Green Just Got Greener
The spending review (25/11/2020) brought with it a revision to the Treasury’s Green Book – the “How to” manual for public investment appraisal and evaluation. Changes to the Green book happen rarely and quietly.
Years can pass without alteration, but when changes arrive, depending upon your point of view, the changes either reflect the way we want our society and decision-makers to think and act, or are reflective of the manner in which the nation feels when it comes to dipping into the public purse for the public good.
These new revisions will pass some by without a second thought. Others will scour over the revisions to wonder what it means for their projects and society. This update attempts to cure the ills of the 2018 version, and its application. It even acknowledges existing opaqueness, lack of transparency and capacity, to ensure robust and in-depth scrutiny going forward, and reminds practitioners of the need to ensure post-intervention evaluation needs to be carried out. The headline rationale for this crop of changes includes :
- A more direct and transparent alignment of interventions with the strategy of UK Plc, thus explicitly representing a direct link to and supporting manifesto commitments, policy objectives and better social value. This includes consideration of regional and local impacts (i.e. an analytical underpinning and justification to levelling up)
- Ensure a more holistic assessment of proposed interventions which should deliver more equality (on many different levels)
- Building the capability, understanding and the ability to challenge the perception that the Green Book and its processes are a black box to providing a binary good / bad decision to invest. There is now a shift to allow decision-makers to weigh up the benefits to a locality or place and to promote strategically aligned investments. This could be previewed as allowing political means and motivations to drive approvals or a means of rationing resource to fit the public purse
- Offering a longer-term perspective on sustainability initiatives, so the green pound spent today has more impact (and appraisal weighting) over the coming decades – promoting greener solutions to direct more investment for the UK to become net carbon neutral by 2050.
"ETL we are already guiding our clients to embed the future Green Book requirements as we understand how to shape a robust narrative"
Work in progress
Practitioners of the Green Book will read that it is not a novel with an ending – it remains a work in progress, published to coincide with the spending review. The final draft with all the workings will need to wait until next year and will include a “Project Scorecard” which will offer another layer of rating for each project to assess alignment to policy, with the prospect of more training, templates and guidance.
This does not mean the industry should wait. Whilst others will consider the impact of these changes, we at ETL are already guiding our clients to embed the future Green Book requirements as we understand how to shape a robust narrative. We are supporting health, education and science clients with a variety of business cases, in various stages of development and we have been embracing the ideas now present in the current Green Book iteration. We have a variety of well-developed toolkits and methodologies so that our clients already consider robust solutions based upon local assessment, and our capabilities cover all aspects needed to build a business case, from population-based assessment and healthcare planning, through project and programme management and costs, to sustainability solutions embedded from the outset.
More updates needed
The changes announced yesterday may not be seen as a systematic shift in evaluation, but are hopefully a nudge towards promoting a more rounded societal and sustainable future. The legacy of this Green Book may not start to be felt until this decade is drawing to a close. The next generation will determine if it has guided decision-makers to make the right decisions at the right time for the right reasons.