A heated discussion of homelessness and a new zero carbon toolkit for cultural institutions at February’s Communities and Equalities Scrutiny Committee.
The frustration triggered by the Homelessness Update report was reflected in Cllr. Ali’s (Rusholme) telling off by Cllr Rahman, for remarking on the absence from this and a previous meeting of the Director of Homelessness, Mohamed Hussein. The remark was deemed inappropriate, setting a fractious tone to this two-hour meeting scrutinising budget and culture reports, which gradually eased, ending on the high note of the libraries report.
Both Cllr Ali (Rusholme) and Cllr Dar (Ancoats and Beswick) drew attention to Manchester’s dreadful statistics of people in temporary accommodation, where currently, 63% of families in temporary accommodation are from an ethnic minority, whilst 37% of single people are from an ethnic minority. Cllr Ali (Moss Side) requested figures on the geographical areas where homeless families are placed, and Cllr Connelly (Moston) wanted to know what work was being done to reduce the timeframe of families housed in temporary accommodation.
The Our Manchester Strategy states that ‘Housing infrastructure is central to Manchester’s inclusive growth ambitions’. Cllr Rahman maintained that MCC has not been able to ‘keep pace with new housing’, perhaps at odds with the pace of conspicuous new constructions in the city to which MCC grants planning permission. Has the ‘affordable’ housing of MCC’s Section 106 obligation in reality played out comprehensively, with its effects couched in the figures this report? 1.7. ‘Planning Obligations are used for three purposes: Prescribe the nature of development (for example, requiring a given portion of housing is affordable).’
Cllr Grimshaw (Miles Platting & Newton Heath) stated that East Manchester was traditionally a place for dispersed families due to property being Manchester’s most reasonably priced, although rents have been pushed up, with insufficient schools and dentists. He requested and was promised figures showing a breakdown of where families are dispersed across Manchester.
The frustration at the hold-up in building new homes felt by many councillors was described by Cllr Evans (Brooklands) as anger at the unacceptable situation: many families sharing one room is not classed as homelessness, but as overcrowding. Cllr Rahman batted this back as being beyond the remit of the Homelessness Update report, which Cllr Wills (Withington) put into play again by requesting figures reflecting instances of hidden homelessness. Cllr Dar (Ancoats and Beswick) proposed ‘life story work’ in order to find commonalities and holistic help for rough sleepers. Cllr Ali’s (Rusholme) recommendation to examine the cost-effectiveness of putting families in temporary accommodation outside of the city, and to assess empty properties as potential homes seemed to be agreed by Cllr Rahman, with clarity perhaps forthcoming in the meeting’s minutes and actions.
Clearly and understandably frustrated but managing to keep a lid on it, Cllr Grimshaw (Miles Platting & Newton Heath) opposed language used in the report, asking for ‘customers’ to be replaced with ‘people of Manchester’. He insisted that his question on how housing and homeless strategies overlap had not been answered. He reasserted that the social rented accommodation aspects of developments should be at the forefront of developments by MCC and its ‘so-called partners’ and emphasised the need to be clear on where policies are going. Director of Housing Operations, Dave Ashmore, stated that the overall housing strategy for social rented properties is not incentivised and is a national constraint, requiring MCC to be more creative locally. Chair Cllr Hacking (Chorlton) suggested bringing in the Executive for Housing, Cllr White (Old Moat) to talk about these overlapping areas.
Neighbourhood Directorate Budget Proposals
Executive Cllr Akbar (Rusholme) fielded questions on the Neighbourhood Directorate Budget Report, again citing 12 years of Central Government imposed cuts and austerity. As is often the case, being a Net Zero City by 2035 appeared at the end of a long list of MCC’s aspirations. Executive Member for Children’s Services, Cllr Bridges (Old Moat) delivered the ‘rare good news’ of half a million pounds being invested in Manchester’s Youth Services, intended to fill gaps in youth provision across the city and to feature prominently in ‘Our Year 2022’, in Manchester’s Year of the Child.
Cllr Rahman emphasised MCC’s commitment to the tune of £200,000 as an initial investment against gender-based violence, reassurance of Manchester as a safe city for women and girls. Cllr Ali (Rusholme) queried MCC’s approach to its own Northwards Housing’s performance in terms of repairs and tenant dissatisfaction, which Dave Ashmore agreed required a step-change as a number one priority. This resulted in Cllr Akbar proposing a paper on housing management to look in detail at the issues.
Director of Culture, Dave Moutrey’s evidence of action in Manchester’s cultural sector, differing conspicuously with MCC and MCCA’s planning and projections which falter at the point of being enacted.
He pointed tangibly to the forthcoming Cultural Consortium which will replace the Cultural Leaders Group to work with cultural businesses more broadly and be more representative, noting the existing group’s anti-racism training with a leading national organisation. Similarly, the Zero Carbon Culture Guide by Julie’s Bicycle will become a requirement for MCC-funded organisations. I would like to know if and to what extent the guide will also be a requirement of organisations who hire park space from MCC or give permission to use our parks, such as the intensive plans for extensive use of Platt Fields in Fallowfield this summer. Would responsibility for air quality dueto traffic from these events count as Manchester’s indirect carbon emissions? Similarly, building construction to which MCC grants planning permission but which nevertheless compromise air quality and of course, Manchester Airport, all add to Manchester-based emissions whether regarded by MCC as direct or in-direct.
Cllr Hussain (Levenshulme) asked, ‘What is Culture?’ and criticised the Culture Impact Report as ‘myopic’ in its omission of his constituents’ opportunities to define culture, which might include humour, street art and language. Cllr Rahman accepted his challenge and promised to pick up the pace, acknowledging a lack of representation as reflected in the report:
Cultural Leaders Group members concluded that in order to change, the group needed to be disbanded once a new more democratic and representative entity has been co-designed and established with the wider cultural sector.
Principal Resources and Programmes Manager for Culture, Louise Hanigan, presented the Cultural Impact Survey update featuring a 59% increase since last year in organisations with Carbon Literacy trained employees, stating that 20 organisations (43%) have Zero Carbon reduction plans in place. Examples in practice include only using recycled costumes and props in theatre productions and only serving vegetarian food at events, with plans for a focus on climate and sustainability planned for 2022.
Manchester Libraries Strategy Update
Praise from all corners of the room was directed towards Manchester’s library staff for their consistent helpfulness throughout our communities in countering social isolation. Cllr Ali (Moss Side) noted however, that although library use was high, membership was relatively low. Head of Libraries, Galleries and Culture, Neil
MacInnes explained how ‘stock surgeries’ were going to ensure that stocks reflect communities, whilst the removal of library fines was being considered, which have been identified as a barrier to membership. Neil MacInnes cited a valuable anecdote from Longsight library goer, who said whilst the library was locked down, they had ‘missed the company of strangers’ and like our parks, as Cllr Ali (Rusholme) pointed out, libraries ‘keep us going’.
After 12 years of Government cuts to Manchester’s budget and austerity, lobbying for funding was proposed by Deputy Leader Cllr Rahman (Longsight) as ‘the only way’ through Manchester’s housing crisis, echoing Executive Member for Environment Cllr Tracey Rawlins’ (Baguley) plea for climate change funding. With the Government being reliably unreliable as an additional funding source however, the solutions must meanwhile surely be found within Manchester City Council.