Today Manchester City Council formally agreed and approved a recommendation to modify the remits of its scrutiny committees. The changes follow the Climate Emergency Manchester petition gathering over 1700 signatures and participation at Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee in February 2021. The Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee will be renamed the ‘Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee’ and its remit rejigged to allow more time for discussion of climate change.
What happened on the day
The proposed revisions were nodded through as expected. We will post the transcript of the relevant sections, and you can even watch the full webcasts here and here (warning: our item starts some 3 hours into Full Council). Nevertheless, a few points from the Full Council meeting (and the Constitutional and Nominations Committee that preceded it) are worth highlighting up front. The first concerns the discussions around the timings of this constitutional change. Whatever the origins, whatever the nature of earlier internal rumblings, it has taken sustained pressure by coalitions across the city to get us to this point. Second, questions were raised by Cllr Leech in both meetings around the ‘missed opportunity’ of independent members sitting on the Environment and Climate Change Committee. There remains confusion even among some councillors about the distinctions between co-opted members (as serve on at Health and Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Committee) and guest speakers. The Environment and Climate Change Committee will not start out with this kind of independent representation, but let’s not lose sight of it as a demand altogether. There is precedent. Third, and most interestingly, both discussions of this item (at the shorter Cons and Noms and the mammoth Full Council) saw Leader Cllr Leese stating that this ‘new’ committee should indeed look at the Council’s work to influence the emissions of the city.
Our take: a significant small victory.
Climate Emergency Manchester welcomes the decision to make climate change more central to one committee. We hope that the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee means that climate change cannot be dealt with superficially by the scrutiny committees once or twice per year. We are disappointed that the proposals represent something closer to a minor change to the existing structures and do not demonstrate the ambition called for by the 28 organisations who signed an Open Letter calling for the strongest possible scrutiny arrangements. Above all, we remain concerned that the remit of the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee makes no explicit reference to the carbon emissions of the city, nor whether this committee will scrutinise the Council–owned Manchester Climate Change Agency and Partnership. There was verbal reassurance offered during the meeting that the committee would deal with partnership work and the climate change strategy of the city. But will this prove to be the case? What about when the chips are really down, when the need for good news even greater? Without being made explicit in writing from the outset, there is still a risk that the new committee will only scrutinise the 2% of Manchester’s carbon emissions that the Council is directly responsible for, and will not review and enhance its role in influencing the remaining 98%.
The report approved by Full Council also recognised that 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. We welcome this sentiment but there is a real danger that it becomes more fine words. Unless the work plan of each scrutiny committee for 2021-22 is reviewed to include items on the intersection of climate change and other issues within their remit, there is a risk that this ‘cross-cutting priority’ becomes ad hoc questions. This would not constitute a strategic response to improving scrutiny of climate change issues.
Thank you, and what we do next
We would like to thank everyone who signed the petition and contributed in any way to the campaign. The decision today reflects the end of one phase, not the end of the work needed. We will have to make the scrutiny committees stronger and more democratic through sustained pressure, starting with the review of new work plans of each committee after the Local Elections on 6 May. If you’d like to help out with this, or any other aspect of Climate Emergency Manchester, please do get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org
The next online meeting of Climate Emergency Manchester will be taking place on Tuesday 6th April, from 8.30pm to 9.15pm – all welcome (email us on email@example.com for the log-in details).
And on Monday 19th April, from 7.45pm to 9pm we will host a Hustings for Manchester City Council