When the Scottish Government’s independent Advisory Group on Economic Recovery reported back in June, we welcomed their recommendation that Scotland should use the four capitals approach, viewing the economy through the pillars of economic capital (financial and physical capital such as infrastructure), natural capital (geology, soil, water, air and all living things), human capital (knowledge, skills and health of people), and social capital (networks, shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate co-operation among people).
The Group’s chair Benny Higgins was clear in his intention “to treat each pillar as equally important; to understand their interaction; and to pursue interventions that will first protect and then progress each of them”. If the Scottish Government were to adopt the same approach it could potentially be transformative for our economic-strategy and National Performance Framework.
It was therefore even more encouraging when the Scottish Government published in August its response to the Group in the form of the Economic Recovery Implementation Plan which fully accepted all the recommendations, including to use the four capitals approach. There was a commitment to embed it in a cross-government framework, using the National Performance Framework to track progress and take a longer-term view.
The intention “to preserve and grow our natural, human, social, and economic capital in a way that delivers sustainable outcomes for the wellbeing of our future generations” was extremely promising. Likewise, the recognition that improving our wellbeing is dependent on our ability to conserve and grow our natural assets was heartening.
Fast forward to the publication of the Programme for Government earlier this month and you could be forgiven for thinking that it was the work of a different government. This programme was a missed opportunity for nature and there was no mention of the four capitals approach, not even when the Advisory Group’s report was covered or when the importance of the National Performance Framework was highlighted. This omission, so soon after the previous warm statements, was disappointing.
Perhaps the problem lies in one of the weaknesses with the Government’s implementation plan. For all the good intentions, such an important and urgent report lacked a clear and transparent implementation timetable. At the time, all we were told was that there would be “regular” updates to the plan with no indication of when or how often. Under such circumstances, there is a real risk that the four capitals approach will simply be forgotten about, rather than embedded across government.
“We need a meaningful action plan that sets out what is being done under each of the four capitals to secure the green recovery, by whom and by when. It should be live online, updated frequently with a clear system for highlighting what is on track and what has been delayed.”
The solution, if the Scottish Government can act quickly, is to put in place a meaningful action plan that sets out what is being done under each of the four capitals to secure the green recovery, by whom and by when. It should be live online, updated frequently with a clear system for highlighting what is on track and what has been delayed.
Timing is of the essence as we look to respond to the massive economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, the scale of which is unparalleled. We face a huge fight to secure the green and transformative recovery that is widely recognised as being fundamental to simultaneously building back a more resilient economy and improving our wellbeing.
We need a transparent plan understood by all. It is too important to just leave updates for when it is convenient. As the French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is reported to have said: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Dougie Peedle, Head of Policy
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When the Scottish Government’s independent Advisory Group on Economic Recovery reported back in June, we welcomed their recommendation that Scotland should use the four capitals approach, viewing the economy through the pillars of economic capital (financial and physical …