A Welsh Government budget for future generations?

Published 08/10/2018   |   Last Updated 16/11/2020   |   Reading Time minutes

In this guest blog, Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, sets out her expectations for how this year’s draft budget from Welsh Government should reflect the requirements of the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

A budget fit for future generations

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 came into force in April 2016. The legislation is world leading and provides the ambition, permission and legal obligation to improve what we do and how we do it - making sure our decisions are fit for future generations.

The Welsh Government budget is the single biggest decision (or set of decisions) that is taken by a public body in Wales each year. As well as determining how public services are funded, the budget process and specific decisions send important signals about priorities across our public services and whether those priorities are shifting in line with the aspirations set out in the Act.

The draft budget for 2019-20 will be the third that the Welsh Government has published since the Act came to force. Whilst I am clear that the embedding of the requirements of the legislation is about cultural change not tick box compliance and therefore this will take time, after two years of the Government being on this journey I am expecting to see real change in how the budget process and narrative are reflecting the key requirements of the legislation.

This year’s draft budget is also the last to be published before the UK’s likely departure from the European Union, and the last of the current UK Government Spending Review settlement. These pressures mean that this year it is even more important that budget decisions signal that we are using our unique legislative drivers to make better decisions for an uncertain future to improve the lives of future, as well as current, generations.

As part of last year’s budget scrutiny, I gave evidence to the Finance Committee about how I considered that the 2018-19 draft budget reflected the requirements of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, and I was pleased to see that three of the Committee’s recommendations specifically referred to the future generations agenda and built on points that I had made. I also provided specific feedback to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Mark Drakeford, Strategic Budgeting officials and budget leads across Government departments on the elements that were good, bad and, quite frankly in some areas, non-existent in terms of last year’s budget demonstrating embedding the requirements of the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

My expectations for the 2019-20 draft budget

This year I am keen that scrutiny of the draft budget is framed within the context of the Government’s duties under the Act, and that in addition to this being my focus, it is also a key consideration for the National Assembly for Wales Committees’ scrutiny and recommendations.

My expectations for this year’s draft budget are as follows:

Clarity about how key decisions contribute to Welsh Government well-being objectives

The Welsh Government published its 12 well-being objectives in ‘Prosperity for All: the national strategy’ in September last year and it is legally required to take all reasonable steps (in exercising its functions) to meet those objectives. I would like to see strategic, policy and budget decisions connect more clearly to the well-being objectives, to explain how Welsh Government is taking decisions in ways which contribute to achieving those objectives.

A step change in investment in preventative approaches

There have been numerous Committee recommendations over the years about the need to agree a definition of prevention. The Act requires public bodies to consider how deploying resources to prevent problems occurring or getting worse may contribute to meeting their well-being objectives, or another body’s objectives. This is an important marker but requires a more detailed definition to enable an assessment of whether the spirit of this requirement is really being met. Over the last year I have been clear with the Government that looking at how the budget is considering prevention is a focus for my budget scrutiny this year. I have worked with them and brought together a range of experts to agree a definition which has been published in the outline draft budget published last week.

The Welsh Government definition of prevention is:

Prevention is working in partnership to co-produce the best outcomes possible, utilising the strengths and assets people and places have to contribute. Breaking down into four levels, each level can reduce demand for the next:

  • Primary prevention – Building resilience – creating the conditions in which problems don’t arise in the future. A universal approach.
  • Secondary prevention – Targeting action towards areas where there is a high risk of a problem occurring. A targeted approach, which cements the principles of progressive universalism.
  • Tertiary prevention – Intervening once there is a problem, to stop it getting worse and prevent it reoccurring in the future. An intervention approach.
  • Acute spending – Spending, which acts to manage the impact of a strongly negative situation but does little or nothing to prevent problems occurring in the future. A remedial approach.

Using long term evidence and scenarios to inform decisions

One of my biggest concerns about how our public services are responding to the requirements of the Well-being of Future Generations Act is the lack of skills, capacity and confidence they have to use future trends and scenarios to enable them to consider the long-term impact of their decisions. I will be looking for evidence of how budget decisions have considered the long term, and if there is little progress this is something I will take action on over the coming year.

A collaborative and integrated approach to decision making

I believe that the structure of the budget documents by ministerial portfolio is outdated and does not reflect how Government should be (and in some cases is) working in more integrated and collaborative ways. The infrastructure of Government needs to be able to respond to planning and resourcing priorities in an integrated way and so I expect to see the budget documents more aligned to ‘Prosperity for All’ to enable clearer connections between programmes, spending decisions and outcomes.

Further information on my expectations

My team are providing a briefing for Assembly Members, Support staff, and Commission staff this Thursday 11 October at 1.30 to provide more information on my expectations. I would also be pleased to hear from anyone who would like more information on the points I have made in this blog – please email contactus@futuregenerations.wales.

Article by Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales

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