, which I'm not sure has been recognised, that the public awareness is low, and there's an action plan to address that by Welsh Government. And then working together with the future gen, WCVA and the Welsh Government on a plan would be my suggestion.
Thanks, Jessica. Matt, what do you think?
I guess one of the things we speak about regularly as an organisation in more recent times is about a workforce strategy for the housing sector. We know that new skills qualifications, understanding, is something that we should try and harness as much of a common understanding on as possible, and I think we recognise that's always going to be different in terms of how people interpret and implement legislation. We did a bit of work last year about how housing, health and care work together, for example, but specifically focusing on what were the common elements you could see in projects that worked really well. And some of that was around people's common understanding of what the legislation meant, because, if you work in housing or if you work in health or social care, as an example, your understanding of the social services and well-being Act or the future generations Act could be very different, despite, obviously, things being down in black and white on paper, and that's why I think we feel there needs to be a more strategic approach at a Government level, at a workforce level in particular, to understand how to harness a greater common understanding of that legislation and what it could mean in practice. I think, and we may go on to this, but in terms of how then that's delivered in practice with partnerships in collaboration, things like public service boards, the good they've done locally—I think, might have some perspective because that voice isn't consistent. It hasn't necessarily harnessed a consistent understanding across every housing association or every part of the sector. So, that in itself, even though that voice is welcome, that kind of consistency isn't necessarily there either.
Thanks for that, Matt, and Ryland, welcome back.
Thanks. Apologies for that.
Welcome back, Ryland.
Don't apologise. We were just talking about ways in which organisations could be helped where there is a lack of understanding of the scope and the opportunities provided by the Act, and which actors would be best placed to be the—I can't think of any words to describe it now—to be that engagement point and that portal, whether that should be Welsh Government, whether it should be the future generations commissioner, whether it should be the auditor general's office, whether, as Matt was just picking up, PSBs should have more of a role. What would be your take on that, Ryland?
Sure. I think PSBs, certainly—we've had experience of working with the Newport PSB in terms of the single transport sub-group, and I think that there is a potential greater role for them to play in this, particularly in engaging with communities and individuals, and bringing them in against things that happen within the public sector. So, obviously, within the role of transport we have a number of things like transport appraisals going on, and a lot of policy information coming out of the future generations commissioner's office. But very little of that seems to reach, really, the grass-roots level, so I do think the public service boards and others have a role to play in that.
I think, again, third sector bodies as well can have a strong role in terms of their social engagement, and so on. Certainly, Sustrans, for example—we engage heavily with communities in terms of consultations around schemes and development of projects, often for local authorities and schools as well, for example. We try, in those instances, to bring in the kind of ways of working of the future generations Act to that approach. So, we are being as inclusive as possible, and trying to achieve a degree of that culture change that I mentioned earlier.
So, yes, there's definitely a role, but at the moment I get the impression that much of the governance and the delivery of the Act is still at too high a strategic level to really be meaningful to a lot of grass-roots organisations. I can't speak, obviously, for wider organisations within the third sector, but I do get the impression that third sector organisations that are working very heavily with individuals on the ground may not feel as impacted by the legislation as those bodies that are working on a more strategic level.
Okay, thanks. Cadeirydd, I think that answers the main questions I had. I'm aware of time.
Thanks, Delyth, for that. Angela Burns. We can't hear you, Angela.
Sorry, I thought I was going to be unmuted automatically. Thank you for that, Chair. I think it was Jessica who mentioned earlier the resources required by the third sector that would help to promote the implementation of this Act, but I just wondered if I could ask you for your view on what resources do you think need to be available to public bodies. Because we've heard from quite a few that say they need additional funding to implement the Act, and as an outside view, I'd be really interested first of all in your take on that. I've got a number of questions I want to ask on the back of this, but perhaps that one first, quickly. Shall I just pick you to start?
Who wants to go? Jessica, do you want to?
Yes. I don't work directly with public bodies as such, so I was going to leave it for Sustrans and Matt to answer. So, if they want to go first, and then I'll add on anything else. I work with Welsh Government rather than wider public bodies.
I can certainly comment on our work with local authorities. I think that most local authorities will probably say they would welcome additional resources in terms of implementation of the Act, because they clearly feel under-resourced on a number of levels, not least in terms of, certainly, the transport sector.
I think the question, though, is whether or not—. They really need to think about culture change at all levels as well, so that the existing staff are really thinking about how the future generations Act impacts their everyday working activities, and it's ingrained within the way everyone works, rather than necessarily thinking that it's vested in some individual who is the officer that looks after that. This is something where we see a parallel with active travel—that the active travel Act, in principle, should cover across a corporate level with public bodies but, in reality, tends to be vested in one or two transport individuals that are given that remit. And I think that it will be much more impactful if it's empowered at a strategic level, and everybody feels they have a role to play in it, rather than it being just seen as an additional resource that has to be brought in.
But there's no question that further support from the future generations commissioner office would be hugely beneficial, not least in our own work. We see a number of meetings and bodies set up that are talking all the time about implementation in this context, but very often the future generations commissioner's office is not able to attend those meetings due to capacity. That's unfortunate, because I think that whilst on a policy level it's extremely beneficial, it does mean that it has an impact on day-to-day implementation of the ways of working, and so on.
Ryland, can I just pick you up on a couple of things you said there quickly before we move on to Matt? Yes, we all hear the cry, 'We need more money', all the time, so are you actually saying, though, that in your view money is not necessarily the main obstacle to the Act being able to be implemented throughout local authorities? I don't know how much contact you have with, for example, health boards. We heard a very strong cri de coeur from both sectors that, actually, they needed the physical resource, the money, the dosh, to be able to do this.
And the second thing I just wanted to ask you was that you talk about culture change and, of course, the future generations Act is all about changing our way of working, but do you think that it is as simple as saying that it is a change of culture that's required, or do you think it's also a fact that the business systems currently employed by a lot of the public bodies need to be dismantled and rebuilt? And in and of itself, that is a skill that may not currently sit within the local authority/health board/public sector to a greater or larger extent within Wales.
Yes, I'd agree that we do need to change the systems to some extent because, inevitably—. I know from my own experiences that much of the transport sector is based around economic drivers, and if you are looking at more things like environmental drivers and social change, then those kinds of things are less valued, if you like, possibly not on an overt level, but certainly, people effectively often cut to the idea of whether or not economics are really the main factor in terms of why something is built or not. And I think that that does need to change, because while we're focused on that, everything is very much monetised then—it's all about impact in terms of economic benefits or growth, whereas I think to realise the real impacts of the Act, we need to see things in a more holistic sense, really.
So, I think, yes, local authorities certainly need to be working in that way, moving forward. Could you just remind me of the first part of your question again, just so I can—?
I was actually just talking about the actual resources—the money. Local authorities and health boards will all say that they're so busy doing the day job that they do not have the bandwidth to take this on, on top of everything else that they're currently doing, and that extra resources, finances, would buy more people with perhaps a different skill set that would be able to help make change happen within the public sector organisations.
Well, I think our own experience, certainly, in terms of the way local authorities implement schemes, and so on, within the transport sector, I still think that it's really about systemic change in the way that happens. We've already had in 2017 a review of the Welsh transport appraisal guidance in the context of the future generations Act, and that really strengthened the hand of that very considerably, similar in terms of planning policy guidance that's been reviewed recently. That, again, has very strong links now to the principles of the Act. The reality is more in the way it's implemented, and I think that is more about structural change and the way in which those resources that are currently doing that fit that work to it, rather than necessarily bringing in additional resources. I don't really necessarily see that—. Certainly, in my field of sustainable transport, I don't really necessarily see that sustainable resources, per se, is a panacea for this. I think it's about systemic change in the way that we implement it within our current frameworks.
Can I add to that question? Because I think, from our experience of working with Welsh Government and looking at their systems around this, when we were looking at the areas, I think, that you need change to happen in for this, it does need to be a whole-Government response or a whole-public sector response as well as that kind of system change that has just been talked about. So, when we're talking about whole-Government responses, we're looking at the mechanisms of Government such as procurement, budgeting, finance, impact assessment, evaluation, and then you have your policy making and your strategies and the impact et cetera, et cetera. And those mechanisms of Government do need to have understanding and be resourced, so just looking at the procurement and the change that that would require is huge and needs—. I can understand absolutely that skilled people working on just that space to ensure that whole-organisation response are needed. I think, just looking at the Welsh Government, when they first started implementing this they had a team of two or three people doing the change programme for the whole of Government. I think that's increased now, but that's still a tiny number of people trying to change a whole system.
But I think, where there might be need for more change, which might not be additional money going in, is, as Ryland said, about the changing and prioritisation of the resources that exist in Government. But also, if you were to start to bring in and collaborate and co-produce more with other actors outside of the public sector, who deliver, who have ideas—so, whether that's third sector organisations, academics et cetera—the value added from leveraging those networks of actors to share the same outcome is big, and I think that's one of the biggest gaps that we've seen in Wales. We haven't really seen that large-scale kind of co-production on key outcomes and challenges that we need to address in Wales.
I do think it's really interesting, Jessica, that you didn't mention business, and I am concerned about this shying away, because, of course, successful businesses constantly have to reinvent themselves. They are masters at the process of re-engineering their business systems. We saw it in health. We see it in health and social care. We saw it when we did the parliamentary review into health and social care: that one of the real challenges that faces Government is that we all know what we have to do, but not everybody understands how to do it. And it is a skill. It's an absolute skill, dismantling a system and rebuilding it whilst keeping the day job going. So, it's so much easier to focus on the day job, and so this bit, this good policy initiative, never gets driven through to the furthest corners of an organisation, because you don't have enough people who've got the bandwidth or the experience or even the time, perhaps, to really take that on board and drive it through. So, when we talk about resources, what I'm really trying to boil down is the kind of shape and smell of the resources that public bodies really need as opposed to the 'give me more cash' resource, which is the quick answer to everything, and doesn't always result in the outcomes that you want.
Yes, in most of the best practice of strategic advisory boards that you see in international examples, business plays a key role on that, alongside third sector, academics, other stakeholders. So, yes, absolutely, businesses have a role, as you just explained.
Sorry, Matt, I'll just ask you for your view, and then, Chair, I'm probably done.
Yes, it's probably not too different, to be honest. You were hinting at some of things that already act as barriers, and certainly, I think, from a local authority housing perspective, often people have three or four day jobs—you know, empty properties, homelessness prevention, planning, all the stuff that goes within that. I think, yes, that bandwidth issue, we see that regularly, and we survey local authority housing professionals a couple of times a year. We did it before the pandemic and the measures really hit, and at that point in time, they already felt under pressure, under-resourced, due to expertise, and we're currently in the process of surveying again. And it will be unsurprising to see similar and probably a worse result following that. I think it's also important to note that these are people who sit on a number of collaborative groups, so they're already quite stretched in terms of their professional capacity to look at partnership and collaboration in quite a wide variety of contexts, from things like safeguarding right through to support service planning and beyond that further. So, that would be my addition.
Thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Okay. Rhianon Passmore wants a supplementary question.
Yes. I suppose it's a simple 'yes' or 'no', to be brief. The auditor general mentioned additional financial availability would be better off focused around incentivisation in terms of the cultural change, as Angela Burns has mentioned, which would reach into the deepest, darkest corners of organisations. So, what's your view around that, rather than additionality of finances? I don't know if Jessica wants to have a pop at that one.
I'll be honest with you, I don't really understand the question and I don't think I've got the expertise to answer that. So, I'm going to pass it on. Unfortunately, I didn't pick up on that one.
Okay. Basically, it's a very simple question. It is that, instead of having additionality of finances to be able to afford the work culturally in regard to the Act, it would be a matter, really, of incentivising organisations through potential other mechanisms, and there are many that are available. I don't know if there's any comment on that at all.
Just to come in there, I guess it would depend for me on what incentivising means in practice for how organisations continue to deliver their services, and is that about giving people some time and space, but we know that demand is increasing for services day in, day out. How would that incentivising, I guess, balance against the need to also deliver services on a daily basis?
I don't want to take up too much of this, Chair, but really in regard to if certain movements, culturally, were to take place, then there may be a propensity to open up grant funding or other areas of funding in terms of an ability for an organisation to move in a certain direction, but I think that may be for another session. Thanks, Chair.
Okay, thank you. And Vikki Howells.
Hi. Thank you. Picking up on the support provided to public bodies by the future generations commissioner, can you first of all tell us your views on whether the role of the commissioner is widely understood?
Who wants to go for that?
I'll let the public body work with the—. I'll let those go for this.
Yes. I think even though we work quite extensively with local authorities, I would still struggle to really understand what the relationship is between the future generations commissioner's office and local authorities in terms of direct support. That's not something that really comes up a lot through day-to-day work that we have with officers. It certainly comes up through the public services boards' sub-committees and so on, and there's awareness of the work through that.
Where we tend to see it is we tend to work directly with the future generations commissioner's office on specific reports or information or data support, and then that translates through the various processes to local authorities through things like, say, transport appraisals, procurement that's been mentioned, and so on. What I'm less clear on is exactly how that process works with direct engagement between the future generations commissioner's office and local authority staff. Certainly, on a transport level, I'm not aware that that communication exists to any great extent, and maybe it's dealt with on a more corporate level within the authority. In which case, I wouldn't have that same level of knowledge. So, I would say that it's not something that we see as a clear line of communication in day-to-day work with local authorities.
Yes. I guess—[Inaudible.]—housing perspective, where there's been lots of visibility by the commissioner in the sector through events and learning opportunities, that those haven't been few and far between, they've been really consistent, I guess we have got a good understanding of what that looks like at a local authority level. And then you think about housing associations, I guess what we tend to see more of are those who are particular advocates of what the legislation enshrines are those who take it forward really well in practice, while others—either because of capacity, resource, and there are other things behind it—might not be able to do that as well, potentially. But, I guess that what we haven't got is a really good knowledge base behind why that is.
I'd just pick up on the point that was made around our interaction with the future generations commissioner's office, which is to help them to understand how the environment part of the well-being of future generations Act is being implemented, and what that might look like in the future. The 2020 report was a big undertaking—an exercise that engaged thoroughly with the environmental sector on that. So, the aim of that report, I think, is to help identify the values and interpretations of the goals and what that means in practice in terms of policy, and what that might look like in real life for the public bodies to have a look at and then maybe start to develop their well-being goals around some of those concepts. So, I think that there's a kind of a leadership role in terms of vision, and then they engage with the third sector and others to help form that vision that they then share with the public sector and public bodies.
Okay, thank you. What barriers do you think that the commissioner and her office face as they look to discharge their responsibilities?
Certainly, our experience is that they are under-resourced in terms of staff. They're very focused on policy level documentation, and that's extremely welcome—I think that they do set a very good policy context. But, in terms of involvement in individual developments, particularly around supporting third sector bodies with the delivery of projects and programmes, supporting transport appraisals and so on, I do get the impression that they are very short-staffed for that and often unable to attend or commit to that. Of course, because that's where a lot of key decisions are made, particularly in the early stages, it does have a direct impact on the implementation of the policy, and so we see a delivery gap, effectively, between very good policy and less good implementation.
Matt, you are nodding.
[Inaudible.] I think that leadership-wise, there have been some excellent things that have come out of the commission, but the stuff in practice of supporting professionals to make it work and be tangible, I think that one of the things that we often hear from local authority housing professionals is that they simply don't know, at times, what it looks like. Even though they agree with everything in the legislation, I think some of that practical support is probably where there would be opportunities to make more progress.
Yes, I'd agree with what's just been said. Maybe some more work might be needed around what transformational change looks like and how you apply systems thinking to the reality that we are facing with COVID, Brexit, and all the pressures that we are feeling—what does that actually then look like? How do you monitor then and check that we are moving towards this transformational change? I think that a bit more work could happen around that, which would help Wales and the public sector within that space.
That's actually a great answer to the last question that I had for you, which I will pose to the other two witnesses now, then, and it's: how do you think that the role of the commissioner needs to change as we look to the future?
I think that we need to see that the commissioner's really holding the huge opportunity that this represents for change, particularly in terms of cultural change, going forward. I get the impression that there is limited ability to have punitive measures, if you like, over public bodies and others where there's a clear departure from policy. I suppose that I'd like to see the office have, perhaps, more teeth to be able to really help to promote best practice, but also to maybe have a few sticks as well to make people feel that they do need to implement change.
As I say, what we see is that there's a lot of very good policy work done by the future generations commissioner's office, but in terms of implementation, there are still an awful lot of bodies and organisations that, I think, are largely able to ignore the legislation if they so wish, with very few consequences. So, I think that I'd like to see more strength for the office to recognise that and be able to take more action on it.
Yes, I totally agree with that. I think, from a housing point of view, professionals are often faced with quite a harsh reality in their day-to-day jobs, which doesn't necessarily sometimes correlate with maybe what the future generations legislation is trying to enshrine within services. I think it does come back to that practical support, as how, against the tide of demand, the charging around finance, building of sustainable homes—that pace, that scale—how we scratch our heads around that to an extent sometimes. How we also then work around—[Inaudible.]—and the well-being goals in a really meaningful way that matters to communities. Sometimes we see there are examples of this, but—[Inaudible.]—by chance or by design, and it would be good if the commissioner was more heavily involved in helping understand how that happens at a more local, practical level.
Okay. Fine, Vikki, thanks for that, and Jenny Rathbone.
Okay. What about the teeth of the Welsh Government? Always follow the money, and they are the ones who divvy out the money to organisations. How well do you think the Welsh Government has used its policy and decision making to drive forward the Act?
Well, again, within the transport sector, I think it's been mixed. I think there's been a lot of changes in recent years over guidance to align that very strongly with the Act. We've seen Welsh transport appraisal guidance strengthened strongly, as I mentioned earlier, and planning guidance. The emerging Wales transport strategy, again, has very strong tie-ins with the future generations Act. So, all of that is very good.
I think, in terms of implementation, though, and particularly following up on the transport grant, what we often see is that, where sub-standard schemes and things are being implemented or are clearly not in line with policy or guidance, there's very little comeback really under the process, mainly because Welsh Government generally is very under-resourced, I think, in being able to follow up on that, and, sometimes, struggles to be able to monitor and evaluate effectively what is happening on the ground. So, certainly our experience in the transport sector is that Welsh Government and the future generations commissioner's office would benefit from greater resource to be able to actually establish and monitor what's happening on the ground, in terms of implementation, and be able to change their structures, particularly around grant funding in relation to that.
Okay, but the auditor general for Wales has that role, doesn't he? His office monitors and evaluates whether money's been used effectively.
I suppose it's at what sort of level. I guess that's on a macro level. I'm thinking that certainly what we see is that, on a schemes basis with individual local authorities, there's very little resource to be able to monitor that effectively, as it stands. I think that partnerships that are emerging with Transport for Wales, for example, will be key to this. So, things are changing, to be fair, and I think there's been a recognition of that, but the situation, as it stands, is that the processes are not sufficiently robust that they do ensure that those funds are spent effectively at the moment, in terms of ambition and quality, but I think that will change in time. But I think further support from the future generations commissioner's side of things would be beneficial in that respect as well.
Okay. We simply have to accept that the legislation that was banned, that would have assisted some of all this, has had to be paused because of COVID and because of the ending of the EU, which requires huge amounts of legislation. But how well, Matt and Jessica, do you think that they've used the policy levers and the decision making to compensate for the legislation that we simply can't do at the moment? Jess.
So, I think with—. I certainly think with the Welsh Government it's been a journey, and the third sector organisations that had been working on SD for a number of years had very high expectations of the impact that this Act would have, and we thought that would happen rather quickly. So, we didn't see what we hoped for in terms of those kind of quick wins and system change. We felt like it was for a number of years very much business as usual. We didn't really see the whole Government response that we wanted to see, that means we didn't see changes to procurement, to budgeting, to financing. None of that was integrated into a new well-being model. And I think, also, from a policy perspective, we felt that, in terms of priorities that were allocated, because this is quite a values-based piece of legislation, so your prioritisation is a key part of that, and we would see very much, in the first year, still a social-sustainability interpretation. So, very much we lack—. There was a bit about carbon, decarbonisation and climate change, but the wider environmental aspects of resource use, nature restoration, global impact just didn't exist. You needed to look at their well-being objectives from that first set, and there was nothing in there around those. But we have, over the last few years, seen a shift. So, there is, certainly since the new First Minister came in, much more focus on biodiversity restoration—it's up there with climate change as one of the Government priorities, and then you start seeing that seeping through now into the budgeting process. More money was given pre COVID to the environment department, the climate and nature emergency's talked about a lot more, and the M4 decision was made. So, we are seeing the changes that we would have expected to happen in the last couple of years or so. I think I'll stop there.
Okay, thank you for that. Matt, anything you want to add to that?
Yes. Again, I guess, just to add that, like I said before, housing organisations are facing real challenge around things like decarbonisation of existing homes, whilst, in tandem, building some of the most sustainable, cutting-edge homes we could potentially wish for. None of that is easy; it all takes long-term commitment around finances and resources. And, actually, that is the challenge going forward. So, organisations trying to figure out how they make those sums add up. But added to that is actually understanding what skills we have to deliver that in practice. At the moment, we have a very poor understanding of how we would deliver, for example, some of the homes that would enable communities to thrive and to live in a sustainable way that we might all envisage both now and in the future. And I think I'd also hint to the fact that Welsh Government, obviously, have a cross-sector remit, and when we think about the role of your private housebuilders and private rented sector, housing associations and local authorities, for sure, but we'd be keen to see a ripple effect from the Act having an impact across sectors. You know, we wouldn't want to see any unintended consequences where inequalities between tenures are emphasised because the Act's having a really good impact on one part of the sector but not the other.
Okay. Time is short, so I just want to focus on the role of all these various strategic boards. How much are they equipped to dismantle the system, as Angela Burns was talking about, to achieve the change needed? Or are they simply replicating some of the governance that's going on anyway within individual bodies?
Well, I can't say we have lots of insight on this, but I definitely would agree with the work Welsh Government, the Welsh NHS Confederation and WLGA did recently around trying to understand how all these different government bodies worked—you know, there are the city deals, regional partnership boards, regional collaborative boards, as well as more local apparatus too, and the suggestion was that they need to be rationalised and more leadership from PSB level to understand how local collaborative bodies are established in practice and what that looks like. One of the things people tell us regularly, from the profession, is they're on lots of different groups, on lots of different things, and that's great, to some extent, because we want to have an element of freedom to have natural and really organic collaboration. But, at the same time, like you say, I think our concern is there's also a lot overlap and duplication in practice.
But they all have the powers to collaborate. I mean, they could decide that they didn't need to have a PSB that only covered one local authority, for example, as two or three local authorities have made that decision. So, is it because the Welsh Government is not actually driving enough change, forcing enough change by being a bit more demanding in people doing things differently in order to achieve the change we need?
I guess that's difficult to say, to some extent, because we've got things like regional collaborative bodies, from the housing support grant, with RSP-grant focused that are—[Inaudible.]—services. And then things like the PSBs and regional collaborative committees linked to legislation are different things entirely. I think there's a real question to be asked whether you'd get more out of them by simplifying the entire system, in that sense, or whether lots would be lost in terms of expertise and detail that is required to actually get the most out of things like grant funding and strategic expertise from collaboration. So, that's really an answer in terms of sitting on the fence, but that is my view.
Okay. The problem is if you move to bigger bodies on a regional level, you lose some of the connection with communities, don't you? Jess or Ryland, do you want to come in at this point?
Certainly on the regional working, a few years ago, unfortunately, we lost regional working within the transport sector with public bodies, which was, in some cases, very successful, and I think some local authorities have continued to work in that way. And it's clear that some strategic initiatives require cross-border working. So, I would welcome more thoughts on that process from the PSBs. Our own experience is a rather limited one in terms of Newport PSB, and the sustainable transport sub-group in that context as well, so it's difficult to see or to know their mandate specifically from Welsh Government. My experience of it is that they're good at gathering ideas from a range of organisations, but the implementation is still very much through the existing processes and is, therefore, somewhat constrained, and I don’t think there's a lot of challenge to that that I've seen. So, at the moment, our experience is that it's not an obvious mechanism for challenging significant structural change, but certainly more regional working would be most welcome in the transport sector.
Okay. That leads me nicely into my last question, which is about the role of milestones, and alongside national indicators, to really drive forward the sort of change that, Ryland you say is less in evidence. Collectively, the three of you, I wonder if you can just quickly give your view on this.
We haven't actually had milestones set, so it's a legal requirement that Welsh Government hasn't met yet by however many years we are into implementation. So, one of the things that we've always been concerned about is the scale and pace of change, certainly from the environmental collapse that we're seeing all around us. The future is now here in terms of environmental crisis. So, on the scale of that change, the milestones are crucial to that, to set, 'This is what we need to do by when.' They're not quite targets—I mean, there's a whole technical debate around milestones and targets. But I do think that the milestones and the indicators are a really underutilised policy-making framework and evaluation framework that could be used in a system's approach on the specific outcomes that we might all want to work together on, both in a nationally set and then locally implemented space. So, I think they can play a really useful governance role and address some of those gaps at national and local implementation.
Okay. The national indicators were published in 2019, so, even before the milestones have been set, do we need to revise the national indicators in light of the environmental challenges you've talked about?
So, there was a consultation last year, or the year before, about that, and we haven't seen the outcome of that. I think it's just been paused. So, the idea was reviewing the indicators to make sure they're robust and reliable to enable effective milestones to be set. So, I do think, generally, our indicators are strong. We did a comparison between the well-being and economy indicators and the doughnut indicators. The indicators we've got, roughly, apart from the biodiversity one, which should be improved, and maybe some global ones, are good. So, perhaps using those and picking the milestones that are key, because we can't have milestones for all of them because we've got 52 and they have different purposes. So, we need milestones, and that's to be done, co-produced, with multiple stakeholders. So, the third sector needs to be part of that process with Government.
Thank you for that. Matt, do you want to go next?
I guess, to answer on those things like quality of housing, for example, the Welsh Government's currently consulting on things like the future of housing standards, and, for us, that consultation, as it's been written, falls short of some of the things we'd want to see really enshrined within housing quality, not just about the physical home, but actually about the community and the environment people live in. The pandemic's really shone a light on what it means to have a good home. For some people, that's a great thing—safety, reassurance. For others, it's a place of danger, it's unsafe, unsuitable, and that links into people's well-being and long-term health prospects. We want to see a much more holistic understanding of things like housing quality embedded within that.
We all want to see that, but are milestones going to help?
Milestones can certainly focus minds. So, I think it would help, in terms of that cross-tenure aspect I was talking about earlier, when we think about the fact that housing standards of that kind will apply to all house builders regardless of who you are, it's clear there's a role for milestones to play in making sure everybody is working towards the same goal.
Yes. Okay, thank you. Ryland.
I think, within the transport sector, clearly, carbon reduction and air-quality targets are absolutely vital. I think what we miss at the moment is that these things tend to be assessed on a very local level, scheme by scheme, and there's very little macro monitoring of them. So, whilst on an individual scheme level, a lot of new road build, and so on, could be justified on certain criteria around that, if you look at it on a macro level, we are very unclear about how that's contributing to national targets on overall reductions in terms of carbon and improvements to air quality. So, yes, we certainly within the active travel sector, for example, have no macro model at the moment to measure what our walking and cycling levels are on a Wales-wide scale, and we do need to do that. So, I think it's good to have milestones within the legislation and the process at a strategic level, but we have to have the monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to generate the data to report against that, and I think, in transport's case, in a lot of cases, that's not available at the moment.