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Build Back Better Business Council

Volume 810: debated on Thursday 25 February 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans the Build Back Better Business Council has to prioritise the implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

My Lords, the Build Back Better Business Council brings together a range of business leaders to work with the Government to fuel Covid-19 economic recovery and future growth plans. Agenda 2030 is extremely important and the Government are committed to supporting a clean, inclusive and resilient recovery. That is why the Prime Minister has committed to the 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution.

My Lords, I welcome the establishment of the council and the emerging debate about the nature of any recovery. It is critical that the recovery leads us to a different place from where we were before the pandemic. Are the Government aware that the sustainable development goals are universal? They apply as much to the left-behind areas of the UK as they do to the left-behind countries of the global south. Will the Government ensure that the voices of business at our recent all-party parliamentary group conference calling for government leadership to embrace the sustainable development goals as a ready-made framework for recovery will be heard in the deliberations of the council and the Treasury over the coming weeks?

My Lords, the Government recognise absolutely that the SDGs are a domestic as well as an international commitment. The noble Lord will know that, as part of our voluntary national review commitments, we will review the governance of our domestic SDGs and how that is structured. While that work has been slowed down slightly by the pandemic, it also provides a new context in which we can look at it again and take it forwards.

My Lords, sustainable goals 8 through to 11 cover decent work, industry, reducing inequalities and sustainable communities. Will the Minister ensure that the Government consider revoking the membership of Dame Emma Walmsley from the Prime Minister’s Build Back Better Council, given that GSK is directly damaging the UK in each of these vital areas by abandoning its long-held pharmaceutical manufacturing base in Ulverston in Cumbria?

While I have sympathy for the noble Lord’s reasons for raising his question, the Government do not intend to change the membership of the business council. It is to run for 12 months and we welcome the contributions of all its members.

My Lords, sustainable development goal 3.3 states that the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria will end by 2030, which is in just 10 years. On the current trajectory, however, the tuberculosis epidemic will not be beaten for another 100 years and millions of lives will be lost as a consequence; in fact, 1.5 million lives are lost to the TB epidemic every year. What will the Government do to show global leadership, particularly in the context of the G7, so that other existing pandemics will be beaten, as well as the Covid pandemic?

My Lords, the noble Lord has highlighted an important issue. Global health security is one of the Foreign Secretary’s seven priorities for development and aid. Recovery from coronavirus and resilience against future pandemics is one of the UK’s priorities for the G7. Covid has demonstrated the importance of this, but we must not lose sight of the impact of other major diseases, including TB. The UK will continue to step up its support for global efforts to tackle it.

My Lords, charities have a huge role to play in ensuring that we build back better. Can the Minister say what steps the Government will take to ensure that charities are themselves run in a sustainable way?

My Lords, important work is being done by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Charity Commission to ensure that charity governance is well structured. We have also been providing financial support for charities during the past difficult year to help protect their sustainability.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in light of the extreme damage from the pandemic on third-world countries, particularly the poorest communities, on reflection, this is exactly the wrong time to reduce our commitment to 0.7%? Does she also agree that a central pillar and basic principle of all that we do in aid and development is to focus on the poorest and most vulnerable? All other strategic considerations, however important, come second to that.

My Lords, the pandemic has led to the Government having to take some difficult decisions, but I reassure the noble Lord that the UK Government still plan to spend £10 billion in overseas development assistance in 2021, based on current GNI forecasts. We remain one of the largest donors and spenders in the world.

I would like to ask the Minister specifically about the council’s approach to SDG 13 on climate action. Will the council learn from the failure of the green homes grant scheme, which now looks like it will pay for about 50,000 home upgrades, rather than the 600,000 promised or the 24 million needed? Will it recognise that addressing climate change requires long-term investment, rather than stop-start short-term stimulus measures?

The green recovery is integral to the Government’s plans to build back better. Businesses’ contribution to that will be essential. I am sure it will be a subject for future meetings of the business council. One of the purposes of the council is to get the perspective of businesses on the development and implementation of such policies.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s recent announcement of £134 million to directly support sustainable development goal 8 to encourage green growth projects and develop sustainable technologies. I ask my noble friend if, as part of the global Britain agenda, the Government will finally support the UN Environment Programme to ensure that these noble aims can be delivered on the world stage.

My Lords, it is essential that we support efforts to tackle climate change at home and abroad. The Government have committed £3 billion, over the next five years, to nature and nature-based solutions on climate change in developing countries, within an overall commitment of £11.6 billion on international climate finance.

Businesses will be crucial to the delivery of the SDGs. However, the role of civil society will be equally important. Considering the emphasis on safe and secure work under goal 8, can the Minister tell us how the Government will engage with trade unions in the UK and globally, as part of the world’s effort to deliver on the 2030 agenda?

The noble Lord is right in the points that he makes. The Prime Minister and Chancellor’s business council is in addition to regular and ongoing engagement with trade unions, businesses and business representative groups across government to ensure that they continue to play an important role to feed in to the Government about economic recovery, future growth and clean growth.

Is the Minister aware of the Ride Out Recession Alliance, which has been going since July, and has brought together very large businesses, such as Unilever and Nationwide, with trade unions, SMEs and social enterprises? It is driven by the SDGs and by the idea that we need jobs and training, and not to allow people to fall into Covid-19 poverty so that they end up homeless. I would like to know whether the Ride Out Recession Alliance could be incorporated into the wonderful Build Back Better Council.

I am aware of the work of the alliance, thanks to the noble Lord bringing it to my attention in previous Questions. I have also highlighted it to a range of government departments, so that they can look at the work that it is doing and integrate it into their own.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Does my noble friend agree that, when it comes to build back better and the SDGs related to financial well-being, fintech has a key role to play? Further, does she agree that the Government will seriously consider the recommendations of the fintech strategic review being published tomorrow and the amendments to the Financial Services Bill that relate to promoting financial inclusion?

I absolutely agree about the important role of fintech and I have enjoyed the debates on the Financial Services Bill in Committee so far, covering both financial inclusion and fintech. I have not seen the strategic review yet, as it is out tomorrow, but I am sure that it will do an excellent job and that the Government will consider its recommendations carefully.