This week saw the launch of a year-long national conversation by Peter Davies, Commissioner for Sustainable Futures, at the Wales Millennium Centre – a grand venue for an equally grand plan – to make Wales a better place.
Against the backdrop of a 2014 that has already seen its fair share of ecological alarms bells ringing, with the recent and on-going floods, I was keen to be part of an event where the people of Wales get to share their views and solutions on this – and other long term issues that future generations might face.
It became clear quite quickly that the challenge that has been set is huge. Setting a blueprint for the Wales we want is only half of it, we then need to put these things into practice. Thankfully the mood was overwhelmingly positive in favour of meeting the challenge.
During his keynote address, Jonathan Porritt, author of the ‘The World We Made’, said he had seen many initiatives fail in the 40 or so years that he had been involved in sustainable development and urged Wales to not just talk the talk. His confidence was tempered with a warning that the waiting generations are running out of patience for outcomes and that perhaps there were not many more chances for the current generation to get it right.
He was, of course, referring to the future generation that this bill is aiming to protect and this theme of youth was evident throughout the day. Hollywood actor Michael Sheen, while adding some stardust to the occasion, came with a strong message and spoke with passion and emotion about the poverty being faced by children in Wales. He cited the shocking statistic of his home town of Port Talbot, where 1 in 4 children are living below the poverty line.
Michael Sheen was keen to see children’s rights at the heart of the bill and also pointed to the loss of opportunities such as sports and arts funding as key areas for discussion. His determination to ensure that Wales has cultural as well as economic prosperity was met with enthusiastic applause and support.
The day finished with a round table discussion that was open to all. It was refreshing to see the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty- Jeff Cuthbert AM, Peter Davies, Michael Sheen and Jonathan Porritt mixing with representatives from all across Wales. Conversations ranged from community-owned energy initiatives, the need to create data systems to log and maximise impact and even the merits of local community growing schemes, teaching people the value of growing their own food.
What was interesting was that it wasn’t the usual suspects in the room – there were fresh faces (young and old) and fresh enthusiasm. The bill, it seems, and the conversation, had brought out people who wanted to be there and wanted to be involved – a new army of supporters.
It looks like the Wales Audit Office will have a role to play in auditing the duty and if we are going to be able to do this properly we need to make sure that the work we are doing takes full account of the future generations. We need not only to embody the principles of the duty ourselves but take advantage of our unique position within Wales to encourage and support others to do so too.
We have started on that journey by being part of the big conversation this week and I am pleased that everyone had their say, everyone had a voice and as conversation starters go it was a huge success.
About the Author:
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.