Resources & Governance decides! Annotated transcript of debate on #climate scrutiny

Today the Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee of Manchester City Council kinda-sorta agreed with our petition for a scrutiny committee dedicated to climate change (see here for more details)

This page is a checked and annotated transcript of who said what.

There are 12 members of Resources and Governance Scrutiny. They are all Labour. (The broader problem of a  self-scrutiny in a council with 93 out of 96 councillors belonging to one political party is for another time).

All of them spoke, which doesn’t always happen at these sorts of meetings. Perhaps a sign that the political potato is hot.

Here’s the transcript of the post-Chloe Jeffries bit. Hyperlinks are by us. Snark is by us (obvs) and is in the third column.

The video footage is here.

Who is speakingTranscriptOur comments (as de-snarked as we can make them. Sometimes, only a meme will suffice).
Sarah RussellThank you very much. I’d now like to bring in Councillor Leese
Richard LeeseThanks chair,  Chloe. Perhaps to start off by saying that I very largely agree with what Chloe and the petitioners have had to say. Clearly, we have declared a climate emergency. It is a priority for the city. And I think we have been taking robust action. It’s worth bearing in mind within the context of climate emergency for the City not just the Council. The council only accounts for around 2% of Manchester emissions. If we’re going to tackle the climate emergency we need to be tackling the other 98%. We have no statutory powers to require other parts of the city to act. And we have no statutory basis to scrutinise either. 
The key to tackling the climate change emergency is partnership and that is why we as a council, have been working with particularly through Manchester climate change, agency to establish a partnership that does allow us to effectively tackle the climate emergency not by 2038, which is the timetable we set, but effectively within the next five years because we recognise the great degree of urgency. It is not something that happens in a matter of course, it is something that happens as a matter of purpose and it is the purpose of every part of the council to make its contribution to tackling climate change. And that does include health and health scrutiny, because it’s absolutely the case the climate emergency has a direct impact on the health of our citizens. Indeed, in some substantial items, its role of this committee itself. 

So, next week, The Executive will be considering the capital budget for next year, which is where much of the action that we take on climate change lies. And later in the month we’ll be coming to this committee to scrutinise before that goes to goes to Council. 

I think we have to make sure that we don’t  really really put climate change into a pocket somewhere and that everybody else can think it’s nothing to do with them. I think  that broad responsibility across the council is really really important. 

I think in the short-term as well, We have to recognise the importance of operating in another emergency as well, which is the COVID crisis. As we very clearly demonstrate today constrains our ability to [inaudbile] those in the most effective ways.
We would hope that as we move forward that we will be able to get through that. COVID emergency and meet in a more normal way.

I think we’re. I think fairly fundamentally agree with. Chloe is around the demands on the current  Neighbourhood scrutiny committee and its ability to operate fully as an environment committee. And I say as an environment committee I would not want to separate climate change from for example waste and recycling. So there is that entire environment agenda to be seen as one.
Labour group officers – for the public, Labour Group Officers are the elected leadership of the Labour group-  discuss and report to labour group relatively regularly on the balance and responsibilities between scrutiny committees, because they do change from time to time. Not something I would normally do, to read from the labour group officer minutes chair, but I’ll read from  22 labour group officer minutes from the 23rd of November 2020 which were circulated to labour group later that week. And the minute says “group officers discuss the balance of workload between scrutiny committees and are minded to recommend the following change in [classification?]. Homelessness is not currently identified in the constitution within the terms of reference of any scrutiny committee, and we propose that it would best lie within Communities. We also suggest all transport matters should be consolidated into economy, freeing up Neighbourhoods, to give more time to climate change, zero carbon at committee. And again, it’s important that the time was given to climate change, and zero carbon at the committee.”
So at the moment, we have an in principle proposal to effectively, from May this year when we will normally change the constitution committees to have not a seventh committee, but the neighbourhood committee to effectively become the Environment Committee, that Chloe talked about. And I think the proposal I would put is to agree that we do need an Environment Committee but that we can create that environment by redistributing responsibilities to other scrutiny committees that I do think have the time to do that. I’ll conclude there. I think the only thing I disagree with Chloe about was what how many committees we want. That we need a committee is something that I certainly would  agree with, and that has been discussed within the Labour Group. Thanks chair.
“very largely agree with what Chloe and the petitioners have had to say.” Yeah. As per this video last July.
Sarah RussellThanks very much, comments and questions based. Can I take Councillor Priest,
Bernard PriestThank you chair. Can I join with the leader in thanking Chloe for the work that she’s put into bringing this item to us today. And I do know that it’s not an item that is unfamiliar to us. As Richard has, said, as the Leader has said, we have been aware for some time of the need to clarify the position with regard to the scrutiny of issues to do with climate change. I think what the leader has said is a big step in the direction that we need to go in. I’d like to make a proposal to him and the executives, that we go just a little bit further – and that we clarify that that is the main committee, where issues to do with environmental integrity, climate change, biodiversity flooding and all the other challenges that face us. And we make that clear in the title of the committee. And, but we do not stop having climate change is one of the items that needs to be looked at by every committee. That I think remains a very powerful message to members of the council that. Climate change is a priority for declaring the emergency. 

If the leader had not made his position clear I was going to propose that we make a recommendation to the Leader and executive to rejig the contents, the remits,  of the six committees, so that one of them, takes a very public and very clear lead in the scrutiny of issues to do with climate change and wider, environmental challenges that we face in the city, in the world. So I welcome the leader said, I’d like us to nevertheless make that recommendation from this committee, because I think it will empower us all, as we go forward towards May when we revise such things, – it’ll focus all of our attention on what needs to be done.
 
Thank you.
 
I would like to make that proposal that we make a recommendation from this committee to the leader and the executive along the lines that the leader is actually outlined. I think it’s important that we do it formally.
Sarah RussellThank you Councillor Priest. Can I take Councillor Simcock and Councilor Clay. Then, I think Councillor Wheeler indicated in the chat next and then Councillor Wright. Can, can everyone just simply adhere to that order and speak in succession, unless anyone else indicates but they want to come in on a specific issues raised by those people.
Andrew Simcock (Didsbury East)Thank you chair Well, can I first of all, thank Chloe very much for her presentation. Some of the things that she said that really resonated with me, were that scrutiny arrangements need updating. I think we’ve just been talking about that. I like.the phrase “scattered not embedded”. And I think what Councillor Priest has just suggest, and what Councillor Leese was talking about would actually have the impact of embedding climate change in one of our six committees. She asked “has scrutiny caught up?”. Well, I think the proposal that Councillor Priest is suggesting would do makers, go a long way towards that. And it would also one of her other phrases was “equal standing “ so I’d be delighted, Chair, to second Council Priest’s recommendation. And one of the reasons why I’m so keen to do that is that I am a councillor for Didbsury East. And two weeks ago we had what the Environment Agency said was a once in a 1000 year event, affecting Didsbury, heavy flooding that was dealt with in an exemplary manner by the Environment Agency, and all the emergency services including the council, but it really gave me cause for thought about what exactly is going on with the environment and climate change, as it affects Didsbury, and obviously the whole of the rest of Manchester as well.
 I’d also like to say that in preparation for this meeting I had extensive conversations with one of my close colleagues Robbie, who’s from Didsbury West. We had 45 minutes on the telephone. And we had a good discussion about this. And also one of my other constituents, Alison Hawdale , who had a lengthy conversation with as well. So I feel very well prepared for this. And I think what we’d like to reassure Chloe and her colleagues that we are taking this very seriously, we regard climate change as an emergency. And I’d like to support what Councillor Priest had to say thank you very much.
Ben Clay (Burnage)Thank you chair.  I think I’m going to agree with everything I’ve heard. I think Chloe’s presentation was excellent. It made some very good points. I think we just had a very interesting discussion, both from Richard and Andrew just about the way the council actually works. I think. we certainly do need to show the priority we give to tackling climate change and making sure that we protect the environment and improve our environment across the city. I think the best way we can do that would be to have a committee that focuses on climate change and makes that clear in its remit. Whether or not that r equires a seventh scrutiny committees is a different matter and I think we’ve heard the reasons why a seventh scrutiny committees is perhaps difficult. [COUNCILLOR CLAY IS PRESUMABLY REFERRING TO THE PRE-MEETING, since in the public meeting nobody has raised difficulties!)

 I guess the way I’d  come at this now, is considering everything we’ve heard and thinking about what sort of structure we need for the council going forward, we need to consider all the different committees what their remits are as would normally be the case when we get round to that summer period, because we need to consider when we look at what we want the future to be, the new normal, you know. phrases like “building back better” and stuff bandied around. We need to show that we’re responding to changing circumstances, climate emergency is a huge priority for us, as is the response to the pandemic – both the public health response. Also the economic response – and we’ve also seen the huge impact in terms of differing outcomes, the pre existing inequalities that have been highlighted by COVID and the pandemic. And to tackle those inequalities, now we need to look at how the council functions to improve the life chances of everyone in our city. 
All these things mean that we do need to reassess how we look at things through scrutiny and perhaps, finding a way for different committee structures to function;  so we keep six committees, but one of them, focuses on climate change. I think that’s an excellent suggestion. I think that’s something that we should we should all .. So, agree with those and I think we do need to look at all our committees. There are other places perhaps where we can look at things like you know homelessness has been mentioned-  housing seems to go into several different committees as well. You know, can we reach up to the committee’s to make more sense to drive for the priorities we’ve got to improve things for Manchester people in the future. Thanks, Chair.
Sam Wheeler (Piccadilly)Thank chair. Thanks,, obviously to Chloe and to Climate Emergency Manchester for bringing this up, I think, dedicated Environment and Climate Change committee is very much an idea whose time has come. I’m sure Climate Emergency Manchester would say it’s an idea whose time had come some time ago. Regardless, I’m very glad that we seem to be generally in agreement on that. There will be some costs, but. as the leader has repeatedly the made the point when this issue has come to committee before, we invest in our city. Sometimes it is necessary to make those investments in order to secure the long-term future of Manchester. And I think that this would be a very sound investment in that sense.
I don’t think having this would preclude anyone else, looking at issues around climate change as and when they were cogent to the policy discussion.
We have a dedicated Health committee. We [asked] for the committees to take public health into account. All of us take the impact of things we just got some children, young people in Manchester into account – there’s still children and young persons committee. I don’t think it precludes it in any way. 
In terms of the technicality of numbers of committees. I’ve got no problem if there’s a 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, whatever is deemed necessary for proper scrutiny in Manchester.
I think ii iis worth re-emphasising particularly for people who might be watching you might not be aware that the role of scrutiny as opposed to scrutinise – itis not to make policy. And therefore we have to have that balance, and we don’t want a situation where we talk about things rather than doing.. I believe I’m on the record as preferring the committee system that is done elsewhere, rather to the system anyway. But as part of a wider look again – you know we’ve not always had six committees, they’ve not always been these committees These things change over time, in response to circumstances. So I am quite happy with the proposals that have come forward so far- that we’re going to have a dedicated environment and climate change scrutiny committee, and that the technicalities of exactly that balance and numbers is something we will discuss going forwards.
Annette Wright (Hulme)I had an idea of what I wanted to propose here, but listening to what’s going on. I think it probably will still propose it. But I do think a lot of what the leader said was, was very good and significant, and I think Councillor Priest’s proposal I do agree with, whatever else happens. 
I think what we have to do is to understand that there’s an emergency crisis situation here to demonstrate to everyone that we understand that and to be seen taking emergency action and I think, probably because of COVID, where we’ve fallen down over the last year. There’s a very good report coming to neighbourhoods tomorrow that I’m sure people watching this will be looking at as well, explaining where some of the money is coming from, some of the things we’re doing that’s talking about cutting our own emissions in terms of tonnes of carbon rather than the ways it’s been presented as it was previously and I think we got to that point, by having regular meetings of a subcommittee of the neighbours and environment scrutiny committee to regularly check where we were going with that.
I think we mustn’t go back to having yearly reports or whatever committee it is. Having said all that so one thing I was going to propose which is probably better for me to propose tomorrow at neighbourhoods is that that subcommittee is brought back. But that sub committee isn’t the same as a scrutiny committee it reports into the scrutiny committee but it’s meetings aren’t public in the same way as a scrutiny committee. So, if we are able to find a way that we can monitor our own emissions and look at how we putting our own carbon emissions, as a council in a public way on a regular basis, then that will be preferable to having a subcommittee because I think, you know, Richard [Leese] is right there’s things we can’t scrutinise and we have no authority to change, but what we can do is give a lead and I think that’s the important thing for the council to be doing because if we’re saying to anyone else what we want them to do. They’re gonna say well have you got your own house in order, and I think we are getting our own house in order, very much so, but we need to be able to demonstrate that and people need to be able to see that on a regular basis. So I think what Councillor Priest said is, is fine in the context of what the leaders said and I think for a recommendation from this committee, I think that’s a good one. I will go to neighbourhoods tomorrow and I know a few of us will want to talk in about our subcommittee there, but in the context of what’s been said here I think that that might be an interim measure that we need to introduce but I think in the long term, making sure that the climate emergency and climate crisis is scrutinised on an ongoing regular basis. However, that’s the key to this. And I also agree that every committee should be looking at it, I’m not sure but taking transport away from whatever it is as transport is very key in this, but whatever it is that goes off to another scrutiny committee that has to be linked into to the ongoing scrutiny of our own carbon emissions so I think having a place to discuss it really regularly with everywhere else discussing it as well, is the way forward and I’m just pleased to hear that that’s what’s being proposed.
Greg Stanton (Didsbury West)I think come next if I understand the ordering there so I just wanted to start by saying that similarly to councillor Simcock is a Didsbury resident to the first hand experience at the impact of the worsening climate emergency. Obviously during storm Christoph, some of the highest river levels on record and we only really narrowly avoided the river overtopping despite very thorough flood defences. So I want to thank you for Chloe for join us here at the committee today actually working in partnership with subject matter experts it’s something I think we would all welcome.
We are a talented city and we do have many voices to be heard and we have heard those around the table with persuasive and power arguments. I actually fully support modernising our existing committee structures to get the climate emergency a more dedicated focus. I recognise the green the specifics of which might take some time so to avoid that I would like to endorse Councillor Wright’s desire to see the climate change subgroup resume meeting and reporting having spent some time reading the minutes of that last meeting and looking at its future work plan. It actually has an enormous amount to do that it could get on with doing without any delay.
Emily Rowles (Moss Side)I just wanted to echo a few of the points that other councillors have made, particularly in support of Annette’s proposal, well conversation about reinstating the subcommittee that has an immediate kind of interim measure that’s really important. I also support Bernard’s proposal Councillor Priest’s proposal in terms of having a dedicated scrutiny committee that focuses specifically on climate emergency. I think the crucial word which Councillor Wright touched on is this is an emergency we need to be making something coming out of this, coming, coming soon that we can get back on the work to be done there, but also a separate scrutiny committee in line with council approved suggestions.
Sarah RussellI understand that Councillor Davies has a comment to make.
Joan Davies (Deansgate)I just simply wanted support, particularly what’s been said before by councillor what’s been particularly what Councillor [Annette] Wright. The idea of doing something quite quickly, changing some structural scrutiny aspects is important, but also keeping hold of an idea that this is everybody’s, on everybody’s agenda, and not just a specialist agenda for those who build the strongest agenda that we have therefore an interim measure, a long term structural measure in particular to what Councillor Priest has suggested…
Sarah RussellThank you Councillor Davies. I think all members here that indicated they wanted to speak at least once, on this topic. Is there anyone who hasn’t spoken, who would still like to speak?
Councillor Ali please do come in.
Ahmed Ali (Rusholme)Thank you chair, thank you very much. I joined the council in 2012. Prior to that I was a very keen observer of Manchester a Certain Future that our leader just been talking about in terms of forging a partnership and the fact that climate change is taken very seriously by the city. I just want endorse the fact that internationally climate change, with deforestation weather disruptions around the world, particularly, Professor [Kevin] Anderson made presentation in 2012 2% [sic 2°C] rise in temperature would actually cause flooding in Manchester. So the emergency, the climate change emergency has to be given credence in terms of how we deal with it. I see Manchester stands quite good in terms of what we want to do in terms of carbon reduction, so I support what’s being said and thank Chloe for bringing this petition. Pushing the ideas forward and to make sure that we do credible things and what we essentially want to see some outcomes. So, it’s not that we just talk about it, but there’s action. I think this city is actually relishing all of the stuff that we were actually embarking on particularly looking at climate change and the stuff for housing you know retrofitting and other stuff, you know, the lighting and other stuff that we’re doing for the city. And as we just said, the council is only doing 2% and the 98% is elsewhere with the businesses and the other partners, they need to come on board. Therefore, it’s to focus on the work, whichever committee deals with [the issue] whether it’s climate emergency and environment. We need to focus on the work that we do in the city, and making sure there are tangible outcomes so I’ll just reinforce everybody who else said, you know, especially particularly agree with Bernard. At the end of the day it’s about outcomes so whoever’s leading on this we need to see outcomes. Thank you.
Sarah RussellI couldn’t agree more Councillor Ali about the importance of outcomes in this area, and I’d also like to endorse everything that everyone said about the importance of scrutiny and the importance of the democratic process and I think that’s why we’re all here because we all actually fundamentally believe in that. And I do think scrutiny has an immense role to play in this area. I have been reflecting on what we do as a scrutiny committee actually in the ways in which we could incorporate more of this agenda within our agenda. And because I completely agree that it’s important. This gets greater attention from a committed committee, but that absolutely mustn’t mean that the rest of us take our eye off the ball. And so I definitely feel that we need to have a paper later in the year on those of the financial implications of this and that we continue to monitor the spend both capital and revenue that is dedicated to this. I understand councillor Lanchbury wants to speak .
Shelley Lanchbury (Higher Blackley)My colleagues, I wouldn’t like to repeat comments that they have already made.But  I agree with. Leese’’s proposal, but I think I am very much with you on that we must make sure that other committees don’t take their eyes off the ball that we are not – allowed is not the right word – but that reports can and we will be encouraged to those committees that cover those other parts of our work.
Sarah RussellI understand that the Leader would like to come in.
Richard LeeseI don’t know if you want to take it but I see in the chat that Chloe indicates that she wants to ask a question before we move on so maybe want to talk to – obviously that’s up to you, but maybe maybe you want to consider that.
Sarah RussellThanks. Chloe,  would you like to come in and ask your question?
Chloe JeffriesI just wanted to get clarification on what the recommendations are, and to make sure that we’ll have them in writing. And also clarification on what the next steps would be. Specifically, whether these ideas that are being discussed now will be put to full council and discussed alongside the text of the petition.
Sarah RussellI will let the Leader come back in, and then we absolutely will be clarifying the precise wording of the recommendations. I like, I like wording to be really specific so it will be really specific, And I’ll let the leader come back in first.
Richard Leese (Crumpsall)Thanks chair, and I have to say there appears to b ea broad consensus about what Councillor Priest had to say. I think this is partly coming down to precision of language, but I don’t think there is any real difference between what has already been discussed within the labour group and what Councillor Priest has said today. I have to say though with one exception. It doesn’t go to the Executive, because the executive might do lots of things but it doesn’t decide what committee structure we have. And the constitutional rule is actually by a constitutional nomination committee rather than via the executive. So that would lead into,  although I said in the introduction that these are changes that we would normally make the annual meeting in May. We do not have to wait until May;  we have a council meeting in seven weeks time, if we wish to change the balance of the committee’s we can do  at that meeting then. 
I heard what Councillor Wright had to say about restoring the working group on a temporary potentially temporary basis. It would be better to move more quickly to a faster permanent arrangement, not least I do have to repeat this is particularly for the senior officers and the officers who are preparing the reports for our committees,  the level of overwork they are under at the moment is quite remarkable really which I see on almost on a daily basis and my daily basis I would  include Saturdays and Sundays as well. And what Councillor Simcock and Councillor Stanton had to say about dealing with a flood – large number of officers working all through the weekends, as well the nights. And we have we do have to recognise that there is a very very real stress on our officers
The technicality. It goes to via Constitutional – Cons and Noms – to Council. But certainly, a recommendation along the lines of what Councillor Priest had to say  to be implemented at -AT-  the next council meeting is something I’ll be very supportive of.
Sarah Russell (Northenden)Can I suggest them that we make a recommendation that the existing committee structure is reviewed, with a view to significantly greater emphasis being given on climate change, and the environment more broadly, with a view to there being a committee which is predominantly focused on that. And I think that wording gives a degree of flexibility around. I think that it’s appropriate for this committee to come up with specifics about what other committees should or shouldn’t deal with. Those committees have chairs, they have members ,there needs to be a conversation about tha. But the primary emphasis absolutely needs to be on what we’ve agreed today, which is that there should be a committee whose primary focus remains environment and climate change and related issues.
Is that the wording that we’re comfortable with? Was that clear. Sorry, I’m slightly, it’s quite tricky to get precise wording on the spot. I’m getting nods of heads for those who can’t see everybody else on the live stream. Councillor Wheeler and Councillor Andrews.
Sam WheelerChair, I understand that terms about wording. I do think – I understand what you mean about we don’t want to redefine other people’s remits – kids. I think as Governance Committee, it is within our remit to recommend to Cons and Noms to make a recommendation about governance on that basis. And I think given the nature of petition something along the lines of that we would recommend to Cons and Noms that a “committee is organised, whose primary focus is environment and climate change”. reflects the strength of what we’ve been asked.

I just don’t i don’t want to particularly after Chloe’s very good contribution and the petition, I don’t want people to go away feeling unsure
And I think that that does reflect the nature of the discussion we’ve had.
That we’re not recommending to Neighbourhoods, we’re recommending to Cons and Noms.
Sarah RussellAgreed,  absolutely agreed. And I, I don’t want the wording to be vague. I don’t want anyone to think that the wording is vague in some form of obfuscation because it absolutely isn’t. It’s about ensuring that the process can function well, to make sure that we get the best way of doing things about being overly prescriptive whilst absolutely maintaining the commitments-  what we’ve all agreed that’s the right way forward.Councillor Lanchbury I think you were indicating? No? Apologies
Councillor Andrews.
Paul AndrewsThank you chair. I full support what Councillor Wheeler’s just said.  Our recommendation should go to Cons and Noms  as soon as possible. Even if they have to have a special meeting to determine it, but primarily it has to also carry a bit of weight which turns around and says that its intention is then to go with any changes to the full Council in seven weeks time. So I think it’s important to actually get them points on the back of it.
Sarah RussellCouncillor Clay, Councillor Leese.
Ben ClayThanks. I just think it’d be useful for people watching for someone to give the full definition of the Constitution and Nominations committee and what its function is because a lot of people won’t have heard of it.
Sarah RussellCouncillor Leese, you wanted to speak anyway, so I suggest , I’m sure that you could give us a comprehensive answer to that question.
Richard Leese (Crumpsall)I’m not sure, actually, Councillor Clay, that the vast majority of the public will be remotely interested in more Coms and Noms – I think they’re more interested in outcomes to be, to be honest and. And if we are going to be totally honest and transparent let’s be clear that the decision is a decision will be made by the labour group not by Coms and Noms, who will implement that decision. There is no point in having an earlier meeting of Cons and Noms, because Cons and Noms is not a decision making committee, it will make recommendations to Council. So I thought that what Councillor Russell had to say was remarkably clear:  that we will establish effectively an environment, we will establish an environment and climate change committee. I was describing a process that the quickest way we can do that is by taking it to Council in seven weeks, time. If we take those two things I think that I think people will understand that myself.
Sarah RussellCouncillor Wright
Annette Wright (Hulme)Can I agree with Councillor Leese. I think the important thing is to get this done as quickly as possible now. And I think the other important thing for the people whose petition this is is that this goes to a meeting of the full Council and if it’s possible to do that in seven weeks time I would totally support that.
Sarah RussellOkay. Does anyone else want to speak?. I think the recommendation was that we would have a sixth committee – so not a seventh one. But a re-organisation of existing structures within existing resources to allow for a committee that is focused primarily on environmental issues, and climate change, and the recommendation is that that goes to the appropriate constitutional route, as quickly as is feasible.
I think we are probably there. 
Can I thank everyone for their participation in this discussion, can I thank you everyone who took the time to sign the petition and to contact us by email, and the people who have taken time to speak to us about these issues. And can I thank all the Council staff who’ve been involved in preparation of reports, and everyone else for a very interesting discussion. Then I am afraid we know we’ll be moving on to the corporate court budget.

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