Doughnut Economics Application: Speech by Councillor Julian German

View the full transcript from Councillor Julian German's speech at the Independent Group Conference 2021.


Councillor Julian German
Cornwall Council

LGA Independent Group Conference, 29 October 2021

Hello, I am very pleased to be with you today. In thinking about this presentation and what they key messages are, it brings me back to our core principles.  

None of us in the broad church of the Local Government Independent Group are paper candidates who slipped through the electoral process. As Cllr Madhuri Bedi referenced in the question to Lord Victor Adebowale earlier, we are part of our community, we bring energy and enthusiasm to the challenges facing our community. We understand the networks within our community, and also those that effect our community. Whether we are stand alone in our authorities, in opposition or administration, we can make a difference, we can be the catalyst for positive change. So do not underestimate the change you can make.  

We deal with difficult decisions in complex systems all the time. We probably don’t think of them like this; we have our knowledge and we get on and do it, but if we had the time to analyse what we are doing, we would see the complex system we work in.  

In many ways this is what the application of doughnut economics in decision making is about; understanding the web of implications, positive or negative, and giving us the opportunity to make decisions which have the best environmental, social and economic outcomes. And whilst it can be complex, in my notes you will see a link to café disruptif, the easiest community doughnut ever. 

We all rely on our natural environment to survive and prosper. In Cornwall this is perhaps more evident than in some other places; it is a key source of wealth for us, be it through agriculture, tourism or renewable energy generation, but it is something that underpins the Cornish Identity. Whilst as a Council we have promoted sustainable stewardship and investment through policies such as our Environmental Growth Strategy, environmental concerns had struggled to find a formalised place in our decision-making processes. Declaring a Climate Emergency changed all that. A key priority identified in our Climate Change Action Plan was to incorporate holistic sustainable thinking processes into the way we debate and come to making democratic decisions. To this end, we developed our decision-making wheel. 

So this is the point of commonality for most of us, declaring the climate and ecological emergency. Then the climate change action plans we have produced. Embedding tackling climate change into council systems is really important, the action plan is one way of doing that. This provides a moment of opportunity for us as individual councillors to influence what is happening, whether that is through scrutiny, or motions to full council, or as a decision taker.

In Cornwall we also took the opportunity to create an overarching strategy to 2050, this called Gyllyn Warbarth, Together We Can, the Cornwall Plan. We did this through the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Leadership Board, ensuring all key partners, LEP, LNP, the Health System, Chamber of Commerce, etc all shared this strategy. In it we used the decision making wheel and UNSDGs to guide us. Part of our inspiration for this was Wales’ Future Generations Act, which is a great way of “thinking beyond the immediate.” Welsh colleagues will be familiar with this but if any of you are not, I urge you to take a look at it. 

The decision making wheel is based around Kate Raworth’s theory of doughnut

economics, that to live and prosper there is a certain amount we need to take from the world, a certain amount of damage we do, whilst at the same time there is only so much we can take before we exceed the planet’s capacity to replenish itself. In between lies a just and fair space where we can live sustainably. The decision making wheel embodies and embeds this principle in its design. There is an inner and outer wheel both consisting of 11 sections or segments. The outer wheel is related to the environment and the inner wheel relates to the social and economic. It is designed so that these sections are considered in conjunction with each other and that the wider effects of proposed initiatives are brought into the decision-making process. It is also a tool to prompt thought on how a project can further benefit the residents and environment in Cornwall. 

Lead officers complete one of these wheels during project or policy development to illustrate the positive and negative impacts of the decision being made in an easily accessible form that draws decision-makers to key issues that may require further debate, mitigation or even cancellation. 

To assist with lead officers rating each segment accurately, the tool is accompanied by detailed guidance with questions about each category carefully tailored in collaboration with representatives from key departments across the Council. The Carbon Neutral Cornwall officer team are responsible for developing and embedding this tool and training all relevant staff in its use. 

We are now on the second version of the wheel, which is semi-automated, scoring some segments automatically, depending on the answers given. This is combined with the Council’s existing risk assessment tool for new projects and policies to create a single project planning and impact assessment tool. It helps generate a more quantitative picture of our impacts as a Council through aggregating the scores it generates and will feed directly into the council’s carbon inventory to give an annual account of the decisions we are taking as well as the progress against our own carbon reduction targets. 

In addition to helping with the decision-making process, this exercise is helping build understanding of relevant social, economic and environmental concerns for the work that we do across a broad cross section of people involved in shaping the future direction of the work that we do. It is embedding a new way of thinking at the Council, helping people understand the inter-connectedness of our lives with the environment in which we live by demonstrating the trade-offs between generating social, economic and environmental growth. It is focusing the limited resources of our decision-making structures onto the most relevant issues which, at last, formally include the environment and our impact on it. 

We have undertaken extensive work to understand baselines. We have been undertaking Greenhouse Gas emissions inventories for the last decade but the wheel is much broader than this, so we have worked with local universities and others to partner with us and bring forward detailed data. This ensure that we can accurately measure how we are progressing, enabling us to think about what future actions are required. 

In adopting the decision making wheel Cornwall Council are looking to enable our people and planet to thrive. I commend this type of thinking to you. 

Credit to Alex Rainbow who wrote the core of this originally as an article. Any mistakes introduced and personal opinions are my own, Julian German 

Further information: 

The doughnut in Cornwall Council decision making. Less than 2 sides A4 briefing note.

Short LGA briefing paper: Cornwall Council: Doughnut economics in Council decision making Cornwall Council: Doughnut economics in council decision making | Local Government Association and similar on UK100 UK100 | Net Zero | Cornwall Council Decision Wheel | UK100 

Café Disruptif CAFEDISRUPTIF.COM - hello Home of the Creative Disruptors Collective Great site, very interactive with different mediums, great thinking and provocation.

The easiest community doughnut ever Autumn 2018: Eco-nomics Disrupted : The Doughnut Hack - CAFEDISRUPTIF.COM 

Vimeo 38minutes on how Cornwall Council’s decision making wheel (based on doughnut economics) works, the benefits and challenges it can bring and how to find support to develop the idea to suit your own organisation, as well as how Cornwall Council have adapted it to inform decision-making throughout the organisation Cornwall responding to the Climate Emergency | DEAL (doughnuteconomics.org) 

The state of the doughnut in Cornwall. Academic paper setting out the baseline data STATE OF THE DOUGHNUT (exeter.ac.uk) 

The Cornwall Plan 2020-50. Embedding the doughnut across all strategic thinking The Cornwall Plan 2020-250 

The carbon neutral challenge – resident facing The Carbon Neutral Challenge - Cornwall Council 

Cornwall Council climate change action plan:  
Resident facing Our Action Plan - Cornwall Council 
In detail Climate Change Action Plan (cornwall.gov.uk) 

Funding approach for communities example Cornwall Climate Emergency | Crowdfunder UK 

Wales Future Generations Act Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 – The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales