1. Executive Summary
Introduction and Context
1.1. This report presents an analysis of written responses to the Scottish Government's consultation on its draft Climate Change (Reporting on Climate Change Duties) (Scotland) Order 2015. This order proposes to use the powers in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 ('the Act') to introduce a statutory requirement for specified public bodies, described as 'Major Players', to prepare annual reports on their compliance with their climate change duties under the Act. The overall aim of the proposal is improve the quality and consistency of climate change information reported by public sector bodies in Scotland.
1.2. The consultation asked 14 questions, with a 15th question inviting additional comments. It ran from 20 February - 29 May 2015.
1.3. 73 responses were received: 51 were from organisation respondents and 22 were from individual members of the public. Of the 51 organisation respondents, 35 were on the proposed list of 'major players' which would be required to meet the new reporting requirements. Others included sectoral bodies which represent or speak on behalf of major players in local government, the NHS and education; environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs), an environmental consultancy and a trade union.
Views on the Proposal in Principle
1.4. There was a very high level of support for the proposed new reporting requirements, with 75% of all consultation respondents agreeing with them in principle. Out of 51 organisation respondents to the consultation, 47 (92%) supported the proposal. The level of support was similar among major players, which would be required to meet the new reporting requirements, and non-major players, which would not.
1.5. 3 organisation respondents (6%) disagreed with the proposal. They considered that the proposal conflicted with the principles of local democracy and accountability; that existing voluntary reporting on and actions to reduce carbon emissions could be continued; and that smaller public bodies would struggle to comply with the new requirements.
1.6. 14 out of 22 (64%) of individual respondents disagreed with the proposal. Their disagreement was primarily attributable to one or both of the following issues: scepticism about climate change in principle, and concerns that public money was being wasted, for example on the cost of actions to address climate change. These or similar views were expressed by many individual respondents in response to most of the subsequent consultation questions.
1.7. A number of cross-cutting issues featured in responses to many of the consultation questions. They were emphasised repeatedly both by many respondents who supported the proposal or agreed with specific questions in principle, and by respondents who did not.
Variation among public bodies and the need for proportionality in the reporting requirements
1.8. Many respondents emphasised the diversity among the public bodies which would be required to report, for example in their role and size; in their direct carbon emissions and the extent to which they could control them; and in the stage they are at in their fulfilment of their climate change duties and reporting on carbon emissions. They highlighted the need for flexibility and proportionality in the reporting requirements to take account of this diversity. This issue informed some concern that public body reports should not be benchmarked against each other.
The need for alignment with other reporting requirements.
1.9. It was emphasised that the new requirements should replace existing requirements, so that they added value and did not create additional work. They should also be consistent with separate sector-specific reporting arrangements, which would still be required.
The need for balance between information provision and reporting burden.
1.10. A number of respondents commented that the information requirements should not be too complex or impose an unmanageable reporting burden on public bodies, and it was suggested that there was scope for some rationalisation and simplification.
The public sector and its relative contribution to carbon emissions.
1.11. The view was expressed that direct emissions from the public sector contribute a relatively low proportion of Scotland's carbon emissions. It was suggested that there should be a broader focus on the public sector's capacity to influence indirect emissions in wider society, for example through the use of regulatory functions.
Proposed Reporting Requirements
The Impact of Standardised Reporting (Q2)
1.12. Overall, 75% of all consultation respondents and 88% of organisation respondents agreed that standardised reporting would improve the quality and consistency of climate change information reported by public sector major players. More robust and transparent data should lead to better understanding by public bodies of their carbon emissions, improved benchmarking among public bodies and more sharing of good practice. A minority of organisation respondents disagreed, on the grounds that public bodies are too varied for a standardised approach to work; that the proposed questions were over-prescriptive; and that voluntary approaches could be used instead.
1.13. Concerns were raised by a number of respondents, both those who agreed and disagreed with the proposed reporting, about whether the proposed data requirements would result in truly consistent data; about data requirements which some organisations could not fulfil; and about the omission of some data collected under the current Scotland's Climate Change Declaration (SCCD) voluntary arrangements.
1.14. It was suggested that the reporting should incorporate a number of principles to maximise its effectiveness, including building on professional standards and good practice, and supporting learning and performance improvement. Suggested additions to improve the accessibility of the reports themselves included an executive summary, space for more narrative contextual reporting, and charts to aid presentation of quantitative data.
1.15. The need for guidance on how to fulfil the new requirements was emphasised throughout the question responses. The guidance needed to be consistent, clear, detailed and practical. Key contents would include detailed explanations of how to complete each question; worked examples of exemplar responses; appropriate greenhouse gas accounting methodology and conversion factors; and advice on how to establish the reporting systems. The guidance should be an online resource, reinforced through training events and through ongoing support from the Sustainable Scotland Network (SSN) in a way similar to that provided for the existing voluntary reporting.
Proposed Policy Subjects and Questions (Q3)
1.16. 47% of all consultation respondents and 57% of organisation respondents agreed with the proposed policy subjects and questions within the reporting format. Around one quarter of organisation respondents did not agree. A number of policy subjects were recommended for addition to the reporting format, several of which are included in the current voluntary reporting arrangements. The most common suggestions were: reporting on area-wide emissions (where a public body has responsibility within a defined geographic boundary); biodiversity; and 'acting sustainably', which would link to the Act's third public body duty, to act 'in a way that it considers is most sustainable'. Detailed comments on specific questions included in the proposed new format have been collated by SSN and will inform a revised version.
1.17. Respondents emphasised that the improved reporting on carbon emissions should lead to enhanced action to reduce carbon emissions. It was suggested that this would happen as a result of the increased visibility of carbon emissions issues to public bodies, which would stimulate them to take their climate change duties more seriously. However some respondents emphasised that impacts of this kind would not automatically result from improved reporting, and that proactive efforts would be needed to ensure that the reporting was used to encourage action and generate momentum. To this end, additional elements for the reporting were suggested to address actions taken, not taken or required to reduce emissions.
Major Players (Q6a)
1.18. Around half of all consultation responses agreed with the list of proposed major players, and about two thirds of organisation respondents agreed. A number of suggestions were made for specific additions to, removals from and amendments to the major players list. General points were made about the need for consistency and transparency, for example by including all public bodies with 'audit or regulatory functions'; and by listing individually all Executive Agencies included under the major player 'Scottish Ministers'. It was also suggested that the status of arms-length external organisations which deliver public services should be reviewed.
Voluntary Provision of Additional Information (Q6b)
1.19. This question reflected ongoing work on proposed voluntary reporting requirements additional to the proposed mandatory requirements. The majority of major players were willing to provide this information on a voluntary basis, subject to whether the requirements were reasonable and achievable, and subject to their resource constraints. One sectoral organisation respondent was not willing to do this, as the information was already in the public domain by other routes.
1.20. 56% of all consultation respondents and 75% of organisation respondents considered that there would be additional resource implications associated with the proposed reporting requirements, and this issue was raised as a significant concern throughout the consultation responses. While a few larger public bodies with more experience of such reporting considered that the implications would be manageable, smaller public bodies new to such reporting were much more likely to foresee significant challenges. There were concerns that the new requirements were being introduced at a time of considerable financial pressures in the public sector; that significant additional staff time would be needed to meet them; and that resources might be diverted from other work.
Time Requirements (Q12)
1.21. Asked how long it would take them to produce the required report, around half of organisation respondents answered that this was too difficult to quantify and would in any case vary by public body. Respondents who did attempt to provide an estimate varied in how they approached this, and their estimates are therefore not all directly comparable. Several respondents considered that the process would take longer in the first year of the new requirements, and it was suggested that Year 1 of the reporting could be a pilot year while new systems were established.
1.22. The consultation document proposed that each major player would produce an annual report for the previous financial year (April to March). The deadline proposed for the first annual report (April 2015 - March 2016) was the end of October 2016. The deadline proposed for subsequent annual reports was the end of September following the financial year end.
1.23. While around one third of organisation respondents supported this proposal, over half proposed an alternative later deadline. The main reasons for this were that the data required would not all be available in time for the deadline; and that there would be insufficient time to collate and validate it, or to comply with internal governance and authorisation requirements, prior to submission. Education sector respondents highlighted an additional challenge, in that their financial year runs from July - June and therefore ends three months later compared with other public bodies.
Quality Assurance and Accountability
1.24. 70% of all respondents, and 90% of organisation respondents, agreed in principle that monitoring would be needed. Most organisations wanted a supportive monitoring approach, with reports assessed and used to identify training and support needs, and feedback provided to help organisations improve their reporting. Most organisation respondents considered that the monitoring should be undertaken by an external central body, with the Scottish Government itself the most common suggestion, though other specific suggestions were made. A minority of organisation respondents considered that they should undertake the monitoring internally.
1.25. Two thirds of all respondents considered that some kind of validation of their reporting would be needed, but their views differed on what form it should take. Independent validation and internal validation were each supported by around a quarter of all respondents, with a smaller proportion supporting peer to peer validation. Advantages and disadvantages were identified for each option, with cost and time implications associated with all of them.
1.26. The majority of respondents supported the publication of their annual climate change public bodies duties report on the SSN website, with many public bodies commenting that reporting of this kind already happened. A few organisations expressed some reservations, reiterating concerns about benchmarking reports from diverse organisations.
1.27. Most respondents considered that there should be consequences of some kind for non-compliance with the reporting requirements, but differed on whether the consequences should involve support or penalties or both. Many respondents, particularly the major players which would be reporting, wanted a supportive response to non-compliance, particularly in the early stages of the new reporting requirements. Other respondents, particularly organisations involved in holding public bodies to account, were more likely to support a role for sanctions, with publicity for non-compliant organisations the most common suggestion. Some public body respondents saw no need for specific consequences for non-compliance, considering that reputational damage would occur anyway.
1.28. A few public bodies commented on the distinction between compliance with public body climate change duties and compliance with the proposed reporting requirements, and requested clarity on how compliance with each of these would be defined.
Business and Voluntary Sector Impact Assessment (Q13)
1.29. 58% of all respondents and 45% of organisation respondents mentioned one or more impacts for these sectors. The main potential impacts specific to these sectors were: the adoption of lower carbon policies as a result of the public sector's example; opportunities to sell consultancy services to the public sector; and additional information requirements for public sector contracts.
Equalities Impact Assessment (Q14)
1.30. 52% of all respondents and 59% of organisations did not consider that the policy proposal presented would have a differential impact on people with the protected equalities characteristics specified in the question. Other comments included that the proposal could have a positive impact by disproportionately benefiting these groups and enhancing their outcomes, and that equalities impact assessments would be needed for future public sector climate change initiatives.
Email: Debbie Sagar