Hazel Clatworthy and Matthew Gatehouse, Monmouthshire County Council, presented at a shared learning seminar on the Future Generations Act back in March, when the legislation hadn’t actually come into force. Their experience was based on their work as “early adopters” of the Act. Six months on a lot has changed…
Getting our own house in order
Back in March I shared feedback from Wales Audit Office’s light touch assessment of our preparedness for the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. This was really helpful and mainly focussed on in-house processes and policies, which we’ve been developing further.
Over the last six months a lot more work has taken place on training and awareness raising about the Act and what it means for officers, Members and partners. The Act is prominent in Induction training for all new starters, we’ve held our second and third member seminars on the subject, plus specific training for scrutiny and there was standing room only in the council chamber when we did a lunchtime talk for staff on the subject – with more watching via YouTube. We’ve revised our Sustainable Development policy, curated a comprehensive range of resources on our intranet site for officers and Members to refer to and given the Act far more prominence on the council’s website to help our residents and businesses understand how central this is to our work.
After our session in March a lot of people contacted us to get a copy of the Future Generations Evaluation we’d introduced six months earlier. I’d like to be able to say that lots of decisions have radically changed as a result of using this evaluation, and that decision making is now inherently more sustainable. And I’d like to be able to say that officers are automatically using these at the earliest stages of decision making, rather than the night before the deadline. But in all honesty I can’t say that…yet! However, I can say that I’ve had conversations with officers from parts of the Council I would never have dealt with before, as they ask for my help or advice on how to complete the evaluation. And I can say that Members have been challenging officers if they feel that the evaluation hasn’t been done properly or has missed something – one Scrutiny committee refused to hold a meeting when the reports they were presented with had somehow slipped through the system without an evaluation! Small steps but all in the right direction!
We are making progress on our other policies and strategies like procurement where we are developing a Community Benefits policy. We’ve also embedded the seven wellbeing goals and five sustainable development principles in our service planning process.
So we are gradually building on our early adopter work and implementing the WAO recommendations, and I think it is beginning to make a difference – awareness of the Act is certainly much higher than it was, and hopefully this awareness, together with the policies and processes in place to back it up will mean that Monmouthshire genuinely becomes a more sustainable place.
I’ve been visiting lots of partnerships which sit underneath our newly formed Public Service Board and talking to them about what the Act means for us, for them and how we can work together. Levels of awareness varies, but all have welcomed the chance to understand the Act better and think about how they can contribute to the Wellbeing Assessment and Plan.
In August we started a big public engagement exercise called Our Monmouthshire to help inform our Well-being Assessment. We have plenty of data, but to try and avoid falling into the “lies, damned lies and statistics” trap, we are going to events, shows, markets, coffee mornings, schools, support groups and more to find out what people like about living in Monmouthshire and what they think would make it even better. We have commissioned Our Monmouthshire banners, big maps, postcards and fact and future trends cards to stimulate discussion and debate, and Council officers and other PSB partners are going out and about to get feedback to shape the Well-being Assessment.
We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to feed in their views, so as well as face to face, people can also contribute online and via social media. Residents can feed in their views and ideas via a short online questionnaire, or via Made Open, Monmouthshire’s online digital engagement platform.
The Wellbeing Assessment is a huge piece of work, and the more far reaching our engagement work, the more information we have to process, but it should result in a rigorous and well informed Assessment which will well equip the PSB to decide on priorities for the Wellbeing Plan in 2018.
So, in summary so far, I think I’d agree with the guidance on the Act, which says that sustainable development isn’t an end point, but the process of improving well-being or a way of doing things. Embracing the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act as a way of working, rather than just complying with the letter of the law, is a journey. And I believe that it is a journey that we are well on the way with.