Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee 10th February: Montage before a major plot twist

Simon also tuned in for CEM this month to give his take on what happened at Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee (NESC). The summary below is part of Operation Scrutiny

After a January spent bingeing on Netflix, February’s instalment of the Neighbourhoods & Environment Scrutiny Committee felt like a montage before a major plot twist.

The agenda included reports on Neighbourhoods and Homelessness services after funding negotiations with Westminster.   Council officers had the thankless task of identifying cuts to services whilst preserving support for the most vulnerable people in the city. Cllr Rahman (Executive Member for Skills, Culture and Leisure) gave a challenge to the Government’s piecemeal approach to funding and an appeal for them to take this seriously.

The biggest talking point was the progress report on the council’s Climate Change Action Plan 2020-2025. The report was well received as a real improvement, listing projects across the city and their targets to reduce carbon emissions.

Replacement of street lighting with LEDs, swapping half the council’s waste fleet with electric vehicles and the 40 metre ‘Tower of Light’ (a gas-fired combined heat and power (CHP) system for civic buildings in the city centre) have all helped keep the council on track with carbon savings for the year. Most of this we’ve heard before.

Though delayed by the pandemic, carbon literacy training has been rolled out to 961 staff and councillors whilst over 300 people attended events in wards across the city that touched on environmental themes like air quality. These local events have all but stopped since lockdown and they committed to all staff being carbon literate by this point – interesting definition of “significant progress”.

So far, so good?

Cllr Kilpatrick highlighted the woeful response from Greater Manchester Pension Fund on calls to divest from fossil fuels. Cllr Stogia (Executive Member for Environment, Planning & Transport) said she has been crystal clear with the ambition for GMPF to become zero carbon by 2038, and that she’ll be “like a dog with a bone”.

Cllr Butt pressed to see if more carbon savings were possible from streetlights (unlikely), when the ‘Tower of Light’ would move to a renewable power source (not as soon as you’d like) and whether existing funding was sufficient to complete housing retrofit by 2038 (it isn’t).

Cllr Wright asked why the Skills for a Zero Carbon Economy group had not met since March 2020. Understandably, staff have been reassigned to support services due to the pandemic. It was also understood how important this work will be in the city’s recovery plan.

The progress report was informative both in what was included, and what was not. Cllr Jon Connor Lyons deftly asked for an update on the carbon budget, only to be told there are two of them, one for the council and one for the city. Happily, the council is well on track to meet its target for the year. Less good is the fact that Manchester has burnt through 25% of its carbon budget for the entire 21st Century in just two years. Even worse, we must wait until each July for an update by Manchester Climate Change Agency (MCCA) to see if that has improved (we highly doubt it).

Earlier this week, the council indicated it would accept Climate Emergency Manchester’s petition that scrutiny of climate issues are inadequate and will recommend a dedicated, but not new, scrutiny committee for the climate crisis. If carried through, it is crucial the new committee widens its view.

Summing up, Cllr Stogia gave an impassioned speech about retrofitting homes, improved health, green jobs and clean air for all. To deliver on that, the new committee must have the scope to provide scrutiny across Manchester, with input from the council, its partners, businesses and residents to raise the ambition of our council executive to lead all of us.  It is, after all, why they were elected.

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