An independent report has praised the West Midlands for its commitment to tackling climate change – but it also calls for a more “joined up” approach between the UK’s regions and countries.
The report, sponsored by BT, which examined the sustainable development strategies of every English region, Scotland and Wales, recommends better sharing of best practice and for “more crossing of regional boundaries” by successful initiatives.
Despite the growing importance of sustainable development in national politics, there is “little consistency in the way it is addressed”.
It says communication between regions could be improved by initiatives such as an online directory of sustainable development case studies, policies and practices, and an annual UK-wide conference or roundtable.
“There is a real need to improve the way in which the experience gained from these initiatives is shared and used to stimulate further good practice,” states the report by the UK Centre for Economic and Environmental Development. “It is important that there should be the opportunity for joining up initiatives across regional boundaries to integrate good practice.” This would “help these better examples become more prevalent UK-wide.”
The authors were particularly impressed by the priority given to climate change in the regional economic strategies (RESs) of the West Midlands, as well as the introduction of the first regional index of sustainable economic well-being by the East Midlands region and subsequent adoption by the West Midlands.
The report commends the way the West Midlands has continued to devote “significant resource to the development of Information Communication Technology strategies and actions at a time when others have scaled back”.
Nationally, the report says ICT is “being surprisingly overlooked as a key enabler for sustainable development and should be re-assigned a higher priority” and better integrated with policies in areas, such as transport and energy.
“ICT has fallen significantly down the agenda of more recent strategies, largely as a result of the success of regional campaigns to promote access to broadband services.
There is some interest in the role of ICT in reducing the need to travel, although only a few strategies make a clear link between ICT and sustainable development.”
Digital inclusion, too, “is not being covered as well as it was and, given the importance of ICT knowledge and skills to the economy and environment, we believe it is important for it to be featured in future strategies.”
John Dovey, BT’s regional director for the West Midlands, said: “We believe this report is a useful contribution to the debate on sustainable development.
‘‘There are some excellent initiatives being undertaken in the West Midlands and other parts of the UK on this very important subject – but we must make sure that the best successes are taken up across the UK as a whole, not just in one region or area.
“BT knows from its own experience that ICT can play a vital role in sustainable development, making a considerable amount of travel unnecessary as well as helping people achieve a good balance between work and home life. We now have more than 10,000 people who work from home and 64,000 more who are equipped to work flexibly.
“Conferencing by phone and the internet is another major contributor to sustainability, last year saving at least 97,000 tonnes on BT’s carbon footprint and eliminating 860,000 face to face meetings.”
The report calls for the plans and strategies to be “made more accessible by having a simpler, more structured layout” including:
* Key actions and lead responsibilities highlighted with timelines;
* More compelling success stories indicating how regional agency help creates added value;
* Clear links between the various different regional strategies;
* A common set of indicators and measures for sustainable development policy covering climate change in particular;
* Regular public reviews of progress against targets.
The report also comments that the “sudden withdrawal” of Government support for some activities has led to a loss of confidence in long term funding for regional sustainable development programmes.
“The Government should assist the English regional development agencies by providing more certainty in how regional sustainable development programmes will be supported in the long term,” it said.