Frequently Asked Questions
Who is the current Future Generations Commissioner?
The current Future Generations Commissioner for Wales is Sophie Howe (“the Commissioner”). She is the first person to assume the role which was created by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. She was appointed by a cross-party group of the National Assembly for Wales and took up the position in April 2016. You can find out more about her here.
What is the vision set out by the Well-being of Future Generations Act?
The Well-being of Future Generations Act sets in law a common national vision for well-being in Wales. It introduces the four pillars of well-being (environmental, social, cultural and economic) which together paint a holistic picture of well-being in Wales.
To provide further detail of the vision of well-being in Wales, the law also introduces the seven well-being goals framing the social, economic, cultural and environmental element. The Act includes a detailed description of each well-being goal and the goals should not be considered separately. Their definition is part of the law and it cannot be changed.
The 5 ways of working
To ensure that public bodies have better processes and think differently when making decisions, the Act also sets out the five ways of working, which are part of the sustainable development principle (Question 2 – the role of the Commissioner). These ways of working are set out in Section 5(2) of the law:
- Involvement – The importance of involving people with an interest in achieving the well-being goals and ensuring that those people reflect the diversity of the area which the body serves.
- Long Term – The importance of balancing short-term needs with the need to safeguard the ability to also meet long-term needs.
- Prevention – How acting to prevent problems occurring or getting worse may help public bodies meet their objectives.
- Integration – Considering how the public body’s well-being objectives may impact upon each of the well-being goals, on their other objectives, or on the objectives of other public bodies.
- Collaboration – Acting in collaboration with any other person (or different parts of the body itself) that could help the body to meet its well-being objectives.
These ways of working are a very important part of the law and adopting them can help public bodies change their behaviour and improve the well-being of current and future generations in Wales.
What is the role of the Future Generations Commissioner?
The Commissioner’s main role is to help public bodies change their behaviours and follow the new requirements in the legislation to improve the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of the people of Wales.
The role of the Commissioner, as specified in the law, is to promote the sustainable development principle (which states that public bodies should try to make sure that the needs of current generations are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs). She must act as the guardian of future generations needs and help public bodies to think long term. This is set out is in Part 3, Section 17 of the Well-being of Future Generations Act.
To do this, she can give advice to the public bodies caught by the law (see Question 6 – public bodies listed in the Act), the Auditor General for Wales (who must conduct at least one examination per 5-year cycle on how each public body has acted in accordance with the sustainable development principle), groups of public bodies called Public Services Boards (see Question 7 – public services boards) or to any other person who can contribute to the seven well-being goals (see Question 2 –vision set out by the Act) or help improve well-being in Wales (see Question 5 – powers of the Commissioner).
The Act applies to specific public bodies (see Question 6) and the Commissioner has to monitor and assess the extent to which the public bodies meet their specific objectives (these are called “well-being objectives).
What powers does the Commissioner have?
The Commissioner must promote the sustainable development principle (not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs demonstrated by the use of the five ways of working in Question 3), act as the guardian of future generations and encourage public bodies to think of the long term effect of their decisions. To do this, the law allows the Commissioner to:
- provide advice or assistance to a public body;
- provide advice to the Auditor General for Wales on the sustainable development principle;
- provide advice or assistance to a public services board in relation to the preparation of its local well-being plan;
- provide advice or assistance to any other person who the Commissioner considers is taking (or wishes to take) steps that may contribute to the achievement of the well-being goals;
- encourage best practice amongst public bodies in taking steps to meet their wellbeing objectives in accordance with the sustainable development principle;
- promote awareness amongst public bodies of the need to take steps to meet their well-being objectives in accordance with the sustainable development principle;
- encourage public bodies to work with each other and with other persons if this could assist them to meet their well-being objectives;
- seek the advice of an advisory panel in relation to the exercise of any of the Commissioner’s functions.
The Commissioner can also undertake research into the extent to which the well-being goals and national indicators are consistent with the sustainable development principle, as well as the extent to which the sustainable development principle is taken into account in national indicators set out by the Welsh Government.
Finally, the Commissioner can conduct reviews to provide her with insight on how public bodies apply the Act. However, it is important to note that conducting a review does not allow the Commissioner to look into specific decisions that have already been made. It is a mechanism to find out if public bodies are protecting future generations and to check if they have thought of the long-term impact of their actions. At the end of a review, the Commissioner can make recommendations to advice on how the public body should apply the Act in the future.
Who are the 44 public bodies named in the Act?
The law itself lists them as (see Section 6 of the Act):
- The Welsh Government;
- County Councils;
- Local Health Boards;
- Public Health Wales;
- Velindre NHS Trust;
- National Park authorities in Wales;
- Welsh fire and rescue authorities;
- Natural Resources Wales;
- the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales;
- the Arts Council of Wales;
- the Sports Council for Wales;
- the National Library of Wales;
- the National Museum of Wales.
Under the Act, these public bodies must carry out sustainable development (see Question 13), which includes, amongst other things, setting and publishing well-being objectives. These well-being objectives must be designed to maximise contribution to the 7 well-being goals (Question 2 – the vision set out by the Act) and the public bodies must take all reasonable steps to meet those objectives.
The Act may, in some cases, extend to other public bodies depending on the level of delegation and the functions they are carrying out and Welsh Government has a formula to determine when this happens. This includes for example, the Planning Inspectorate.
What are Public Services Boards and where are they?
Public Services Boards were created in the Well-Being of Future Generations Act to replace the former Local Service Boards. Their aim is to encourage collaboration and integration in the delivery of public services.
Under the Act, Public Services Boards have a duty to improve the cultural, economic, social and environmental well-being of their area by contributing to the achievement of the well-being goals (see Question 2 – vision set out by the Act).
The local Public Services Boards have statutory members – the local Council, the local health board, the local fire and rescue authority and Natural Resources Wales – but other bodies, such as the Welsh Ministers and relevant voluntary organisations, must be invited to participate. [for more information see Part 4, Section 30 of the Act and the statutory guidance for Public Services Boards: SPSF3]
Some local authorities have chosen to merge the Public Services Boards for their area and this is why there are 19 Public Services Boards in Wales:
- Anglesey and Gwynedd Public Services Board
- Blenau Gwent Public Services Board
- Bridgend Public Services Board
- Caerphilly Public Services Board
- Cardiff Public Services Board
- Carmarthenshire Public Services Board
- Ceredigion Public Services Board
- Conwy and Denbighshire Public Services Board
- Cwm Taf Public Services Board
- Flintshire Public Services Board
- Monmouthshire Public Services Board
- Neath Port Talbot Public Services Board
- Newport Public Services Board
- Pembrokeshire Public Services Board
- Powys Public Services Board
- Swansea Public Services Board
- Torfaen Public Services Board
- Vale of Glamorgan Public Services Board
- Wrexham Public Services Board
The Public Services Boards must collectively assess the well-being of the population in their areas which helps them choose local well-being objectives and prepare a local well-being plan. Each member of the Board must do everything they can to meet those objectives. The Commissioner gave advice to each Public Services Board on the setting of the well-being plans and objectives for their areas. You can read more about the office’s work with Public Services Boards here.
What are the Commissioner’s Priority Areas?
The Commissioner’s duty is to promote the Act and help improve well-being in Wales. This can cover almost every possible policy area and decision made in Wales.
The Commissioner decided to select these six big issues, challenges and opportunities facing future generations to concentrate her actions in order to have a real and deep impact. The six priority areas were chosen after a rigorous process involving over 1,300 people. You can find more information about the process in the document ‘Developing Priorities for the Future Generations Commissioner’.
The six priority areas that were identified as having the greatest potential to improve all four pillars of well-being (environmental, cultural, social and economic) are:
- Creating the right infrastructure for future generations, with a focus on:
o Transport planning
o Housing stock
- Equipping people for the future, with a focus on
o Skills for the future
o Alternative models for improving health and well-being
o Preventing and addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Environmental considerations were carefully taken into account and that the priorities selected were also those which can have the biggest positive impact on the environment, as well as the other three pillars which cannot be separated.
How is the role of the Future Generations Commissioner different from the role of other Commissioners?
There are different types of commissioners in Wales and throughout the world. Each are given specific powers in the legislation which creates them.
The role of a Commissioner is also different from the role of an Ombudsman, which investigates specific complaints against particular bodies.
The term Commissioner is used for three main types of activities:
- Commissioners who regulate an area of work by setting standards and checking compliance and sanctioning breaches of the standards;
- Commissioners who champion and help the people they are responsible for, to seek formal remedies, including help with court cases;
- Commissioners who promote a principle or a policy and help it get implemented by providing advice and making recommendations.
The Children’s Commissioner for Wales includes the second and third of these elements. Her role is to tell people why children’s rights are so important, and to look at how the decisions made by public bodies in Wales, including Welsh Government, affect children’s rights. Her role includes listening to children and young people to find out what’s important to them, influencing government and other organisations who say they’re going to make a difference to children’s lives to make sure they keep their promises; and speaking up for children and young people nationally on important issues – being the children’s champion in Wales.
The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales also includes the second and third of these elements. The Commissioner is an independent voice and champion for older people across Wales, standing up and speaking out on their behalf. The Commissioner promotes awareness of the rights and interests of older people in Wales, challenges discrimination against older people in Wales, encourages best practice in the treatment of older people in Wales and reviews the law affecting the interests of older people in Wales. In order to deliver these functions, the Commissioner influences policy and practice at both a national and local level, works in partnership with older people and stakeholders to drive change and promote good practice, and undertakes formal reviews and issues formal guidance using her unique legal powers.
The Welsh Language Commissioner includes all three elements listed above – a regulator, a champion for Welsh speakers and a promoter, providing advice and making recommendations to policy makers. Her role includes promoting and facilitating the use of the Welsh language, working to ensure that the Welsh language is not treated less favourably than the English language, and investigating interference with the individual’s freedom to use the Welsh language.
The Future Generation Commissioner for Wales’ role includes only the last element, i.e. promoting the sustainable development principle and providing advice and making recommendations to public bodies (see Questions 2 and 4).
Can the Commissioner intervene in a decision?
As explained in Question 9 (the difference between Commissioners), unlike other Commissioners, the Future Generations Commissioner was not set up investigate complaints or provide legal or financial support to individuals seeking remedy for their specific cases. Her role is not established in law as an extra layer of appeal on specific issues and, in particular, in planning.
The Commissioner does not have the powers to sanction public bodies and cannot overturn decisions that have already been taken.
She has set 6 priority areas (see Question 8 – priority areas), which she will seek to ensure are truly sustainable at all levels (e.g. national policy, behaviours and procedures) and she will be challenging public bodies involved in their delivery.
The Commissioner has pledged to listen to the concerns of the public. She is actively seeking to identify problems which are common in the many letters she receives. This is why the Commissioner has devised criteria to help her identify common problems, to see if and how she can help when these problems are within her priority areas. This includes the following questions:
- Does it involve bodies covered by the Act?
- Can the process still be influenced?
- What is the scale of the project/decision?
- Does it affect more than one part of Wales or a significant section of the population?
- Is it a cross cutting issue?
- Are there precedents?
- Does it come within our priority areas?
- Is there potential for transferable knowledge?
- Have we done work on this issue before?
- Can we resource action?
This is how the Commissioner has decided to use her powers in planning and environmental permitting.
How does the Commissioner take on board people’s views?
One of the ways that the Commissioner looks to detect systemic issues (recurring, general issues in the system) is through contact and correspondence from members of the public and specific interest organisations. To date, the Commissioner has become involved in several areas, including planning and environmental permitting, after being alerted to potential issues through such contact. The Commissioner has other methods of identifying systemic issues, but contacts keeps her and her team aware of how the Act is being applied in practice.
Her office is also trying to prevent problems from occurring, for example, by writing to the Ministers and asking for a review of the process for approving, licensing and permitting proposed developments in Wales.
We also produce quarterly and annual correspondence reports which are shared internally and inform everyone’s work in the office.
How can the Commissioner help citizens?
As explained in Questions 9 and 10 above (about her role and the powers of the office), the Commissioner cannot investigate complaints, hear appeals, support individuals in seeking legal remedies. This was decided by the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales when they created her office and as they passed the Well-being of Future Generations Act.
The Commissioner’s duty, as set up in law, is to promote the sustainable development principle (which means helping public bodies not to compromise the well-being of future generations). She must act as the guardian of future generations and encourage public bodies to think long-term. Her powers are focused on public bodies in Wales. She can advise and assist them, so they improve the well-being of the people of Wales.
The Commissioner is also keen to empower people in their understanding of the Act and how the Act can be used to challenge decisions and policies. She publishes documents that should help the public use the Act to support and challenge public bodies caught by the law. The Commissioner’s frameworks, including the Future Generations Framework for projects, can be used in the making of decisions and projects. It sets out prompts for public bodies to carry out sustainable development and for others to challenge how they have carried this out.
As part of the partnership programme, The Art of the Possible, the Commissioner has published Simple Changes for public bodies to adopt. In the spring, she will publish Journey Checkers, which will contain examples of how each of the Simple Changes can be can be evolve into a bigger step towards sustainability.
As explained in Question 9, the Commissioner cannot impose standards or handle specific complaints. What she can do is provide people with information about the Act and its provisions and she can signpost people to useful organisations, sources and information.
When general and recurring issues emerge (systemic issues), the Commissioner may raise the issue with the relevant public body or try and influence national policy within her priority areas to affect change in the future.