Where on earth is Manchester City Council’s climate emergency disconnect coming from?

Last month, the Chair, Cllr John Hacking, clearly and repeatedly emphasised the necessity for all reports brought to scrutiny to find connections to Manchester’s climate emergency by asking “What in this report is relevant to our climate change ambitions?” or at the very least, to state its absence. Was there any evidence that this message had hit home in incoming Council Leader, Cllr Bev Craig’s budget report? As they say in these meetings when asked and there’s nothing to report:

None Chair

Scrutiny committees have been set up by central government with no obligation for Executive Members to change policy; they are only required to consider the issues being scrutinised. But this is Manchester and not Tory-governed Westminster, and we do things differently here, don’t we? Executive Members’ actions affect our daily lives:

The Executive has full authority for implementing the Council’s Budgetary and Policy Framework, and this means that most of its decisions do not need approval by Council, although they may still be subject to detailed review through the Council’s overview and scrutiny procedures.

Can we expect to find tangible Executive action on climate in scrutiny meetings? If not here, then where, and if not now in the fallout of Cop26 and over two years into Manchester’s so-called climate emergency, then when? Where is Manchester City Council’s crashing disconnect on climate coming from? When will the leaders lead on their own climate emergency?

The Labour Group: making policy in the shadows

Executive Member for Environment, Cllr Tracey Rawlins, representing MCC at Cop26 spoke of “…the need for us all… to step up in order to drastically reduce carbon emissions…”.What exactly is stopping Manchester’s Executive Member for Environment from stepping up? Might it be something to do with Manchester’s Labour Group (MLG), which has an immense influence on Manchester City Council (MCC), given that 94 of 96 are Labour Councillors? If the climate emergency declaration isn’t a priority within MLG’s internalised agendas, can we realistically expect it to reappear in the form of meaningful action by MCC? As far as CEM can ascertain, Manchester Labour Group’s parallel universe of internally elected officers has MCC policy remits covering many different issues. Has how climate interacts with these policy areas been considered? Until CEM are informed otherwise, we believe that MLG currently looks like this:

 

MCC Role MLG Role MCC Email Ward
Leader Leader cllr.bev.craig@manchester.gov.uk Burnage
Statutory Deputy Leader and Executive Member Health and Care Statutory Deputy Leader and Executive Member Health and Care cllr.joanna.midgley@manchester.gov.uk

 

Chorlton
Deputy Leader Deputy Leader cllr.luthfur.rahman@manchester.gov.uk Longsight
Chair Chair cllr.shelley.lanchbury@manchester.gov.uk

 

Higher Blackley
Associate Executive Member Secretary

 

cllr.pat.karney@manchester.gov.uk

 

Harpurhey
Chief whip cllr.suzannah.reeves@manchester.gov.uk

 

Old Moat
Deputy whip cllr.john.flanagan@manchester.gov.uk

 

Miles Platting and Newton Heath
Deputy whip cllr.suzanne.richards@manchester.gov.uk

 

Longsight
Executive Member for Neighbourhoods Executive Member for Neighbourhoods cllr.rabnawaz.akbar@manchester.gov.uk

 

Rusholme
Executive Member for Children’s Services Executive Member for Children’s Services cllr.garry.bridges@manchester.gov.uk

 

Old Moat
Executive Member for Environment Executive Member for Environment cllr.tracey.rawlins@manchester.gov.uk

 

Baguley
Executive Member for Housing and Employment Executive Member for Housing and Employment cllr.gavin.white@manchester.gov.uk Old Moat
Assistant Executive Member (Youth Safety) Assistant Executive Member (Youth Safety) cllr.shazia.butt@manchester.gov.uk Cheetham
Assistant Executive Member (Antipoverty) Assistant Executive Member (Antipoverty) cllr.mahadi.mahamed@manchester.gov.uk Moss Side
Assistant Executive Member (Skills) Assistant Executive Member (Skills) cllr.ali.ilyas@manchester.gov.uk Fallowfield
Assistant Executive Member (Transport) Assistant Executive Member (Transport) cllr.emma.taylor@manchester.gov.uk Sharston

 

Apparently, there are backbench leads on various topics such as race, women, LGBT+, disability, age-friendly, active travel and housing, begging the question, but is there also one dedicated to MCC’s climate emergency? MLG, please do update CEM if this information is inaccurate, so we can let our readers know. Please do share with us your cross-cutting climate-related policies, related voting records, previous and forthcoming agendas. Also, CEM readers, please do contact your elected councillors listed, to ask about MLG for yourselves and if possible, share what you find out with us. If MLG was transparent, there might not be any need for these questions. An updated Wikipedia page would possibly suffice. If there was sufficient evidence of climate action to report from the scrutiny meetings so far, other than often just ideas and things to look at, there’d be little need to ask.

 

Feeling MIFfed or motivated?

Speaking about the success of Manchester International Festival 2020, despite Covid restrictions, Deputy Leader Cllr Luthfur Rahman concluded by mentioning Manchester’s climate emergency ‘…and it touched on climate and other big issues of the day.’ The Chair reliably resuscitated the topic with the ‘existential question’ about international festivals, the climate emergency declaration and mitigating visitor’s flights. The Tyndall Centre has already looked at large music events with Massive Attack, so there’s something that MIF could build another agenda topic around. Festival director, John McGrath proposed that the environmental impact of plane travel, building big complex sets and shipping, needs looking at. MIF appointed an Environmental Sustainability Manager a year ago, with operational data as the benchmark from The Factory proposed to begin in 2023, two years before MIF’s 2025 zero carbon ambition. Similarly looking to the near future, Philip Bradley, the Age Friendly programme lead, confirmed the commitment to work with Manchester Climate Change Agency’s Youth Board, and ‘to begin to develop some extra thinking… on a greater representation of intergenerational messages around climate action.’ All good intentions with a range of activities and promotions expected from the joint venture between the Age Friendly Manchester Older People’s Board and the Youth Board.

 

The medicine ball effect

The Executive Member for Environment, Cllr Rawlins said: ‘It’s incumbent on us all to make sure that we grab hold of that golden thread and turn recommendations and suggestions and proposals into firm action.’ Well, go on then, please!! Where is the Executive Member’s cross-cutting golden thread which binds all of the scrutiny committees’ climate action together, because this surely isn’t it, is it?

public transport, etc… is absolutely key to make sure that everything is accessible for all and that’s everything from how we change the way that we live – behaviour change, our homes, our leisure centres, our spaces, our green spaces, all of that contributes to climate change and we need to use that positively to reduce carbon footprint and make sure that we’ve got a planet that’s safe and secure for the future. So, I’m just happy to support the discussion and add to any comments that I can, as you decide what you want to take forward over the next municipal year.

Is being ‘happy to support the discussion’ what stepping up to the monumental tasks we face looks like? It’s mesmerising.

Listening to the meeting on Vimeo, the Executive Member and Deputy Leader’s words seemed like shock absorbers. Like a medicine ball, no matter how hard you wham it against the ground, it doesn’t bounce back. It’s dreadful to see the councillors’ urgency dissipated, after undoubtably listening carefully to their constituents. The Chair, again playing keepie-uppie with the medicine ball, largely a thankless task, reasserts the need to inject urgency, saying ‘This is a serious situation we’re in and we need to do things as quickly and take positive actions as far as we can.’ Councillor Wilson (Didsbury East) ventured a tangible, pragmatic request for a further report on retrofitting, because not only is there a private rented sector retrofitting black hole, but business premises are not covered by government retrofitting schemes either, creating another yawning sinkhole for MCC to fill. Retrofitting narrowly missed being dispatched by Neighbourhoods Strategic Director, Fiona Worrall, to the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee, but the Chair insisted on a report about this specific part of its remit: right here at Communities and Equalities.

 

Future reports promised – keep your eye on the ball

Councillor Rawson (Chorlton Park) asked, is MCC’s Sustainable Events Guide a requirement of event organisers or should MCC be much more forceful with sustainability demands, before people can have events which use Manchester facilities that the council has power over? He suggested inviting Manchester City Football Club to share how they are tackling the crisis. We hear a lot about ‘tackling the climate crisis’, and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t include major football clubs. The Chair proposed cross cutting the impact of major events with the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee, to learn how to reduce their carbon impact.

 

Cllr Grimshaw flagged smaller taxi companies in Miles Platting and Newton Heath, who are trying to invest in a greener future but struggling without support, and was promised a report by the Chair. Cllr Rowland suggested looking at ward-based climate change action plans’ impact on communities within this committee’s remit. Some citizen’s climate activism, however, does brilliantly already, without MCC’s ward plans. The Chair intends to talk to the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee Chair about how ward plans are actually being implemented by neighbourhood services officers, and how significant equalities issues are being addressed. According to my Neighbourhood Manager, all ward plans are to be completed by the end of December 2021, ready to go on MCC’s website.

 

Cllr Wills reported strong engagement on climate with schools and children in his Withington ward. Cllr Evans (Brooklands) suggested that air pollution and carbon use through parents’ insistence on unnecessarily driving children right to the school gates, could be tackled by making public transport cheaper and more reliable. Despite this being a baffling and perennial problem requiring major habitual shifts and resourcefulness, Cllr Rawlins proposed that small but local actions can make the biggest difference, and that the government need to be lobbied for more money. Perhaps, after looked-after children, if MCC could legislate somehow to prioritise siblings’ admissions and proximity to schools in Manchester school’s admissions policies, less carbon would be consumed getting there. As Cllr Rawlins said, improved pavements, footways for walking and cycling were key, although, for instance, Moss Side’s well-used end of Platt Lane is in an atrocious state and won’t be fully resurfaced. Instead, it is on MCC’s ‘Large Patching list’ to be completed by March 2022.

 

Cllr Rawlins offered up Manchester Climate Change Agency’s 14 individual actions for people who want to start making changes now. While Executive Members decide how to implement the Council’s Budgetary and Policy Framework, there is plenty of local climate activism already going on. If MCC Executive could match these groups’ focus, determination and integrity, Manchester might have already achieved net zero.

 

Promises made

What Who When  
Two reports on areas relating to climate emergency 1) Events and 2) retrofitting Leisure Estates Requested by Chair Date was not clear – reports  

 

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