Economy Scrutiny Committee 14 January 2021 – Reports reveal money has run out for retrofit, no questions asked

The final January report from Team Scrutiny covers the Economy Scrutiny Committee

Manchester City Council’s first Economy Scrutiny Committee of the year took place on Thursday 14 January 2021. The Council’s Scrutiny Committees look at how the “decisions, policies and services of the Council and other key public agencies impact on the city and its residents.” The Economy Scrutiny Committee, as you would expect, specifically looks at the city’s economy and how issues affect the city’s residents.

In the formal description we are also told that the Economy Scrutiny Committee “works closely with the Council and its partners to ensure that they are doing everything they can to maximise their benefits for residents from improvements to the economy and to ensure that they are protected in less prosperous times. Areas of interest include economic growth, strategic transport, employment and skills, development, tourism and the regeneration of neighbourhoods”.

So, plenty of scope for the Committee to talk about the all important zero carbon commitments the Council set itself in 2019. You’d think? Right?

There was a lot to get through with the first meeting of the year, with a couple of big ticket items mixed in with the standard fare of (now routine) COVID-19 reports and the like. First up was the Growth and Development Directorate Budget proposal which looked at the savings proposals for the 2021/22 budget. Supporting Manchester’s commitment to be a zero carbon city by 2038 is “a priority for the directorate” and Council Leader Leese explained the budget will help deliver key objectives in the mission to achieve zero carbon – tackling the environmental performance of buildings. 

However, as usual with the Council, there are commitments to these ambitions but vague substance with very little detail about what would be a measurable outcome. For example, how exactly will it use its “influence and leadership to encourage others to reduce CO2 emissions”? Surely the Council won’t simply tick that box without demonstrating how it influenced and led… and I’m not sure a Economy Scrutiny Committee will effectively hold the Council to account on this…

Next on the agenda was a report from a tenants consultation about the decision to close the Arm’s Length Management Organisation, Northwards, which manages MCC’s housing stock.  This item was also discussed at  the Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee two days previously. Although we know that there is a lot going on and time is limited, it seems that in the current scrutiny structure there are some issues that get discussed twice, and others not at all. To recap for those who did not wade through the R&G papers, the Council is looking to bring the management of its housing stock in-house. The report to the Economy Scrutiny Committee included an explanation that there wasn’t enough money to carry out the planned retrofitting of existing homes by Northwards to meet Zero Carbon targets. Shockingly, this wasn’t discussed in the meeting. 

The next item also looked at housing, although in a little less detail. Regrettably so, given that the issue was one of the most pressing facing the city: affordable housing. Cllr Richards (Exec Member for Housing and Regeneration) outlined how there had been difficult circumstances for construction in the past 12 months, but there now was a pipeline of affordable housing. The definition of ‘affordable’ was not discussed, although Cllr Shilton-Godwin (Chorlton Park) and Cllr Johns (Deansgate) asked pragmatic questions about feasibility and speed of this ‘pipeline’, particularly the longer-term ambitions.

Unfortunately, the final few items rest of the meeting trundled along in a similar fashion. There were passing comments in reports around COVID-19 recovery and the Our Manchester Strategy Refresh to the Committee about zero carbon commitments, but with very little (if any) discussion in the meeting about what can be done to achieve those ambitions. A pattern emerges.

Not good enough.

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