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Scotland is getting a new commissioner to look out for future generations

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird warned England risks being the ‘odd one out’ as Scotland joins Wales in appointing a future generations commissioner to combat short-term thinking in politics

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird has urged Westminster to back his Future Generations Bill or risk England being the “odd one out” after Scotland joined Wales in making sure political decisions include long-term thinking as well as just short-term gains.

The Scottish government will appoint a future generations commissioner to ensure decisions made by leaders today consider the impact on people in the future, as part of the shake-up that introduced Scottish Greens’ Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater into government.

Former Labour councillor Sophie Howe became the future generations commissioner for Wales in 2016 and Lord Bird is hoping Westminster will follow suit with his private member’s bill currently making its way through parliament. The legislation looks to banish short-term thinking in politics to focus on prevention and tackle long-term issues such as poverty and climate change.

Lord Bird said: “I commend Scotland in following the footsteps of Wales and appointing a future generations commissioner. The case for a Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill in Westminster is growing – England must not be the odd one out.

“My bill will ensure that future generations in every part of the country have the same prospect of a secure future, with policymakers looking out for their interests.”

The Scottish government announced a future generations commissioner would be appointed under the responsibility of Harvie when he was named minister for zero carbon buildings, active travel and tenants’ rights on August 30. 

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Harvie is one of two Scottish Greens to be named junior ministers in the Scottish government – the first time a Green Party politician has been in power in the UK.

The Scottish government confirmed a new commission is on the way in the Programme for Government. First minister Nicola Sturgeon said ministers will “consider a new approach to ensuring the interests of future generations are taken into account in decisions made today, through a future generations commission” in the annual plan. 

“We know how absolutely essential it is that future generations have their full and rightful voice in policy and decision making, and I’m really looking forward to sharing ideas on this between Scotland, England and Wales,” Harvie told The Big Issue. “There will be much more to say about the role and remit of the future generations commissioner soon.”

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It’s not the first time the ideas behind the bill have been raised in Scotland. Central Ayrshire MP Dr Philippa Whitford’s motion for a Future Generations Bill-style approach in Scotland was given overwhelming backing at the Scottish National Party conference in November 2020.

Confirmation of Scotland’s move to appoint a commissioner has been welcomed by Welsh counterpart Sophie Howe.

Howe told The Big Issue the act has already made a difference to Wales’ efforts to prevent climate change and childhood adversity as well as putting well-being at the heart of a new school curriculum and making space for bikes in Welsh cities.

“The impact of Covid-19, combined with the climate crisis, requires long term solutions,” said Howe.

“Wales is an example of the difference a Well-being of Future Generations Act makes and is proving that things can, and should, be done differently. 

“As the UK’s first ever future generations commissioner, it’s brilliant to see Scotland making its government fit for future generations and I urge the UK parliament and Northern Irish Assembly to join us.”

Lord Bird’s UK bill, which is being co-sponsored by Barrow and Furness MP Simon Fell, is set for a second reading in the House of Commons on September 10.

The crossbench peer will also hold the parliamentary launch of the UK’s first Future Generations Commission on the same day. Building on The Big Issue’s Today for Tomorrow campaign, it will bring together experts and passionate young people from across the UK to share success stories and show what’s possible to achieve through collaboration.

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