Ellen Bassam, reporter for Operation Scrutiny, gives her take on February’s Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee and what might come next
Yesterday, the Resources and Governance Committee met to discuss CEM’s petition for a seventh scrutiny committee dedicated to the climate emergency. There was unanimous agreement from councillors to recommend for a reorganisation of the current MCC committee structure and create a committee solely focused on the environment and climate change. They will be recommending this reorganisation at the next Full Council meeting on the 31st March.
“…have a 6th committee – so not a 7th 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”
Following the standard formalised pleasantries, Chloe of CEM gave an impassioned and well-reasoned speech. Speaking on behalf of the 1,760 who signed the petition, her arguments moved seamlessly between the need for urgency, and the current inaction. The statistic that Manchester has already used a quarter of its carbon budget in just two years, hung in the online space, left unanswered by councillors as the meeting progressed. The technical glitch that required Chloe to give the speech twice perhaps a sign to demonstrate how those in power need to hold a bigger ear to the voices calling for change. The speeches final line spoke poignantly to a broader mood, ‘we cannot go back to business as usual’.
(Ironically, an ICT update was also on the agenda. That report, along with final proposals for the Corporate Core budget and a review of Capital Programmers and Projects took up much less time in the meeting and provoked far less lively discussion)
Accepting the petition in some form, with agreement in the need to change the committee structure is a real achievement for both CEM and the people of Manchester. In the councillors’ own words, the committees must change to reflect the needs of the times and provide scrutiny on how the council deals with issues as they emerge. There is little use alienating those who must act on our behalf, so we award credit where credit is due.
Cllr Clay raised a particular point of interest, calling for a reconsideration of all committees duties as we move into recovery mode from the pandemic. To tackle both pre existing inequalities, but also respond to public health challenges and lasting economic effects of Covid-19. He questioned how the council functions to improve life chances, and how best to look at these topics through the eye of scrutiny. Unbeknownst to him, it was an argument highlighting the need for climate justice to be front and centre of the recovery debate. Cllr Wright stressed the need for urgency and Cllr Simcock, cited the ‘one in a 1,000 year event’ Didsbury floods (which can be read about here), as imperative to act now. Now the water line has reached your back door, I suppose it is time to care.
The most striking takeaway from the meeting was not disagreement with CEM’s petition, but rather, the consensus and acceptance of the impending climate catastrophe. Consensus in many ways, is the hardest thing to fight, the hardest thing to hold accountable. By de-politicising and providing unquestioned agreement on the need to act, it removes the sting of those fighting for change. What it must not do, is lead to an apathetic response. This first step is commended, but the real work of the scrutiny committees (and Operation Scrutiny), has seemingly only just begun. We therefore ask the councillors: be bolder, be braver, ask the harder questions and hold MCC accountable on behalf of its citizens.