National policy and its role in a greener, more sustainable future

Infrastructure shapes both the human and natural worlds. It’s the backbone and foundation on which communities and nations are built: the energy that powers our businesses, the clean water pumped into our homes, and the road and rail networks that allow us to travel with ease. Thoughtful, ethical and sustainable infrastructure has the ability to improve our quality of life, creating new places and ways in which to live and work.

Nonetheless, infrastructure on a national scale cannot, and should not, proliferate unchecked. Its development involves critical considerations, from the communities it serves, to its impacts and effects – both in the short and longer-terms, to the material and methods used, to maintenance, and much more besides. Policy, regulation, expertise and comprehensive planning and risk management all play an important role, particularly in negating, and even reversing, the impacts of climate change.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognises and outlines “the interdependence of climate, ecosystems and biodiversity and human societies” in its Summary for Policymakers report. It calls for the assessment of climate change impacts and risks, as well as adaptation, set against “concurrently unfolding non-climatic trends” such as rapid urbanisation, land and ecosystem degradation, biodiversity loss and unsustainable consumption of natural resources. So, how can a nation develop responsibly and sustainably? What factors must be taken into consideration when mapping industrial strategy? Who has the power to make decisions on this scale?

What is national policy?

National policies are statements that contain principles and broad courses of action taken by national governments regarding specific objectives.

Their main purpose is to define and guide decision-making efforts to achieve a desired outcome through government policy and plans – in a bid to ensure any decisions have an aggregate positive impact on a national level. For example, a government may wish to improve biodiversity by considering future land use, or lower emissions and improve air quality by developing its public transport networks, or tightly govern waste management in a bid to support a healthier ecosystem. National policy should:

  • establish a planning system and framework for development
  • protect and preserve natural resources
  • shed light on the environmental impact assessment of planned projects
  • ensure regulatory standards are adhered to
  • avoid any adverse impacts on an environmental or social level

In the UK, national policy must relate to climate change efforts – both in mitigation and adaptation. As well as explaining the reasoning behind their proposed outcomes, policies must explain how they:

  • factor into sustainable development
  • integrate with existing policies
  • account for safety and technology issues
  • address any adverse impacts
  • detail actual and projected capacity and demand. 

Where necessary, policies should also pinpoint specific locations affected in order to create a guideline and roadmap that can support future investment and planning decisions.

Planning Act 2008

The UK Infrastructure Planning Commission was borne out of the Planning Act 2008. As well as making provisions for the Commission’s functions, it contains guidelines and thresholds for the authorisation and development of infrastructure. The Act also governs town and country planning and is designed to “make provision about the imposition of a Community Infrastructure Levy.”

UK national policy statements (NPS)

In the UK, there are 12 NPS relating to different areas of nationally significant infrastructure projects and their future development. NPS must be formed from a democratic process – consisting of public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny – before it can become designated policy. In this way, any examining authorities can make recommendations to the Secretary of State.

The NPS, by category, are:

  • Energy: Overarching Energy; Fossil Fuels; Renewable Energy; Oil and Gas Supply and Storage (produced by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)
  • Transport: Ports; National Networks; Airports (produced by the Department for Transport)
  • Water, waste water and waste: Hazardous Waste; Waste Water; Water Resources (produced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

Any significant development of infrastructure throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must adhere to the NPS.

What is the difference between national policy and local policy?

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) underpins the UK’s environmental, social and economic planning policies, and covers topics including:

  • business
  • environment
  • economic development
  • transport
  • housing.

The NPPF must inform any planning applications and decisions relating to local and neighbourhood plans; where plans and developments have taken its rules into account, developments can be approved without delay. A local planning authority (LPA) makes the ultimate decision in deciding to grant or refuse planning permission – such as building and development work – in a given area. Local authorities also create a development plan; this occurs every six years and details planning policies and use of areas by local authorities. For example, a plan might contain aspects such as upgrading of amenities, improvements to roads or regeneration and renewal of unused or obsolete areas. Planning applications in the local area are then cross-referenced with the plan, with permission generally granted only if the plans are in line with the development plan.

The UK government publishes planning practice guidance on the gov.uk website to support individuals and organisations with their interpretation and adherence to the NPPF. There are various categories – many of which relate to ensuring a greener, sustainable future – including:

  • air quality
  • climate change
  • effective use of land
  • environmental impact assessment
  • flood risk and coastal change
  • green belt
  • land stability
  • natural environment
  • renewable and low-carbon energy
  • strategic environmental assessment
  • tree preservation orders and trees in conservation areas
  • waste.

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What are the features of modern governance?

Modern governance is good governance achieved with modern tools. By utilising new technologies and methods, governing bodies can gain deeper insights and develop new processes that deliver better governance and better overall results for their organisations.

Effective use of new technology

Whether it’s through automating processes or utilising new systems and platforms, governing bodies that undergo a digital transformation can often gain a competitive advantage or establish themselves as a leader in their fields or sectors.

Making the most of information and data

Modern governance relies heavily upon good data to spot issues, challenges, and new categories in terms of trends and market directions. Good data should also help inform decisions, strategies, policies, and responses in times of crisis or disruption.

Greater transparency

One of the most significant aims of modern governance is transparency. Information is easily accessible and understandable. Communication and conversations are two-way, and reporting is conducted regularly and objectively.

Robust risk and compliance management

Modern governing bodies are focused on safeguarding against a multitude of risks – no easy task in today’s complex world. Through policies, procedures, and other controls, modern governance works to mitigate cyber risk and cyber-attacks; protect strategic, financial, operational, and reputational functions; and, ensure all potential issues are identified, analysed, mitigated, monitored, and reported on. There is also a strong focus on compliance, with internal audits, quality assurance practices, and strict adherence to legislation – and other relevant codes – all firmly cemented within the organisation.

Inclusive environments

Diverse, inclusive, and collaborative environments are a growing necessity in modern governance. From the governing body itself, through all levels of an organisation, good modern governance calls for diversity in race, gender, and age, but also in terms of backgrounds and skills – and research continues to show that diverse organisations are more creative and more decisive.

What is good governance?

Good governance should be an important area of focus for any organisation, whether it’s a public body, an international not-for-profit organisation, or a private business or corporation. Through good governance, an organisation maintains and safeguards its integrity and ethics, its policies and procedures, and its reputation and performance.

Good governance informs decision-making, enables strong relationships with stakeholders, and sets the organisational or corporate culture. It also ensures that funds are used appropriately, employee standards – and human rights – are respected, and operations are free from corruption and fraud.

Good governance in the United Kingdom

In the UK, corporate good governance is ensured through the Financial Reporting Council’s UK Corporate Governance Code. The code steers relationships between companies, shareholders, and stakeholders, and “promotes the importance of establishing a corporate culture that is aligned with the company purpose, business strategy, promotes integrity and values diversity.”

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development also offers a number of resources and guides on the topic of good corporate governance.

Finally, the Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland works to ensure “effective and efficient governance and administration of commerce, industry and public affairs”.

Examples of best practice in governance

Transparency

Petition and social change non-profit website Change.org has been lauded for its transparency. The organisation shares its financial information, roadmaps, and strategy in its annual impact report, and also publishes details about its diversity and inclusion.

Diversity

Inclusive Companies, an organisation that aims to drive inclusion through innovation and best practice, recently awarded Capegemi UK its top prize in the Inclusive Top 50 UK Employers List. Contributing to this win was Capgemini’s active inclusion programme, which engages all of its staff “in a conscious culture and mindset change for inclusion.”

Risk management 

CIR Magazine’s Risk Management Awards recently awarded AECOM, a multinational infrastructure consulting firm, and the West Midlands Combined Authority, with a Public Sector Risk Management Award, recognising the organisations’ collective and collaborative commitment to risk management.

What is a governance deficit?

Governance deficits occur when those governing – whether it’s a company, organisation, government, or another body – are not equipped to cope with the myriad challenges it faces, and cannot govern effectively. This deficit can look like a lack of:

  • information, which should inform everything from an organisation’s environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) to its marketing efforts
  • technology, which can facilitate transformational change in everything from everyday business processes to C-Suite (the name for leadership teams made of a CEO, CFO, COO, and so on) leadership
  • adaptability, whether it’s responsiveness to a crisis or an emerging trend in the market
  • security, from cyber safety to financial health
  • connectivity or collaboration, such as consultation on white papers, governance practices, or even participation in industry events, podcasts, and so on
  • visibility, whether it’s of board members or corporate directors within the organisation, or even an online presence – for example, on social media applications such as LinkedIn.

Deficits in areas such as these can have serious consequences, such as increased risks – and increased costs.

In fact, the Diligent Institute has reported that “governance deficits across over 12 public companies have cost shareholders more than $490bn (US Dollars) in value in the year following the financial crisis. At the same time, good governance has equipped companies to surpass their peers by 15%.”

Modern tools and resources to support good governance

Diligent.com

Diligent is a digital modern governance tool. Effectively an app for boards and board members, it aims to promote good governance by managing risks, supporting audits, enabling compliance, and so on. It is the world’s largest governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) software-as-a-service (SAAS) provider, with one million users across 25,000 organisations and 130 countries. Diligent CEO Brian Stafford says that there is “a gap between people in the middle of the organisation who are data experts, and people at the top who want the right information at their level, to be able to help with pressure testing. We’re putting that all together for our clients.”

The Modern Governance Summit

The Diligent Corporation recently hosted a hybrid in-person and virtual event for governance, risk, compliance, audit, and ESG professionals.

Free data tools, such as Google Analytics

Data and information is key for organisational leaders, boardrooms, and anyone in an executive role. While some of this data may require market research or dedicated system providers, some of it is easily obtained for free. Website data, for example, is a crucial area of information for organisations and can be accessed for free in real time via Google Analytics.

Communication platforms, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams

Open communication supports transparency, inclusive environments, and information-sharing – all important elements of good governance. 

Help shape the future of good governance 

Help embed good governance within the public sector with the 100% online Master of Public Administration (MPA) programme from the University of York. Designed for professionals in public and non-profit organisations, this flexible MPA programme will equip you to make a positive impact on improving public service provision and public life.

As part of your studies, you’ll explore good governance. For example, one of your key modules is in regulatory governance – an inevitable part of modern governance that many businesses undermine, but is crucial in delivering on social protection, safety, and quality assurance standards.

What is foreign policy?

Foreign policy is the mechanism national governments use to guide their diplomatic interactions and relationships with other countries. A state’s foreign policy reflects its values and goals, and helps drive its political and economic aims in the global arena. Many foreign policies also have a strong focus on national and international security, and will help determine how a country interacts with international organisations, such as the United Nations, and citizens of other countries.

Foreign policies are developed and influenced by a number of factors. These include:

  • the country’s circumstances in a number of areas, including geographically, financially, politically, and so on
  • the behaviour and foreign policies of other countries
  • the state of international order and affairs more widely (for example, is there war or unrest? Are there trade alliances to take into consideration?) 
  • plans for advancement, such as economic advancement or technological advancement

Guided by foreign policy, diplomats and diplomatic bodies can work across borders to tackle shared challenges, promote stability, and protect shared interests.

A nation’s foreign policy typically works in tandem with its domestic policy, which is another form of public policy that focuses on matters at home. Together, the two policies complement one another and work to strengthen the country’s position both within and outside its borders.

Examples of foreign policy

The United Kingdom

Foreign policy in the United Kingdom is overseen by Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which is led by the Foreign Secretary.

Recent priorities for the UK’s foreign office have included imposing sanctions on Russia due to its ongoing conflict with Ukraine, and introducing a new Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. The UK has also continued its ongoing action against the regime in Syria. 

Following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) – made official in 2020 – UK policymakers have been focused on negotiating new trade agreements with international partners.

The United States

American foreign policy is overseen by the U.S. Department of State, which says its mission is to “protect and promote U.S. security, prosperity, and democratic values, and shape an international environment in which all Americans can thrive.”

Domestic bills and legislation connected to foreign policy are managed by the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs, a standing committee of the U.S. House of Representatives that has jurisdiction over matters such as foreign assistance, HIV/AIDS in foreign countries, and the promotion of democracy. It also has six standing subcommittees that oversee issues connected to human rights practices, disaster assistance, international development, and so on in different regions of the world, such as Asia or the Middle East.

Recent events in American international affairs have included ending its war in Afghanistan, and affirming its support for a two-state solution to the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel. 

China

Chinese foreign policy consists of the following elements:

  1. Maintaining independence and state sovereignty.
  2. Maintaining world peace.
  3. Friendly relations.
  4. Enhanced unity and cooperation between developing countries.
  5. Increasing its opening and modernisation efforts.

China’s foreign policy also stipulates that China not engage in diplomatic relationships with any country that formally recognises Taiwan, which China does not recognise as a separate nation.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s foreign policy is lauded for strengthening its position and power regionally and internationally. Its objectives are enshrined in its constitution, and include:

  • the promotion and protection of the national interest
  • the promotion of African integration and support for African unity
  • the promotion of international co-operation for the consolidation of universal peace and mutual respect among all nations, and the elimination of discrimination in all manifestations
  • respect for international law and treaty obligations, as well as seeking settlement to international disputes by negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, and adjudication
  • the promotion of a just world economic order

What is the difference between foreign policy and international relations?

International relations is a discipline of political science and can be considered one of the social sciences – it’s an area of academic study that examines the interactions between countries. Foreign policy, on the other hand, is a working template that guides how one country interacts with others.

Foreign policy in practice: impacts and consequences

How does foreign policy influence international politics?

Because foreign policies are developed to protect a nation’s interests and influence its dealings with other nations on the world stage, they have a direct impact on world politics. But it’s also fair to say that international affairs help shape foreign policies, too. 

There are also a number of international organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that directly impact international relations and foreign policies, such as:

How does foreign policy affect the global economy?

Foreign policies can have a huge impact on the economy, both at home and abroad. While this is partially because policies often focus on the economic advancement of their nations, it’s also because almost all aspects of any foreign policy will have a knock-on effect on the wider global financial system.

For example, Foreign Policy magazine reported earlier this year that the war in Ukraine that was triggered by Russian President Vladimir Putin has already changed the world’s economy. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU has had an ongoing financial impact and consequences for trade relationships throughout Europe (and even farther afield), while the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures taken in various countries has had a lasting effect on global supply chains and finances.

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One of the core modules on this flexible, part-time master’s degree is in policy analysis, so you will explore and analyse the complexity inherent in contemporary social and public policy development and reform. You will critically examine the role of ideas, interests, institutions, and actors in the policy process, and explore the wider social, economic, and political processes that shape contemporary policy-making. You will also gain conceptual and analytical tools to undertake advanced applied policy analysis in a range of local, national, and international policy settings.

Additionally, this postgraduate degree includes a module in policy research, enabling you to critically reflect on the strengths, limitations, and appropriateness of different research approaches and techniques, and helping you to acquire the skills needed to evaluate and commission research for public policy and administration contexts.

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What is social and public policy?

Social and public policy is an interdisciplinary and applied social science that aims to critically analyse societal approaches to real-world issues. 

Through a combined application of political science, sociology, economics, law and philosophy, it investigates government action in response to social, demographic and economic development. The purpose of social and public policy is to understand the impacts of policy-making on welfare states and their communities.

There are notable disparities between the two fields. Public policy refers to the actual system of laws and regulatory measures underpinning government action. It comprises resource allocation within the areas of civilian life that impact society at large (such as crime, defence and education). 

Social policy, on the other hand, is more specifically concerned with the administration of social services and welfare. It draws on sociology to address the social context of policy-making, highlighting issues such as growing health disparities, class division, economic inequality and racial discrimination.

In terms of their interrelation, experts differ in opinion. Some believe social policy to be a subset of public policy, while other professionals consider them to be two separate, competing approaches for the same public interest. Overall, social policy is deemed more holistic than public policy.

What are the different types of public policy?

There are three primary types of public policy: regulatory, distributive and redistributive.

Regulatory public policy

This type of public policy ultimately provides the framework for ministerial rulemaking, setting the standards of what is lawful and what isn’t allowed in a bid to protect economic and social welfare. Regulatory public policy establishes the guidelines for developing, implementing and enforcing a system of public protections impacting the economy and civil society, and places restrictions on business practices in aims of keeping the market efficient and fair. Examples include minimum wage legislation and consumer safety law.

Distributive public policy

This type of public policy concerns legislation surrounding government funding into public goods or services that provide for the common good. Examples of this include funding of educational facilities and access to healthcare (such as the free distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines).

Redistributive public policy

These policies involve redistributing government funds from one group of people to a different group of people, to aid the more disadvantaged within society. Examples include progressive taxation systems, welfare distribution programs (such as Universal Credit) and student loans.

What is the purpose of social policy?

Social policy is concerned with how a government meets human needs. As a field of study, it considers the initiatives impacting quality of life (spanning health services, social care, housing, education and financial aid) and critically examines the policies, regulations and financial distribution that shapes the provision of welfare.

In doing so, social policy addresses the social and economic conditions that define barriers to access – such as poverty, age, health, disability and disadvantage. It notes the ways in which policies can be divisive and reinforce privilege and social inequality, with race, gender, class, sexual orientation and economic status acting as contributing factors to social cohesion and division.

Examples of social policy include an examination of antidiscrimination law, equal opportunity employment law, unemployment benefits, pensions, welfare initiatives (such as food stamps) and affordable housing initiatives. 

As British society has become more diverse, divided and disparate, social policy continues to expand fields of interest, including: 

  • regional inequalities;
  • the impact of climate change on vulnerable communities (such as those living in urban developments); 
  • government approaches to immigration and citizen’s rights; 
  • minimum living wages and modern slavery; 
  • education and social mobility; 
  • the policing of the poor.

At a top level, social policy also addresses how governments respond to global challenges (such as migration, pandemics and globalisation). As the divisions between the most privileged and vulnerable members of the community continue to grow, the case for social policy becomes ever more imperative to the survival of a fair and functioning society.

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