Manchester City Council has six scrutiny committees. CEM’s “Team SF” covers all six… In the second meeting of this new cycle, Ellen reports on the Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee (R&G) [agenda and link to video here]. It had a report presented on the Future Shape of the Council, which focussed on how they might tackle digital exclusion as well as a sobering report on domestic violence and abuse funding.
Whilst the R&G Committee meeting this month was free from climate, it was full of interesting discussion. The Future Shape of the Council Report, laid out as a ‘visionary’ and proactive document outlining the massive programme of change to the council is going through. The focus of the report to R&G was primarily into digitalisation and inequality, and raised some points for discussion into digital exclusion, what it really is, and how it manifests itself across the City of Manchester. Also of importance was the report into Domestic Violence and Abuse funding, with a focus on supporting victims and tackling perpetrator behaviour.
Looking first into the Future Shape of the Council Report, the focus for R&G was on digital work and ICT support. A topic that may not at first appear interesting in reality raises key questions about digital inclusion across the city. According to the council, there are an estimated 27,000 (and likely much higher) digitally excluded adults in the city of Manchester. The issue was somewhat exposed by the pandemic, when the online world was what most of us were left with day in day out, some were simply cut off from society. In response to this, the Council’s plan is to have a joined up approach that, in their own words, doesn’t just shift from paper to PC, but provides services that are ‘user-centred’. Questions asked touched on everything from ensuring residents have hardware, ensuring the software is up to speed to match their needs, and ensuring the council is equipped to deal with the needs of residents. This means its not just a case of ensuring everyone has wifi (which is essentially a human right by this point), but ensuring the council can provide services such as British Sign Language, and runs efficiently so it doesn’t, for example, waste people’s phone credit by keeping them on hold.
It’s worth noting that this really is an area in which the climate crisis should be appearing. If council’s are serious about meeting environmental targets, IT really is essential to the future working of the council, and will only become a bigger source of emissions and energy consumption. Data centres, whether held in ‘cloud’ or hard form are emitters of carbon too. For example, the government’s data centre emits around 4,000 tons of carbon a year, roughly the fuel burned by 770 cars, on average, in a year. The council must be continuously aware of this as digitalisation plays an increasing role in its governance, and this was sadly omitted during this particular meeting.
Domestic Violence and Abuse Funding
Since the pandemic began back in 2020, eight people have died as a result of domestic violence in Greater Manchester. The police have recorded over 50,000 incidents of domestic abuse since March 2020. Those are just the cases reported. Surges in domestic violence also occur after the end of a football match. Football might be coming home for some, but for others the fear of an abusive partner returning home is a more frightful reality – regardless of the result. Funding into domestic violence and abuse is therefore an extremely important topic, particularly in Manchester.
The report focused on three areas:
- Scope – ie. which services are specifically provided for DV&A.
- National and local acknowledgement that historically services are too short-term and piecemeal. In Manchester it was noted there has been significant additional investment, a good first step forward.
- A new strategy is currently being worked on, with a draft expected sometime in summer and the strategy will be informed by the Domestic Violence and Abuse Strategy Refresh.
The council will have roughly £3.5 million to play with and noted that funding allocations have not yet been set. Of particular interest in the questions raised by Cllrs, was one on the duty of care to provide refuges, specifically for men and members of the LGBTQ community. The council noted that they don’t currently provide support specifically for those groups, but were working with providers to ensure there would be these options going forwards. It’s no small point that this was discussed, especially since 54% of people who identify as trans and non-binary have experienced some form of intimate partner violence. Again, an integrated approach was stressed, and one that included working with schools, colleges and universities, looking at ways of educating people by changing attitudes and intervening earlier. It hardly needs saying, but until education of (mostly) young men changes around issues of consent, objectifying women and overtly sexualising young children, these stats are unlikely to change anytime soon. Manchester City Council must continue to pursue this topic.