Our reporter Jackie Haynes spots a paper that begins to think how climate change relates to the brief of a scrutiny committee other than ‘the environment one’. Is it a flash in the pan or a blueprint?
It was good to know I wouldn’t leave empty handed this time from the second Communities and Equalities Scrutiny Committee meeting of the municipal year, thanks to the new Climate Change Item in the Public Reports Pack which appeared online in the week before the meeting. If this task of reporting climate emergency content in scrutiny committees was the kind of drinking game where a glass of something fortified is drunk with every mention, I might have been pleasantly merry by the end.
However, the Peterloo Memorial report and discussion was very sobering. Mark Todd from the Accessibility Campaign Group criticised the report for being full of discriminatory language. He said that finding a solution to the inaccessibility of the Peterloo Memorial had gone past the point of working with the artist and the architects, and that a kind person would say that they didn’t have their heart in it, whereas someone more cynical might say that posh boys don’t like being criticised.
It was made clear that Manchester City Council would not finance the Accessibility Campaign Group’s proposed solution and Cllr Grimshaw suggested that companies who Manchester City Council give big contracts to could be asked for a financial contribution. The Accessibility Campaign Group’s proposal will be considered soon in a meeting called by Cllr Cooley.
Manchester City Council’s Director of Culture, Dave Moutrey gave a verbal update on support for the culture sector in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and referred to his expansive report presented to the committee March 2021. This included three slides showing zero carbon intentions:
In a focus on the mechanisms of scrutiny, Cllr Whiston noted the absence of steps in the report stating what happens next, caveated with an acknowledgement of the current precarious situation. He requested shorter term steps to be recorded in the report for tangible scrutiny prior to presentation at the next scrutiny meeting. He gave the cross-cutting example of how Manchester’s culture offer is key to mental health recovery from the pandemic, yet the only detail in the report was on one slide, with one bullet point on health. Consequently, a recommendation for next September’s meeting was a more detailed report for scrutiny circulated well in advance of the meeting, rather than a verbal update.
Prior to the 6-page climate change report, an extensive and cross-cutting COVID-19 Update from the Consultant in Public Health and the Head of Neighbourhoods focused on the vaccination programme and how communities have worked together to support its roll-out.
Item 7 on the agenda (perhaps a significant number for CEM’s partially successful petition for a 7th Scrutiny Committee after all – here’s hoping) was the report in the name of the City Solicitor, Fiona Ledden, who introduced the report as starting points with the intention of sparking debate on the impact of climate change as it relates to the responsibilities for the Communities and Equalities Scrutiny Committee. The Committee were encouraged ‘to determine which areas within its remit it would like to receive more information on and debate further’.
The Chair, Cllr Hacking acknowledged the number of interested people watching on the live stream, including yours truly for being very helpful in focusing some of the thoughts on this report. (An ongoing challenge for all in CEM Team Scrutiny that the Chair of the committee being reported on namechecks them?!) The purpose of this report was to give the best possible opportunities for members to explicitly scrutinise climate change issues placed at the heart of this scrutiny committee, and to learn how to scrutinise this cross-cutting theme to do it justice this municipal year. To initiate this somewhat late but welcome beginning, examples were offered in the report on which new reports could be prepared and presented as part of this committee’s current work plan. Examples included reducing carbon emissions in Manchester Active and local sports clubs, retrofitting housing stock with housing providers and partners, and working to support reducing carbon footprint in the Culture sector with Manchester Arts and Sustainability Team,
Cllr Connelly requested reports on Manchester housing providers’ retrofitting of housing stock and family poverty support around fuel and climate change adaptation. She also sought clarity on how electric vehicles related to families in poverty with the current infrastructural problems and costs of charging points, pointed out by Cllr Douglas. This part of the report needs rewording to include other forms of electric transport.
Cllr Douglas also spoke compellingly about the retrofitting infrastructure of Manchester Housing Partnership and the condition that new builds by property developers have the correct heating installed. In comparison, the issues arising from retrofitting by private renters affect people with insecure homes, who are more vulnerable than people on social tenancies because private landlords are going to be less inclined to retrofit than the council is. Cllr Douglas asked, what is to stop private landlords that Manchester City Council can’t engage with but offer retrofitting subsidies to, from buying something on the cheap, and pocketing £500 of a £1000 subsidy?
On another point which possibly indicates how cross-cutting climate emergency themes might be hoped to gain traction through scrutiny committees, Cllr Douglas noted that the report did not mention recycling, plastic or zero use of disposables which end up in landfill causing numerous climate problems, including poor river quality rather than blue and green healthy spaces free of litter. Cllr Hacking pointed out that this was in the workplan of the (new) Environments & Climate Scrutiny Committee and Cllr Rawlins, Executive Member for Environment, reiterated that all members are invited to attend meetings and see detailed reports and clear targets on workplans.
Rounding up the debate on this report, considered by Cllr Hacking as a process rather than an event to draw on throughout the municipal year, the issues discussed for consideration in next meeting’s workplan in July, aimed to begin putting together reports on these issues in Autumn, ready for the start of the next municipal new year, in May 2022.