Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee 10th February: Don’t panic, everything is under control…

Juan tuned in from Malaga to Manchester for CEM this month to give his take on the first 90 minutes of climate scrutiny since July 2020 and possibly one of the last Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee (NESC). The summary below is part of Operation Scrutiny

Don’t panic because everything is under control, the council has done a great report, and the councillors asked the right questions. At the Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee, everybody seemed please with the report. It breakdowns all the council actions in 41 points, and expanded on this in the appendix with pictures and graphs.

Councillors met to scrutinise the progress of the Manchester City Council Climate Change Action Plan 2020-2025. It was about 90 minutes when councillors have a chance to ask questions, many of those were good. By any means, we want to reduce burden on over-stretched council staff, but some people may think to dedicate the time of a football match to talk about the climate emergency after ten months is not enough.

Nonetheless, the Resource & Governance Scrutiny Committee’s recommendations to propose to the full council meeting on March to reshuffle the scrutiny committee system, and focus one of them exclusively on Environment.

After a quick overview of Neighbourhoods Directorate Budget and Homelessness Directorate Budget, which may well deserve a deeper look, councillors jumped into the Climate Change Action Plan.

Cllr Annette Wright (Hulme) asked how many council staff have now received the carbon literacy training, which has been just over a thousand according to the report. If the target was all the staff had the training by the end of 2020, this figure is not impressive, despite the pandemic.

Two more issues were raised on behalf of Hulme’s residents about the Carbon Advertisement Campaign and to ensure schools meals are local and kids have access to meat-free day, but answers were dodged. However, Cllr Akbar didn’t miss the opportunity to remind that the council has spent £51,000 on 21 climate projects.

Cllr Paula Appleby (Moston) wanted to know how the council keeps progressing in the fight against climate change, Cllr Stogia answered clearly: “Continuing our work in reducing our emissions and climate change is on my top 3 priorities”.

But to the question if the council building emissions has reduced its emissions thanks to its action or due to de decarbonisation of National Grid and Covid, the officer recognised it’s been a mix.

Furthermore, recently, the council purchased electric bin lorries that would reduce the emissions from Biffa, and Cllr Jon-Conor (Piccadilly) wanted to know when it would be shifted to all of the fleet.  The answer: “Next significant change will be in 2026”, what it might seem like a long time in an emergency but, “We have a lot of options to consider, which include electric, hydrogen, and any other options that come out in the coming years”.

Cllr Kilpatrick (West Didsbury) asked about one of the elephants in the room; GMPF and divestment from fossil fuels. For once, Stogia and Kilpatrick were on the same page as they are still waiting for a response from the Pension Fund. “GMPF position is that they don’t believe this is the right approach”, Stogia said. So, Manchester City Council and the whole Greater Manchester Green City Board will keep pushing them.

Cllr Butt (Chetham) mentioned one of the city’s key projects, as the ‘tower of light’ which will connect several buildings in city district through pipes. It will heat the buildings, although at the moment there are only five buildings connected, and is fuel by fossil gas. It will supposedly gain efficiency when more buildings get connected to its network or continue to be known as the ‘tower of shame’ to others.

It’s fair to say this committee has been active this month. However, they barely mentioned the fact that almost a quarter of the zero carbon budget has been consumed. The city has many promising projects in the pipeline, and this is why we are looking forward to the next council meeting. We wish one scrutiny committee dedicated exclusively to council action against climate change will help boost a green, real and just, recovery.

What next?

We’ve got another take from Simon coming soon for NESC to publish as well as other scrutiny committees this month.

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