Future Generations Bill – an opportunity for new thinking

Michael-Palmer-WEBI was delighted to see nearly 70 organisations from across the Welsh NHS, local and central government represented at the two seminars we’ve jointly hosted with the Commissioner for Sustainable Futures.

We’re starting a conversation with public bodies on how to use the Future Generations Bill as an opportunity to re-invigorate the way they report on organisational progress and performance.

Peter Davies, the Commissioner for Sustainable Futures, explained how the Bill is intended to improve our governance and decision making for the long term – providing a common framework for public bodies to focus on achieving better outcomes for today and future generations.

At the event, both senior management and practitioners took the opportunity to share ideas and learning from Wales and beyond. But, in the discussions I was involved in, people also voiced a number of concerns. For example, the prospect of yet more legislation and reporting requirements for, what is seen by some, as an already over-regulated public sector. Others pointed to the increasing demands and budget cuts and the uncertainty of the post Williams Commission report landscape.

I have been involved in a number of discussions over the last year, where people have questioned the value of focussing on reporting – before the legislation has even been published. But it is important for us to work on a number of areas simultaneously and in an integrated way. We cannot afford to work sequentially and in silos.

I was struck by one of the key findings from an evaluation of the pilot of the draft Integrated Reporting framework. An integrated report is a concise communication about how an organisation’s strategy, governance, performance and prospects lead to the creation of value – in the short, medium and long term.

The evaluation of the experience of 43 organisations, who had committed to Integrated Reporting, found that had provided an important driver in providing opportunities for teams to become better connected across an organisation and leading to more integrated thinking.

We found a similar consensus at our event, organised by the WAO’s Good Practice Exchange team. We explored new developments and innovation in reporting from organisations including the Crown Estate, the International Integrated Reporting Council, CIPFA and Swansea Council.

I was really taken by the sense that the delegates who attended felt that this was an opportunity to rethink the way we communicate the impact our organisations and their contribution to the wellbeing of Wales. It was also good to hear that people were keen to identify where we already have examples of innovation underway in Wales and how they could be used as building blocks.

Next week, the Commissioner for Sustainable Futures will be officially launching a national conversation to hear from the people of Wales about ‘the Wales We Want’. This national conversation is a key proposal for the proposed Future Generations Bill and we at the Wales Audit Office will be taking part in this as it is likely that the Auditor General for Wales will be responsible for auditing compliance with the Future Generations duty, as part of the annual audit.

About the Author:

Following a career in local government and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, Mike Palmer has worked for the Audit Commission and Wales Audit Office since 2000.

He has held various roles at the WAO managing performance audit – including being a Project Manager for the Auditor General report ‘Sustainable development and business decision making in the Welsh Assembly Government’.

Michael has recently been seconded to work across the Wales Audit Office to develop and manage the WAO’s response to the Future Generations Bill and the proposed duty to make sustainable development the central organising principle.

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