Who does the Prime Minister and his team think is accountable overall for the mainstreaming of sustainable development across government?

David Mackie made this Freedom of Information request to Cabinet Office

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was partially successful.

Dear Prime Minister, and Cabinet Office staff,

Please can you tell me:

1. Which person is accountable overall for the mainstreaming of sustainable development across government?

2. If this person is the Prime Minister, which politician is the second in command on mainstreaming sustainable development across government?

3. How does the Prime Minister and his team understand that government departments are held accountable for progress on the mainstreaming of sustainable development? (For instance, how is reporting dealt with? how is any underperformance dealt with?)

4. As well as the politicians responsible for mainstreaming sustainable development, which Civil Servants have primary responsibility for mainstreaming sustainable development across government?

5. What is the nature of the political role in relation to mainstreaming sustainable development, and what is the nature of the role of civil servants?

Please note, that I am not looking for _opinion_ relating to this issue. This is only a request for a summary of written information that is held on these issues. I think these are reasonable questions to request an answer to, given that the mainstreaming of sustainable development across government is an official government policy.

Please note, that I am very strict with the Cabinet Office about it meeting its legal responsibility to answer questions approximately on time!

Yours faithfully,

David Mackie

PS - Just to mention, for readers of the website who do not know what sustainable development, or "mainstreaming" are, it would be great if you could begin your letter by saying what you consider them to be, and why they are important.

Dear Cabinet Office,

Sorry, I should make clear that when I am asking about accountability, I want to know which member of the administration is overall responsible for holding government departments accountable on the mainstreaming of sustainable development.

I understand that the environmental audit committee and NAO are also involved in accountability, but the question is trying to get at where the chain of command is within the administration and the Civil Service.

Yours faithfully,

David Mackie

Cabinet Office

 

CABINET OFFICE REFERENCE:  FOI316547

Dear DAVID MACKIE

Thank you for your request for information. Your request was received on 
9/5/2012 and is being dealt with under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000.

This email is just a short acknowledgement of your request.

If you have any queries about this email, please contact me. Please
remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

Yours sincerely,

Knowledge and Information Management Unit

Cabinet Office

E: [1][Cabinet Office request email]
<[2]mailto:[Cabinet Office request email]>

 

 

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Dear Cabinet Office,

Dear FOICOMMONS,

A further thing that may be useful for context in relation to this query is the Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP's answer to the question from me, David Mackie, at the very end of video two on this webpage.

http://www.green-alliance.org.uk/grea.as...

You can see that this may contradict what the Cabinet Office's position is, which is the reason why I'm making these enquiries. I hope it helps for you to have the context spelt out, so that you know what's behind the request, even if this is not strictly necessary for you to deal with it.

Yours sincerely,

David Mackie

Dear Cabinet Office,

Also I might mention a tip from the corporate responsibility world. Generally it's considered bad form nowadays if the Chief Executive of a large PLC is not prepared to be held accountable for the overall performance of the business, both financial and non-financial (i.e. ethical, environmental, econonomic and social).

The analogy would be that the Prime Minister is a bit like the Chief Executive of UK PLC...

Yours faithfully,

David Mackie

Cabinet Office

1 Attachment

Dear David Mackie

 

Please see attached the reply to your request.

 

Regards

 

FOI Team

Cabinet Office

 

 

 

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Dear Cabinet Office,

Thank you for your response.

I have a request open with defra, and I will see what they say. There has been a helpful response from the Environmental Audit Committee.

What I find confusing is that the Cabinet Office does not appear to hold recorded information on which ministers are accountable for the totality of the government policies and priorities including mainstreaming issues. Surely this cannot be the case?

The problem is that I'm trying to find out what the chain of command is up to the Prime Minister on mainstreaming sustainable development. It sounds as if you are saying that there is no recorded information on the chain of command between the public departments and public bodies and the Prime Minister on mainstreaming sustainable development issues? Is this correct?

Many thanks and kind regards,

David Mackie

Cabinet Office

1 Attachment

 

 

CABINET OFFICE REFERENCE:  IR316547

Dear DAVID MACKIE

Thank you for your request for an internal review. Your request was
received on  28/5/2012 and is being dealt with under the terms of the
Freedom of Information Act 2000.

This email is just a short acknowledgement of your request.

If you have any queries about this email, please contact me. Please
remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

Yours sincerely,

Knowledge and Information Management Unit

Cabinet Office

E: [1][Cabinet Office request email]
<[2]mailto:[Cabinet Office request email]>

 

 

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Dear Cabinet Office,

Thanks for your holding message. You interpreted my question as a request for an internal review, which is reasonable.

If I could possibly add something to the internal review, it is that defra's website suggests that the cabinet office is involved in mainstreaming sustainable development. I'd expect this to be the case because of the cabinet office's role in co-ordination within government, and the cabinet itself having collective responsibility. If this were the case, then a reasonable observer would surely expect some information to be held by the cabinet office?

Furthermore, if the minister of state for government policy is holding departments to account through a quarterly business plan process using what I presume is cabinet office accountability, then there would be some form of record about this - I can't see how this process could happen without a record being kept. There would be communications between this minister of state and the satellite departments about departmental responsibility in this area, and progress etc.

It may be the case that I've misunderstood what you told me in a previous conversation, and protocol of some kind genuinely means that the cabinet office is not the holder of the information in relation to the discharge of its responsibilities. I just can't find this explanation credible, though, I'm afraid... Perhaps I'm just not getting it (understanding it properly).

Kind regards,

David Mackie

Cabinet Office

PLEASE BE AWARE: FROM MONDAY 11/6/2012 MY NEW EMAIL ADDRESS WILL BE

 

[email address]

 

AND MY PREVIOUS MAILBOX WILL NOT BE MONITORED.

 

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Communications via the GSi may be automatically logged, monitored and/or
recorded for legal purposes.

McCabe, Bob - Cabinet Office,

1 Attachment

Please find attached the reply to your recent Internal review request

 

 

Regards

 

 

 

FOI Team

1 Horse Guards Road

London

SW1A 2HQ

 

Email: [1][email address]

 

 

 

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Dear Mr McCabe - Cabinet Office,

I would put it to you that the correct answer to the headline question:

'Who does the Prime Minister and his team think is accountable overall for the mainstreaming of sustainable development across government?'

is therefore the Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, and this information is indeed known by the Cabinet Office.

I would further suggest that the Cabinet Office holds documentation which would validate this opinion. It would be useful if you could please release this documentation.

Yours sincerely,

David Mackie

Dear Mr McCabe - Cabinet Office,

I've had another thought.

One thing that puzzles me is how the Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP can be responsible for the mainstreaming of sustainable development across government, when no government departments other than DEFRA are directly accountable to her.

I would put it to you that the person who is de facto responsible for the mainstreaming of sustainable development across government is therefore the Prime Minister, and the Cabinet Office has perhaps to this point been unaware of this.

If you have any information which can confirm or deny the point that I am asking you to respond to, I would be grateful if you could provide it. I am not asking for an opinion from you or the Cabinet Office, I am simply asking for recorded information that would act to confirm or deny the premise.

Yours sincerely,

David Mackie

McCabe, Bob - Cabinet Office,

 

Dear Mr Mackie,

 

Thank you for your e-mails of 1 August.  I have not dealt with these under
the terms of the Freedom of Information Act because the Cabinet Office has
informed you on three separate occasions (June 2011, February 2012 and May
2012) that the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs (Caroline Spelman) is the Minister responsible for mainstreaming
sustainable development – and that the Cabinet Office does not hold
information on this subject: our letter of 25 May included a link to a
progress report which clearly demonstrated where that responsibility lay.

Your questions now seem to be more concerned with the process and
structure of Cabinet Government rather than a request for recorded
information.  Essentially, any Government policy is owned by the
Government collectively no matter which individual Minister is responsible
for its delivery.  Three pieces of information that are already in the
public domain may help you to understand this principle.

 

An brief overview of the responsibilities of the Prime Minister and
Ministers can be found at

[1]http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/content/...

 

The Cabinet Manual (particularly Chapters 3 and 4) goes into more detail:

[2]http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/de...

 

While a House of Commons research paper discusses further the
constitutional issue of the principle of collective Cabinet
responsibility:

[3]http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commo...

 

 

Regards

 

Andy

Andy Gilbert

Head of Information Management Compliance

Cabinet Office

Knowledge & Information Management

3/32   1 Horse Guards Road

020 7276 0118

[4][email address]

 

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Rob Willis left an annotation ()

I think you're talking to yourself here mate

David Mackie left an annotation ()

Thanks Rob, (buddy :-)). The last info is useful for me, and does contain recorded information. I will read it carefully. The hope is that the answer that comes back from DEFRA is also that is responsible for mainstreaming sustainable development across government. If the Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP hadn't told me something completely different in a public speech, then it's unlikely that I would be pressing so hard. In this case, there's a semantic problem that the Cabinet Office is releasing information, without publicly acknowledging that it holds source documents other than what is publicly available on the internet. Anyway, it is now time to close this query.

Rob Willis left an annotation ()

Those words "mainstreaming sustainable development across government" have a strange effect on me. No matter how many times they are said they bounce straight off my brain like a pea off a drum.

What is one of them?

David Mackie left an annotation ()

Hi Rob,

This is context to help you and other readers understand what is going on with this query.

Basically sustainable development is social, economic and environmental progress. We're arguably a long way away from a sustainable society for two reasons - we use up three times as much resources as the planet can provide in the long term, and there is far too much poverty about. All recent past UK governments have accepted this, at face value at least - so they are all "signed up" to sustainable development.

The normal way to try to achieve sustainable development is to set up different organisations which have a core mission to achieve particular goals, and give them a budget to do this. So for instance, defra is there partly to protect the environment, and partly to provide food for everyone.

The problem is that setting up new organisations all of the time doesn't work for everything.

There used to be a Sustainable Development Commission which tried to marshal government departments, and was located in DEFRA. This was abolished in the bonfire of the quangos, to be replaced, by, wait for it, "mainstreaming sustainable development".

If you've ever had a marketing department abolished in your organisation, you'll have a feel for what mainstreaming sustainable development might mean. Basically, whilst there was a marketing department before, now it is "everyone's job" to do marketing. Or, relating to admin, before there was an admin team, but now, even the most senior people have to type up their own documents. I'll leave it to you to decide how much this approach works - but one thing's for sure - if there's no money for a marketing department, then there's no money.

So the idea is that all of the different government departments will start managing their environmental impact and the social impact of their policies in a more joined up way. There will be evidence of this in the departmental plans.

The slight problem is that whilst there's an impressive strategy online, no one seems to be able to provide any evidence of anything actually happening across the departments since the start of the most recent administration on this. To be fair, progress can take a long time on this type of thing, but it has been taking a very long time for much to materialise over the last 20 years or so.

This query was about the cabinet office's role - if major action was expected across government, then it would be reasonable to expect the cabinet office to have a co-ordinating role. My suspicion is that no actual changes have been made to any departmental plans as a result of "mainstreaming sustainable development" - in other words it is "all fur coat and no knickers".

Some of the basics are missing in the strategy too - a key question is how departmental leaders are being held to account for lack of action. The probable answer is that there is no evidence that they are being held accountable at all.

The Cabinet Office probably wouldn't want to actually say this type of thing for political reasons, but they will know that it is the case, and they will know that I and most other specialists also know that it is the case.

Technically, the Cabinet Office's response may be OK - the real problem is if the Cabinet Office is saying that DEFRA is responsible for "mainstreaming sustainable development" and DEFRA is saying that the Cabinet Office is responsible for it. That would probably make the papers, because it would be evidence of incompetence.

I hope this helps, if you're interested in it. Overall it's only the future of the people on the planet that's at stake!

Rob Willis left an annotation ()

Thank you. Nicely written, and easy to absorb.

As it's fundamentally an issue of accountability then you have my support, and very good luck to you.

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