Frequently Asked Questions

  • Question

    How can the Commissioner help people?

    Answer

    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. 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 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 can 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 to question how the Act and its elements are being used in specific projects and decisions. As part of the partnership programme, The Art of the Possible, the Commissioner has published Journeys to each of the seven well-being goals. These provide practical actions (from Simple Changes to more ambitious steps) that can help public bodies maximise their contribution to the goals. The can also 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, 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.
  • Question

    What can members of the public do to challenge decisions using the Act?

    Answer

    Public bodies are under a duty ‘to carry out sustainable development’. There are three main elements to the duty:
    • improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales;
    • acting in accordance with the sustainable development principle (not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs, taking account of the five ways of working);
    • aiming at achieving the well-being goals, which includes setting well-being objectives.
    There are two main avenues people can take to challenge decisions: they can challenge the public body directly; or challenge them through the normal legal procedures. Firstly, based on the Commissioner’s Future Generations Framework for projects,, people may want to ask the relevant public body some questions based on the 5 ways of working set out in the Act:   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.   For example, how have the public bodies and their partners involved the people who would be affected in discussing the different options for the decision/proposal (e.g. with young people, residents, businesses and other stakeholders)? How have they evidenced that they have responded to what people have told them and has the process been transparent? Have they made sure that the people involved 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.   For example, how will the proposed approach improve the well-being of the people of the local area and wider region in the long term? How will it affect what the area looks and feels like in the year 2040 (a generation’s time)? How have public bodies identified the long-term trends that are most relevant to this project? Are the underlying assumptions about future trends that the development is based on realistic? What impact does this development have on these trends? Does the investment needed for the scheme represent good value for money for future generations? Has the Welsh Government’s future trends report been taken under consideration?  Prevention – How acting to prevent problems occurring or getting worse may help public bodies meet their objectives.  For example, how will the decision/proposal prevent problems that Wales faces – social, economic, cultural, environmental? Does this scheme support breaking negative cycles such as poverty, poor health, environmental damage and loss of biodiversity? How could this project minimise or remove its own negative impacts? What are the conflicts emerging between different aspects of well-being and sustainability and how have these been resolved?   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.   For example, how will the decision impact on economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being – it cannot focus on one of these areas, at the expense of the others! Has the project connected different areas of public policy agendas to generate multiple benefits?  How does the decision constitute a reasonable step to meet one or more of their objectives? How does it impact both the Council’s well-being objectives and the work of the public services board so far?  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.  For example, have the public bodies thought about how it could work in collaboration with other organisations – including public, private and third sector organisations in making this decision?  There is a plethora of other questions related to the all  elements of the Act (goals, objectives, and the ways of working) in the Frameworks and people can pick and choose, which ones are the most applicable in specific cases. Secondly, breach of the duty in the Act can be considered by any court or body in charge of applying the law in Wales. The Act can also be a material consideration in existing statutory systems, such as planning, permitting etc. For example: formal complaints can be made to the Public Services Ombudsman; a judicial review could be initiated; or non-compliance with the Act can be a basis for an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. The Commissioner seeks to flag these potential avenues to people. People should also check with their lawyers, law centres or the Citizen Advice Bureau what avenues are opened to them in each case.