The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 may provide a legal framework which will force politicians to think about the long term future of Wales, and not just about whether they will get re-elected at the next election.
We talk a lot about the future – and how it will be affected by things that happen today. Climate change is likely to have a huge impact on the future. Brexit is another massive issue for Wales and the UK. Decisions that are made today will affect our future and the future of our children and grandchildren. Our politicians, the people who run the country, often talk about the future, but the way our electoral system works (both in the UK and in Wales) means that really, they are often only looking as far ahead as the next election and whether they will win again. So how do we really get the people in charge to think seriously about the future? How do we make sure that we take account of the impact of decisions made today on future generations?
Doing things differently in Wales
The Welsh Government has identified some big challenges that Wales faces, and has decided that it needs to do things differently. Challenges from global issues like climate change and what’s going on in other parts of the world that affect us, and challenges from within Wales such as poverty, the fact that people are living longer, and poor health will all have a long term impact on Wales and short term solutions aren’t enough.
The Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015 means that 44 public bodies in Wales now have to carry out sustainable development aimed at improving the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. To do this, the public bodies must create objectives for sustainable development which contribute to 7 long term goals for Wales. These goals are:
- A prosperous Wales
- A resilient Wales
- A healthier Wales
- A more equal Wales
- A Wales of cohesive communities
- A Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh Language
- A globally responsible Wales
The public bodies which have this duty include Welsh Government, Local Authorities in Wales, local health boards and the NHS, Fire and Rescue services, Natural Resources Wales and the Sports Council of Wales and the Arts Council of Wales.
As well as creating objectives for sustainable development which contribute to the 7 well-being goals, public bodies have to take into account 5 things to show that they have applied the sustainable development principle. These are:
- Long term
The idea is that instead of taking a ‘short term approach’, public bodies need to take a longer term approach, and involve people so that they don’t have services ‘done’ to them – people take an active part in their lives and how they interact with public services.
What people are saying about the Well-Being and Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015
Some people have been critical of the Act, or have highlighted how the well-being goals may sometimes contradict each other. When the Welsh Government was considering the Act in the first place, it produced a sustainable development scheme which outlined a much stronger vision of sustainable development in Wales. Many people think that the Act is less powerful than what was originally envisaged. Some have also suggested that it is not clear enough – for example who are the ‘future generations’?
There have also been some specific examples of where there seems to be conflict between the well-being goals. One example that people talk about is a plan to build a new bit of motorway along the M4 to ease congestion in the Brynglas Tunnels. Although this could improve prosperity for Wales, it might not support the well-being goal of a more ‘globally responsible’ Wales because of the environmental impact of the new road.
Although there are criticisms, there has also been lots of positive comment around the Act and the work that’s being done to look to the longer term by public bodies in Wales. There are already examples of organisations working together, for example in Rhondda Cynon Taff where organisations have worked together to prevent wildfires in the Valleys; and an initiative by Public Health Wales which revamped its offices by reusing and recycling as much as possible. One of the key things that will make a success of the Act in practice is the role of the Future Generations Commissioner who can investigate what public bodies are doing and call them out if she thinks they are not acting in accordance with the Act.
One of the professors at Swansea University, Professor Richard Owen, recently gave a talk about the Act which you can read more about here. We’d love to know your views – what do you think about the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act? Leave us a comment on our blog, or join us on social media if you have an account on Facebook or Twitter.