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22.12.15

Strong leadership key to driving sustainable development at Swansea

Source: PSE Dec/Jan 16

Tanya Nash, sustainable development team leader at Swansea Council, discusses how it has become one of the most sustainable public sector organisations in the UK.

From April 2016, all public bodies in Wales will have to consider sustainable development in their decision making, from setting budgets and procuring goods to developing strategies. 

The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act is the first law of its kind in the world, but what impact will this have on organisations, and how has the principle already been adopted? 

Award winning 

PSE caught up with Tanya Nash, the sustainable development team leader at Swansea Council, which was the first local authority in Wales to start sustainable development reporting. 

The council was recently named the platinum award winner at the Public Sector Sustainability Awards, run by the Institute of Public Sector Estates Management, and won the sustainable public sector award at the Cynnal Cymru Sustain Wales Awards in Cardiff – as voted for by the public. 

Initiatives praised included the popular wild flower scheme, its ‘Keep it to three’ limit on black bin bags as part of its recycling campaign, and the efforts of community groups in regenerating local parks. 

The sustainability journey for Swansea has been long, with the sustainable development unit first set up in the late 1990s. And in 2006 the council adopted its first sustainable development policy, which was adopted into its constitution. 

Clearly defined 

Nash said that strong leadership has been imperative to driving Swansea’s success. Without this it would have been much harder to deliver change, she noted. 

For local authorities looking to adopt sustainable development approaches, Nash added that they must “clearly define” what sustainability means for the council, its values and its core business objectives. 

“You need to relate what sustainable development means in terms of social services to the wellbeing of vulnerable people, what it means in terms of regeneration and economic development,” said Nash. “To work with our colleagues in redefining sustainable development for those different areas, that has been critical for us.” 

In a local government environment driven by austerity over recent years, there had to be a different approach looking at the long term. 

“Otherwise you end up with people just slicing, slicing and slicing until you have no organisation left,” she said.  “In 2011-12, we started reporting on sustainable development and looking at the critical business process of the authority and how we could embed sustainability into those processes in order to demonstrate the business case. That made a big change.” 

Recycling 

The government’s Carbon Plan says that if the UK is to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, all sectors have to be more energy efficient 

In Swansea, each household is allowed to put a maximum of three black bags out on the kerbside every fortnight. “There were some concerns, originally, about what the backlash might be in the community, but it has been terribly limited. There has been a lot of support,” said Nash. “Also, by doing this, we were able to demonstrate the amount of waste we’ve diverted from landfill, put a cost to that and married that cost to people’s council tax. We’ve been able to demonstrate what we are saving taxpayers per year.” 

Nash added that Swansea’s recycling rate is now over 56%, one of the highest rates in Wales. And an important factor in the recycling scheme’s success has been constantly communicating with key partners. 

Like many local authorities, Swansea is also facing significant cuts across the board and it is trying to protect services that affect the most vulnerable. This means that funding for services like parks are facing bigger cuts than, say, social services. 

“So we have been looking at other ways we can work with community groups together to improve green areas and make them more active and able to support wellbeing in those areas,” said Nash. This has led to the development of a number of ‘Friends of’ groups, and was one of the factors in the local authority’s recent success. 

Resource 

Discussing the resource side of sustainable development, Nash said: “You do need an element of resource in terms of having a strategic approach. 

“We developed a sustainable development framework, set ourselves targets and looked at how we built capacity in areas like leadership and key core critical business processes: finance, performance planning and procurement across the organisation.” 

She also stated that sustainable development must not be seen as an “add-on” but a solution for the long term as authorities are being asked to do more with less.

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