Our fabulous reporters covered all seven scrutiny committees of Manchester City Council in the final round of meetings before the local elections. Here are the key points we learned.
- From our Health Scrutiny reporter @hbjewell, we discovered that the vaccination programme is working well, in part, because of a huge public spotlight, increased scrutiny and proactive engagement with residents. A lesson with implications for other issues. But you should really read Hannah’s blog for her personal take on why the health scrutiny committee must consider conditions linked to the climate crisis and its ‘co-conspirator’ air pollution next municipal year.
- Communities and Equalities Scrutiny committee did touch on the climate emergency this month. Our reporter Jackie Haynes (@houseofhaynesfd) tracked the discussions of the city’s Cultural Impact Survey, which revealed that 33 of the 47 cultural organisations participating have a carbon reduction program and only 19 out of 47 have at least one member of staff with accredited Carbon Literacy training (323 carbon literate individuals in total). Jackie saw this as cause for concern more than celebration, rightly wondering about those organisations with no plan at all. “If this is how cultural organisations in the city are leading the way, we’re not going to get there any time soon”. Jackie also recommended the bumper report accompanying the meeting, Culture and Covid support, for anyone seeking understand the impact of the pandemic on Manchester’s cultural sector and how it might recover.
- Community initiatives also took centre stage at this month’s Economy Scrutiny Committee. The update on the Withington Village Framework – a plan to regenerate Withington Village steered by a network of community and stakeholder groups – received universal acclaim. However, questions about under-represented groups need to be pursued as this framework develops and the groups involved push for funding.
- Social value was the key issue for our Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee reporter Ellen Bassam. The council’s revised approach to social value is often wheeled out as an example of how it is responding to many a crisis, including the climate emergency. But Ellen drew attention to the potential for the social value weighting to be applied in a narrow sense, only to projects with an ‘obvious’ environmental impact (i.e. Highways). Equally worrying for Ellen was the committee’s revelation that MCC currently collects no data on BAME-owned businesses.
- Children’s and Young People Scrutiny Committee took place one day after most Manchester schools re-opened their doors, with glimmers of longer-term and strategic issues returning to this committee come May. Nevertheless, if you want to chart the impact of the third lockdown on Manchester’s education system you could do far worse than turn to Mike Franks’ forensic work for the past three months. An important and unique chronicle.
- And what about the Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee, the last meeting in its current guise? After the ‘feast’ of February’s climate update, reporter Simon Jermy witnessed a ‘famine’ of climate discussion – a microcosm of the past eighteen months. Simon’s witty pen portrait showed a committee veering towards demob happy, with talk of fairy wands and wish lists. But whatever the name and whatever the remit of the successor to NESC, we know that there is serious and sustained work to be done here, and precious little chance of magic.
Where climate did feature this month was at the Executive on 19 March, which ‘reviewed’ the City Council Climate Action Plan. The talk here was only of progress, with little acknowledgement by the Executive that Manchester was likely ‘off the pace’ in emissions and no mention of the real reason for any gains made thus far (austerity). Read journalist Alex King’s on point piece to understand how this one played out.
Finally, we reported on what may be Manchester City Council’s shortest ever meeting – a bonus gathering of the Cons and Noms to approve voting arrangements.
“The Cons and Noms meeting on Wednesday 31st March will possibly be slightly longer, and definitely more interesting, because it is at that one that the new scrutiny arrangements will be looked at before they are sent to full Council later the same morning. Will there be a strong committee, that has the whole city’s emissions in its remit, and co-opted members, or will Manchester City Council try to get away with a shallow rebranding exercise? Watch this space.”