Manchester’s histories, domestic abuse, and possible derring-do for climate scrutiny?

This month the Chair of the Communities and Equalities Scrutiny committee fed a line purely for my benefit, even though he was directing it at the officers, encouraging the use of the phrase ‘derring-do’ (daring to do). The phrase comes from the fascinating report pack of the Histories, Stories and Voices in Manchester’s Public Realm programme. The Cultural and Heritage Object Review assessed the 119 persons directly represented by objects such as statues in Manchester on a database list. They found that 5 (4%) are remembered for acts of aviation derring-do, which begs the question of what might aviation or any other kind of derring-do look like now in our time of climate breakdown?

I have nothing solid to offer this report in terms of climate emergency, apart from a comment in the Environmental Impact Assessment which states quite generally that ‘The commission for the development of a Public Art Strategy for the city includes considerations to reduce potential environmental impacts of creating new works for the public realm and the maintenance of new and existing works.’

To torment myself I looked at the Environment and Climate Scrutiny committee Vimeo playback to see full and lively debates. There’s so much climate stuff to report on there, but so little explicit mention elsewhere, despite councillors’ promises that climate emergency would be a cross-cutting issue in scrutiny. I then headed back to Communities and Equalities Scrutiny, to this month’s excellent discussion and points of action on two weighty items, Manchester’s Histories and Domestic Abuse.

Imagine, in climate-focussed leadership and policies, the clarity, accountability, multi-generational voices, multi-faceted approaches, acknowledgment of past work, responsibility for delivery, integrated commissioning teams and long-term funding solutions seen in the following points from the scrutiny of the Histories, Stories and Voices in Manchester’s Public Realm and Domestic Abuse reports:

  • The council should be acknowledged in shaping the kind of city that we live in now. As we are moving forward, any public works, any plaques, any street names, surely have to represent the kind of city that we have become, particularly over the last 40-50 years which is nothing like it was in the 19th century.
  • Statues have to be put in their context and very simply and clearly explained why they’re there. Putting plaques around the city where these items are will be a valuable contribution to understanding our history.
  • From speaking particularly to the Youth Council, there is a need not just for a database or an online platform tell the story of a city and our libraries, but a multi-faceted approach.
  • It is important to note that we’re not starting from zero base and that work has gone on in the past. There are a number of projects and schemes such as Archive+ Partnership, Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre and Education Trust, Manchester Histories and other organisations in Manchester’s Universities which have done work around trying to database the public realm and our statues and monuments.

The scrutiny of the Domestic Abuse report reminds us of the importance of intersectional and feminist analysis of the climate crisis, in which we recognise that the city we are trying to decarbonise is also a city of male violence. According to scrutiny of this item

  • The Domestic Abuse Act received Royal Assent in April 2021. Manchester City Council responded with the establishment of the Domestic Abuse Partnership Board to take on the responsibility for delivery of safe accommodation.
  • The Domestic Abuse Partnership Board will report into the Community Safety Partnership Board and has an allocation of new funding around the implementation of the safe accommodation. Colleagues in both community safety and integrated commissioning teams work together to put arrangements in place to make sure that the funding is spent appropriately.
  • The pandemic has really compounded the problem of increasing volumes of high-risk domestic abuse cases in the city, putting pressure on Manchester’s multi-agency risk assessment process and the independent domestic violence Advocate Service. Some short-term measures put in place alleviate some of those challenges, but a longer-term solution is needed. Funding continues to be a challenge, although some additional investment from the council has been added to funding from government.

At some point very soon, I hope Manchester’s City Council’s cross-cutting theme of climate emergency in all its scrutiny committees, will stand up to scrutiny with some derring-do. The sluggish derring-don’t of its own mechanisms have stunted responses to date. Repeatedly asking Manchester citizens for ideas about ‘how to tackle climate change’ does not equate to action by Manchester City Council. By failing to enact the systemic changes which are out of reach to Manchester citizens, such as retro-fitting its own housing stock as one of many possible examples, Manchester City Council is effectively undermining the efforts of its own citizens’ climate activism.

This report was written by Jackie for Team Scrutiny Fabulous, for which we are recruiting volunteers. If you’d like to help with Team Scrutiny, then contact us by email (contact@climateemergencymanchester.net) and we will discuss options for getting (more) involved. 

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