Green Neighbourhood Investment Fund rejected by Manchester councillors

Juan Villanueva, who runs The Green Bee website, reports from the last scrutiny meeting of Manchester City Council before the 2020-21 budget is decided

On Monday 24th February, the Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee (1) met to discuss about some minor amendments on Manchester City Council’s budget 2020/2021. There were four amendments to discuss; two of them were regarding the Climate Crisis. The first one was by a Liberal Democrat Cllr Greg Stanton in Didsbury West and the other one by the Labour Cllr Jon Flanagan Miles Platting and Newton Heath. The only one, which passed through the scrutiny of the committee was proposed by the Labour’s Cllr Flanagan.

At the beginning of the meeting, Executive Members made a statement on the budget. The most repeated word was ‘uncertainty’. It is due to the revision of business rates and the unclear consequences that the UK Government will face in a Post-Brexit era. In fact, this budget only covers the financial year 2020/21, while the previous one had covered three years. Richard Leese, Leader of the Council, said: “We are clearly still suffering from 10 years of austerity, 10 years of cuts. That cuts are not yet over”.

Stating that the budget prioritises Adult Social Care, Children and Schools, and Homelessness he continued “The principle underlining the budget is protecting the most vulnerable within this city.” Leese, who has been Leader of Manchester City Council since 1996, added, “we need to maintain growth in our economy”.

At the next meeting of the Executive, on 11th March, the are scheduled to discuss and accept a “Partnership” 5 Year Climate Action Plan. This Plan will be presented next Wednesday 4th of March at Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee. It was supposed to be released on Tuesday 25th February, but at time of publication still has not been.

Climate Emergency Manchester is holding a pre-meeting for interested citizens, from 12 noon onwards at Patagonia, 51 King St. No need to book, just turn up.

Executive Members told the Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee that the Climate Emergency declared in July 2019 is in the heart of the budget. Cllr Ollerhead, Executive Member for Finance and Human Resources named the year upcoming as ‘choppy waters’.

Regarding the amendments to the budget, the first one was proposed by Lib Dem Cllr Stanton. He proposed to allocate an extra budget of £960K over three years phased equally on the 32 wards to enable a “Green Neighbourhood Investment Fund”. This fund would encourage residents to participate in carbon reduction on a community-led basis. “We know the next five years are the most important five years. I welcome everything else that may come forward after this, but we have not that in front of us today. What I do want is use this stream of funding as soon as possible.”

This 10K per ward was rejected.

The second amendment relevant was proposed, in what Cllr Flanagan himself described as “deliberately vague” terms. The proposal is to set up a one-off fund for £250k from the revenue account, called Spring Challenge Fund. With this Fund, Flanagan wants to engage residents in the fight against Climate Change. “The real challenge is what all our residents who actually positively want to engage and take real action to mitigate against climate change”. With this money, Flanagan wants to give money to individuals, groups, schools and communities who want to improve their area.

The objections to this amendment were more in the way of the administration than in the message. Although, in the eyes of this author, it is very similar than the one proposed by Stanton this was proposed for review, with the significant different that it comes from the Council’s Capital Revenue and not from the Reserves

Apart from those amendments, the Executive Member for Housing and Regeneration, Suzanne Richards, warned that due to cuts from the Government, far fewer houses will be constructed and less money will be provided for improving the existing house stock. In Manchester, this means £400m less over 30 years. Housing Revenue Account also faces other challenges related to climate change: “An early indication shows that retrofit our existing stock we are looking a first asset of £200m”.

(1) Resources and Governance is one of the six scrutiny committees. You can learn more about how the Council works by reading the recent CEM report “MCC and Climate Change for beginners.”

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