Proposed revisions to the scrutiny committees of Manchester City Council: what they mean and what you can do to make them stronger

We now know more about how Manchester City Council will rejig its scrutiny arrangements to make climate and environment more central to one committee. The proposed revisions to the remit of the scrutiny committees are public and will likely be rubber-stamped by Full Council when it meets on Wednesday 31 March. Some of the story so far is covered in the introduction to the report that accompanies that meeting, although if you’re reading this blog without hearing about our epic petition campaign or the address to the Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee in February, we suggest you catch up on a few of our own blog posts first (also: where have you been?!).

Here we set out our initial thoughts on the proposed revisions, then what you can do – today, next week, and over the coming months – to make the revisions stronger and to increase our chances of getting sustained, meaningful scrutiny of climate in Manchester.

Brace yourself for minimal change. This is not a revolution (although it will be webcast). Most of the scrutiny committees will retain exactly the same remit. That’s the case for Health, Children and Young People, Resources and Governance. Nevertheless, it is good to see the report to Full Council (under point 3.7) reiterate the broad agreement from February’s Resources and Governance that all scrutiny committees should consider climate change.

“[…]tackling climate change continues to be a cross-cutting priority for the Council and all of its committees, and that other Scrutiny Committees should continue to scrutinise climate change issues in relation to matters that fall within their terms of reference.”

This is an assertion we will test in the new municipal year, with our Team Scrutiny coverage of all six scrutiny committees and an eye on how the climate emergency intersects with multiple crises.

The old Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee (NESC) will, from May 2021, be known as the ‘Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee’. The new wording states that this committee will cover ‘environmental issues concerning the city’, ‘the climate change strategy’ and ‘carbon emissions’. A couple of NESC’s responsibilities, such as highways and housing (always an issue that straddles briefs) have gone, to be more firmly rooted in other committees (Economy, Communities and Equalities).  Do you like parks, green space? Well, then the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee is the one you should tune in to from May, as those issues will be in its purview. The wording around planning in the environment one has also changed (from NESC’s ‘planning’ to ‘planning policy and related enforcement’ in the new look committee). The implications of this remain to be seen. No scrutiny committee trumps the approval powers of the Planning Committee.

The remit makes no explicit reference to the carbon emissions of the city, nor whether this committee will scrutinise the Councilowned Manchester Climate Change Agency and Partnership. This matters, as our 1 minute video explains. The Council’s own emissions only account for 2% of Manchester’s carbon emissions. Although there is some early stage work on the role the Council can play in influencing the remaining 98%, there is a real danger that unless the Environment and Climate Change committee is scrutinising this partnership work, bad news will be swept under the rug (or buried in the footnote of an annual report). And there will be setbacks and delays: the 98% is the much tougher task. It involves influencing, partnerships, creativity, risk (not simply telling other bodies what to do. We know that’s not possible).

Some may hope the revised remit gives the new committee scope to look at city-wide emissions, and it may. But in this crucial moment of revision, we must future-proof the arrangements and guard against the possibility of politicians later down the line showcasing only the positive developments. The Environment and Climate Change committee cannot just scrutinise the easier fixes, the Council’s own emissions. It cannot just receive guest speaker-style presentations from its own Climate Change Agency, but must hold it to account. If this ambition is not explicit in the remit of the new committee, from the outset, then Manchester may burn through the second quarter of its carbon budget even sooner than we feared.

 

So what can you do to make the scrutiny arrangements stronger?  21 organisations (and counting) have signed an open letter calling for the strongest possible set of scrutiny proposals. If you are part of an organisation, join them on the letter. It’s not too late to get in touch with us and add your name  (contact@climateemergencymanchester.net).

For individuals…

If you have one minute

Watch and share this video (via social media or through other channels ).

The video explains why the committee has to look at the emissions of the city. It also has great music.

If you have five minutes

Write to your ward councillors to ask if they would support an amendment at Full Council on 31 March that makes clear that the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee must consider the Council’s role in the carbon emissions ‘of the city’

Let us know the response from councullors. We can send you template text.

If you have a couple of hours between now and mid-May

Whatever happens on 31 March, we will keep pushing for the new committee to draw up the strongest possible work programme when it first meets after the local elections. If you’d like to collaborate with us on materials for the new members of the Environment and Climate Change Committee or suggestions  for the committee’s work programme, get in touch.  We’d love to hear from you, no matter whether you are a budding graphic designer, a demon proof reader or just have an interesting idea for what Manchester’s Environment and Climate Change committee should look at first.

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