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Well-being of future generations

This guidance is for all internal auditors, not just those working in Wales. The Act is principle based and although designed for public sector decision making it is easily translatable for all organisations. This is leading edge thinking that all internal auditors should be aware of.

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill was granted Royal Assent in 2015. It provides a legally-binding shared purpose – the seven well-being goals for national government, local government, local health boards and other specified public bodies across Wales and details the ways in which these bodies must work, and work together, to improve the well-being of Wales and its people.

Acting today for a better tomorrow!!

“what Wales is doing today, we hope the world will do tomorrow, action more than words is the hope for our future generations” - Head of Sustainable Development, United Nations


 

Why is this relevant to me?
Role of internal audit
What do I need to do?
Welsh Government Internal Audit Service
The Act

Why is this relevant to me?

Future generations are impacted by today’s decision-making. This is particularly relevant with respect to decisions that have consequences for the climate and sustainability. All internal auditors provide assurance about how decisions are taken to manage risk – how appropriate the information is that is provided to decision-makers – and how effective is the process of making decisions. If you substitute the word Wales for Kent, Northumberland, Birmingham or Woolwich, the principles in the Act become very real for your own local authority or the communities that are relevant to your organisation.

 

guidance on well-being picut

  

Goal Description of the goal

A prosperous Wales

An innovative, productive, and low carbon society which recognises the limits of the global environment and therefore uses resources efficiently and proportionately (including acting on climate change); and which develops a skilled and well-educated population in an economy which generates wealth and provides employment opportunities, allowing people to take advantage of the wealth generated through securing decent work.
 A resilient Wales

A nation (or community when thinking about Kent, Yorkshire etc.) which maintains and enhances a biodiverse natural environment with healthy functioning ecosystems that support social, economic, and ecological resilience and the capacity to adapt to change (for example climate change).

 A healthier Wales

A society in which people’s physical and mental well-being is maximised and in which choices and behaviours that benefit future health are understood.

 A more equal Wales

A society that enables people to fulfil their potential no matter what their background or circumstances (including their socio-economic background and circumstances).
 A Wales of cohesive communities

 Attractive, viable, safe, and well-connected communities.

 

A Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language

A society that promotes and protects culture, heritage, and the Welsh language, and which encourages people to participate in the arts, and sports and recreation.

A globally responsible Wales

A nation which, when doing anything to improve the economic, social, environmental, and cultural well-being of Wales, takes account of whether doing such a thing may make a positive contribution to global well-being.

Role of Internal Audit

Internal auditors, especially chief audit executives, should consider the principles of the Act and how the profession can embed these to improve the overall direction of their organisation and ensure internal audit continues to add value.

  • Act as change agents to challenge the status quo: Internal auditors can start by asking questions, being curious and indeed even sceptical, can challenge traditional practices and ways of working to ensure more positive outcomes. When reviewing a grant process for example, internal auditors could suggest additional good practice, ways to strengthen existing controls and even suggest the removal of existing controls which no longer add value. 
  • Seeing the bigger picture: internal auditors have a responsibility to view the long term as well as the short-term benefits associated with any new initiative or policy. For example, when considering a new road build, Management could be too focused on the immediate needs and less sighted on issue such as climate change and other environmental issues. Internal audit’s advisory role can help mitigate this by raising risk awareness and including foresight in assurance engagements. 
  • Influence behaviours of internal audit functions: Internal auditors can build constructive but collaborative partnerships to ensure the overall delivery meets and even exceeds proposed benefits. An example of this could be an internal audit function engaging a “guest auditor” from another function to support on a specific audit. For example, introducing an in-house solicitor to assist with reviewing governance arrangements of a project board establishing a new NHS legal entity.     
  • Influence behaviours of managers: Internal auditors have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to understand the organisation from a high level and holistic perspective. Internal audit involvement in programme and project boards is a tool which can be utilised effectively encourage management to do the right thing. For example, internal auditors can advocate horizon scanning and broad thinking when facilitating risk identification/assessment and providing advice on controls, scoring and mitigating actions. 
  • Educate decision-makers and internal auditors about risk management: Internal auditors should consider not just the short-term immediate risks of a decision, project, proposal but also need to be fully aware of the long-term implication, benefits, and consequence. Stewardship is a key principle in the Act which aligns with the UK Corporate Governance Code. 
  • Look under the surface/don’t take anything at face value: With the built in skills and traits held and developed by internal auditors, they should be checking the rationale behind the long-term implications and benefits as new policy and initiatives are introduced and approved by management. As US President Regan used to say, “trust but verify.” 
  • Use foresight: An in-house internal audit team will have an in-depth understanding and knowledge of an organisation. Using that insight, auditors should think about the short- and long-term impact when reviewing policy, funding, or new initiatives. Internal auditors can also be key in sharing good practice and disseminating lessons learnt not just from within their own organisation but through networking with other sectors.

What do I need to do?

Technically nothing if your organisation is outside of the scope of the Act.
But that is a missed opportunity.
As an internal auditor you have a broad network and the ability to positively influence behaviours concerning governance, risk, and control. Please read on to understand the detail of the Act and take a moment to think about how the principles could be applied in your organisation. Perhaps talk to colleagues, raise it at a team meeting, about the Act, raise awareness and advocate for future generations in the work you do.


Work undertaken by Welsh Government (WG) Internal Audit Service (IAS)

In 2018/19, IAS undertook an advisory high-level review of the existing controls in place to embed the Act in the WG.  To this end, IAS reviewed:

  • Government Actions – National Strategy and subsequent annual reports; the future trends report; the WG Internal Control Questionnaire (ICQ) process (an annual Director attestation for assurance purposes).
  • Assurance Groups – Governance arrangements, including the work of the “Oversight and Enabling Group” and the Board level champion, as well as the role and remit of the Sustainable Futures Unit established to support implementation and compliance.
  • Workshops and Guidance – Guidance documents; intranet updates; workshops for third sector partner organisations; collated views on and experiences of implementing the Act.

A further review was undertaken in 2020/21 when IAS reviewed the extent to which the sustainable development principle (section 5 of the Well-being of Future Generations Act) had been embedded within the WG and whether there was appropriate governance, risk management and control mechanisms to discharge the well-being duty.

The table below highlights some of the potential risks considered during the review along with some high- level expected controls.

Potential Risk   Expected Controls

Lack of Management understanding of the Act and the 5 ways of working.

 - Effectiveness Oversight and Governance arrangements

 - Strong leadership including buy-in from a nominated Board level champion

 - Up to date and bespoke training and awareness courses

 No agreed methodology and approach to ensure compliance with the Act and the 5 ways of working.

 - Specific process and procedures in place

 - Robust evidential trail to support agreed approach

 - Consistent quality assurance checking process in place

Reputational risk associated with non-compliance

 - In-house team to assist and provide guidance on compliance issues

 - Up to date and bespoke training and awareness courses

Internal audit service (IAS) reviewed data already available in WG about performance against the goals and ways of working. It also analysed feedback from a questionnaire it prepared and distributed to ascertain a wider picture of how embedded the Act was (a form of attitudinal survey). Finally, IAS assessed the extent to which the Act is embedded in all aspects of decision-making and operations, by looking at standard processes and procedures for activities such as programme and project management, grant awards, procurement, risk management (including setting the risk appetite) and business case development for giving formal advice to Ministers.

The key to giving effective and valued assurance was adopting an approach which was not purely compliance-based, but which approached the activity more like an audit of culture, behaviours and attitudes, underpinned by appropriate processes and procedures, to test whether officials were “walking the talk” and not simply paying lip-service to the aims and objectives of the Act. Assurance about sustainability (and other aspects of ESG) needs to take an holistic approach, considering both the “soft” controls and overall control environment alongside the “hard” controls, to avoid being superficial and to provide real insight and have impact. 


The Act

Full details can be found at Future Generations Wales and Gov.Wales

The Act sets out seven well-being goals (detailed earlier), which public bodies are expected implement to maximise their contribution to achieving embedding the Act. They provide clarity about the shared purpose of public bodies and provide a focus for the work of public bodies on outcomes and delivery for the long-term well-being of Wales. Public bodies subject to the provisions of the Act do not exist in isolation. They are part of the wider economic, social, environmental, and cultural fabric of Wales and through the Act have a shared purpose to contribute to the well-being goals.

  • National Indicators and Milestones

Progress towards the achievement of the well-being goals is measured through the publication of national indicators and milestones. These are not indicators to measure the performance of individual public bodies, but progress towards achieving the well-being goals at a national level. The milestones create a pathway and provide a measure for progress against the well-being goals. Click here for the annual Well-being of Wales Report.

  • Applicable bodies

The specified public bodies currently subject to the well-being duty in the Act are:

  • Local Authorities
  • Local Health Boards
  • Public Health Wales NHS Trust
  • Velindre NHS Trust
  • National Park Authorities
  • Fire and Rescue Authorities
  • Natural Resources Body for Wales (Natural Resources Wales)
  • the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales
  • the Arts Council of Wales
  • the Sports Council for Wales (Sport Wales)
  • the National Library for Wales
  • the National Museum of Wales (National Museum Wales)

The Welsh Government recognises the changing public sector landscape. Consequently, amendments to the list were proposed in 2023 with the aim of extending the Act’s well-being duty to other relevant bodies.

  • Future Trends Report

A holistic report bringing together trends across authorities to aid collaboration, communication, and long-term thinking by sharing information. The trends are drivers of change with an impact across all sectors and the potential for wider effects across the economy, society, environment, and culture. Click here for the latest (2021) report.

  • Sustainable Development

The sustainable development principle defined by the Act is a fundamental part of how public bodies and public services boards must now operate. They must act in a manner which seeks to ensure the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, by taking account of the sustainable development principle. It sets out five ways of working that public bodies are required to take into account:

  • Looking to the long term so that we do not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  • Taking an integrated approach so that public bodies look at all the well-being goals in deciding on their well-being objectives.
  • Involving a diversity of the population in the decisions that affect them.
  • Working with others in a collaborative way to find shared sustainable solutions.
  • Understanding the root causes of issues to prevent them from occurring. 
  • Future Generations Commissioner for Wales

The Act establishes a statutory Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, whose role is to act as a guardian for the interests of future generations in Wales, and to support the public bodies listed in the Act to work towards achieving the well-being goals. They have powers to undertake review and make recommendations to public bodies. 

  • Auditor General for Wales

The Act gives the Auditor General for Wales the power to examine public bodies, to assess the extent to which a body has acted in accordance with the Sustainable Development Principle when a) setting well-being objectives and b) taking steps to meet those well-being objectives. The Auditor General for Wales also has a duty to examine each public body at least once in a five-year period (term of Government).

With thanks to Welsh Government’s Internal Audit Services for drafting this guidance 


Further Reading

Well-being of Future Generations Act | The Well-being of Future Generations | GOV.WALES

Well-being of Future Generations Act – Statutory Guidance | Well-being of future generations: guidance | GOV.WALES

Wales and the Sustainable Development Goals | Wales and the Sustainable Development Goals | GOV.WALES

Well-being of Wales National Report | Wellbeing of Wales | GOV.WALES

Future Trends Report | Future Trends: 2021 | GOV.WALES

Shaping Wales’ Future Consultation | Using national milestones and indicators to measure our nation’s progress | GOV.WALES

Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development | Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development .:. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform (un.org)

Future Generations Commissioner for Wales | The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales – Acting today for a better tomorrow

Content reviewed: 22 May 2024