Jackie Haynes tuned into January’s Communities and Equalities Scrutiny Committee and wished there was a committee like this for scrutinising the climate emergency.
What is the Communities and Equalities Scrutiny Committee?
According to the MCC website:
“The Communities and Equalities Scrutiny Committee challenges public services to work together to make Manchester a safe city. The Committee tests how the Council and its partners are making sure their services are equally easy for all Manchester’s diverse residents to access. The Committee have discussions with these organisations and use experiences of representing residents from a wide range of backgrounds to recommend to them how they can ensure their services meet the needs of all Manchester residents.
Areas of interest include cohesion, equality and inclusion, services for older people, advice services, young offenders, domestic violence, crime and policing, the voluntary sector, culture, libraries and theatres, and leisure and sport.”
What were the major issues discussed?
The focus of the Communities and Equalities Scrutiny Committee was largely on the Neighbourhoods Directorate Budget Proposals for 2021/22, the new draft of the Our Manchester Strategy Reset called Our Manchester Strategy – Forward to 2025 and Manchester’s Park Development Programme for 2021 – 2025.
Imagine an agenda of devastatingly urgent climate items being discussed in the same manner that the following devastatingly urgent agenda items were discussed.
Budget proposal cuts of £50m were proposed as better news than the anticipated £100m. With leisure services closed for foreseeable future, Cllr. Grimshaw (Miles Platting and Newton Heath) asked where might subsidy come from and could an update be provided on application for external funding.
Cllr. Dar (Ancoats and Beswick) sought to encourage the council to think carefully about increasing or introducing charges for replacement recycling bins and to encourage greater recycling whilst acknowledging that people through no fault of their own, may not have bins and maybe can’t afford to pay for them. In answer came confirmation that this was being brought forward and was not a proposal, due to the cost of continual replacement of bins, often linked to bin contamination, requiring more discussion and work to be done.
Proposed changes to the council’s Animal Welfare Service were raised by Cllr. Kirkpatrick (Charlestown), which had also been brought up in the preceding scrutiny committee, requiring clear procurement specifications from new providers.
Our Manchester Strategy – Forward to 2025 is a draft of the 2015 document being reset due to Covid. The deputy council leader was taken to task, particularly by Cllr Hitchen (Miles Platting and Newton Heath) who asked what the strategy has achieved in the past 5 years to make sure that children in poverty have had their lives uplifted.
Cllr. Doswell (Fallowfield) made reference to the report’s commitment to Zero Carbon City, minimum national wage and how it worked in conjunction with other strategies. She stated, however, that it does not reflect the interests of working-class communities enough and asked how the council, by reaching out to people struggling possibly for first time in their lives, would feed this into the report. She urged looking at other family poverty strategy reports, emphasising that this was not just a document in isolation.
The City Wide Parks Development Programme’s Parks in Partnership Fund of £30k per ward for park projects intends to raise standards and help close income and expenditure gaps. This was well-received with a note of caution from Cllr Grimshaw, that £30k won’t go far in a park but smaller groups working within parks will benefit. Cllr Dar requested timelines and points of contact and asked how scrutiny committee members could help the council Executive make sure that all get what is necessary for our parks, residents and young people.
The Covid report was commented upon briefly in terms of how resilience was built into the system this time round, with the foresight to prepare for the emergency through autumn for winter.
Cllr Moore (Withington) asked would the Domestic Violence Strategy be reported back to this committee for more discussion, with the Domestic Violence Bill going through Parliament at the moment. With regards to Homelessness, she asked if the council were lobbying Government for an eviction ban extension from 21st Feb, and also, has the council modelled impact on services to make sure of enough provision for increase in need, in the event of no extension.
The debating, tenacious questioning, sense of urgency and cross-committee referencing evident in this meeting conspicuously lacked reference to the aspirations emitted by Manchester City Council in its own climate emergency declaration, despite the desire for a ‘low carbon city’ being prominently profiled across reports and supplementary agenda. Taking this meeting as an example, it was not difficult to see how, given this platform, a 7th Scrutiny Committee on Climate and Environment might interconnect with all six scrutiny committees. This would activate the politics of care which underpin the urgency for climate justice, and certainly without detracting from or distorting the urgency of the issues raised.
If you’d like to see for yourself: