In it's new report, the International Development Committee (IDC) identifies serious failings in the preparation and presentation of UK’s first Voluntary National Review of progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The report, which is published on the day Rory Stewart, Secretary of State for International Development, is due to present at the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York, casts doubt on the Government's commitment to the SDGs. 

Committee Chair, Stephen Twigg MP, says: 

We fear that the priority and resources committed to the VNR process – and the whole SDGs agenda – reflect a lack of engagement and understanding at the heart of, and throughout, the UK Government.

The report, which acknowledges UKSSD's input and includes the oral evidence of our Network Director Emily Auckland, identifies that: 

  • The UK has taken a long time to get around to producing a VNR and so expectations were naturally that much higher, and the disappointment that much greater.
  • The Government had 19 months between committing to a VNR and producing it. Despite this, the timeline was squeezed and most of the work – and virtually all of the engagement activity – was left to the last few months, preventing stakeholders from meaningfully engaging in, or influencing, the final report.
  • The engagement activity recommended by the UN – consultation with stakeholders like human rights institutions, trades unions, business and industry, NGOs, parliamentarians and UK academia – was not only late but also ‘ad hoc’ and superficial.
  • The VNR itself was selective and partial, relying on cherry-picked data, context-free snapshots and positive vignettes, to present a ‘good story’. It skirted discussion of some serious issues, for instance, food security, poverty trends and EU withdrawal. 
  • The implications of these failings of process and substance in the VNR is that the UK is not taking the SDG initiative seriously – as integral to, and coherent with, the Government’s overall agenda. This is also evident in making DFID the lead coordinating department, as opposed to the Cabinet Office. 

The IDC are calling for

  • Steps to implement the UK’s commitment to the SDG agenda (such as, a convincing statement at today’s UN High Level Political Forum, giving overall responsibility for SDGs to the Cabinet Office, building the Goals into cross-government planning, spending review and reporting processes), and
  • A commitment at the HLPF to producing a further Review in three years’ time, with a more collaborative, consultative and comprehensive VNR process, and delivery of a more rigorous, data-driven, contextualised evaluation of the UK’s performance against the SDG targets next time.

You can read UKSSD's initial response to the VNR here