International Service has been working alongside the City of York Council to make sense of what the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mean for a local authority.

With support from Council officers, we completed a rapid assessment of the SDGs in York. This involved looking at the council's targets and mapping them against the priorities outlined in the 20 top-level corporate strategies that have been approved across all UK authorities.

There are 17 SDGs, but underneath the headline goals there are 169 individual targets to aim for – and counting.

We concluded that the council was progressing towards 70% of the relevant SDG targets under plans that were already agreed at the top level. But the remaining 30% were not present in the Council’s plans at the top level.

In other words, at a strategic level, City of York Council had no plans to progress against one third of the relevant SDG targets it either was responsible for, or were within its power to impact.

These findings were presented to the Council’s Central Management Team, where we unpacked the remaining third together. The lens of the SDGs helped focus the Council’s attention on their strategic strengths and blind spots.

An interesting finding was that two of the targets, both relating to tourism, directly contradicted the Council’s own plans. In this case, pursuing the SDGs would not have been in anyone’s interest, as York’s plans to have better rather than more tourism and tourism jobs speaks more closely to York’s current priorities. This shows the crucial role that local ownership and judgement have in getting the best out of the SDGs.

But of the rest of the third, some clearly presented strategic gaps for the city. In particular, it highlighted the fact that York has no comprehensive environmental strategy. In the SDG’s three core platforms of people, planet and prosperity, the main gaps in the Council’s plans are associated with the planet. As a prosperous city in a developed country, this is also one of the areas in which York has the furthest to go.

Through the collaborative process of working together on what the SDGs mean for York, this project stimulated conversations about impactful volunteering in York. This contributed to the development of York as a ‘City of Service’ and of a cross-city volunteering strategy: ‘People helping people’. City of York Council has been able to understand the coverage of its strategies against an evidence-based reference point. This will follow into the next Council Plan to ensure balanced outcomes across the city.

The key next steps for York would be to fill in the strategic gaps on the SDGs, provide local leadership on the matter and engage stakeholders and communities on the goals, and strengthen and adapt performance monitoring to include SDG-inspired targets, and fill any data gaps, to ensure we leave no-one behind.

Check out the full report here: Rapid Assessment Report

We would like to thank City of York Council and York Human Rights City for helping to make this happen.