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Sustainable Development Goals: call for clear leadership across Government

8 June 2016

International Development Committee report finds an unconvincing case that the responsibility for implementation of the Goals at home should lie with the Secretary of State for International Development, who already faces a substantial challenge in working to support their international implementation. 

Strong leadership, a coherent implementation plan and engagement of all Government departments will be necessary to ensure the Sustainable Development Goals are achieved at home, and that the UK is supporting their achievement overseas.

The Sustainable Development Goals commit all 193 signatory countries to tackle issues such as gender inequality, climate change, access to quality education and the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies. Going far beyond their predecessor Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs set a new agenda for developed and developing countries alike, to address shared objectives and secure economic, social and environmental gains for all. Agreed at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York last September, the Goals came into force in January 2016.

Chair's comments

Stephen Twigg MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"The Government has been slow to work out how best to implement the Goals here in the UK. Despite the leading role which the Prime Minister played in shaping the SDGs globally, progress on working out how we will implement them in our own country has been disappointing so far.
The Goals require a cross-Government approach. This is not an agenda for developing countries alone, but for the whole world. It can only be achieved if all countries work to implement the agenda in its entirety.
A high level of influence across all government departments will be vital to ensure UK implementation is on track. The SDGs must be on the radar of every Secretary of State and Minister; not just the Secretary of State for International Development. The Prime Minister's strong political leadership in the creation of the Post-2015 development agenda must be reflected in the implementation of the SDGs. Clear action is needed now."

Committee recommendations

On Domestic policy - clear departmental responsibilities:

  • Departments should be assigned specific responsibilities for making progress on the SDGs—as originally indicated in DFID's evidence—to ensure ownership and clear lines of accountability. These responsibilities should be laid out clearly in each department's Single Departmental Plan, which should be urgently reviewed accordingly with specific references to relevant SDGs by number. (Paragraph 76)
  • The Government must ensure that all Secretaries of State and government officials engage with the SDGs and fully understand the implications of the Goals on their department's policies and programming. The Cabinet Office should lead on this work, in consultation with DFID, and the report recommends it urgently produces a substantive and fully resourced internal communications strategy on the SDGs to ensure that all departments understand their responsibilities to deliver on the Goals. (Paragraph 77)

On Policy Coherence - a forum and improved reporting:

The Government should identify a formal mechanism for relevant Secretaries of State or responsible Ministers to come together regularly to discuss the implementation of the SDGs across Government. Such a forum would ensure engagement from all departments at the highest political level. It should be used initially to discuss how the SDGs can be implemented coherently across Government, but could develop into a forum for discussion of particular areas of the agenda at regular, and defined, intervals. This would enable areas of policy incoherence to be flagged at an early stage, and dealt with at the highest level. We ask that the Government outline in their response the form that this mechanism will take. (Paragraph 84)

  • Reporting on policy coherence must be strengthened to ensure a more comprehensive approach. Current provisions under the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006 are insufficient and place the full burden of reporting on DFID, rather than making it a cross-government responsibility. The Government should commit to producing a biennial report on policy coherence for sustainable development. (Paragraph 85)

On DFID's role - a White Paper and consolidation of legislation:

We recommend that the Government produces a White Paper on International Development to provide clarity on its approach to Agenda 2030. Following the Multilateral, Bilateral and Civil Society Partnership Reviews, DFID and other government departments will be in a position to provide a comprehensive overview of their approach to international development over this Parliament and towards 2030, within the framework of the SDGs. A White Paper would serve an important function for the UK's partners across the world, demonstrating the UK Government's commitment to the Goals and explaining how it will support developing countries to achieve them. It would also be a useful exercise for the Government, bringing together different departments to ensure there is a coherent approach to Post-2015 development policy across all of Whitehall and all branches of DFID, from Westminster and East Kilbride to country offices across the world. (Paragraph 108)

  • The legislative framework determining much of the UK's aid spending is also not fit for the post-2015 development agenda. The Government should use this critical juncture to consolidate and update the four International Development Acts (2002, 2006, 2014, and 2015) into one single Act. With the passage of the International Development (Official Development Assistance) Act 2015 and the agreement of the SDGs, many of the clauses within the 2002 and 2006 Acts are now obsolete. We recommend that the Government should consolidate these acts and update the provisions (paragraph 109).

Further information

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