Happy Municipal New Year’s eve! The annual cycle of local government comes to a close at the end of March. You’d be forgiven for forgetting this time around – or perhaps you never knew. After the final business of today’s full council – approving minutes and trophy motions – we enter purdah ahead of local elections on 5th May.
Again, this could escape your attention in Manchester where so few seats are contested. If you live in a marginal, you are more likely to get a range of leaflets through your door. Nationally, media attention will focus on London (for a change) where all borough seats are up for grabs. Journalists looking for regional tang, might go to Sheffield, as South Yorkshire is electing a new mayor. Andy Burnham must be pleased he got his mandate last year instead.
But local democracy withers when we look away. This is true across the country – a bill that threatens the independence of the electoral commission is currently making its way through the Lords. It is subtle, and our collective attention has been handily directed elsewhere. In Manchester, the overwhelming Labour majority means there is little challenge coming from inside. It puts more onus on citizens to hold it to account. This is what we at Climate Emergency Manchester seek to do, for climate change is an area particularly prone to a rhetoric-reality gap.
Over the past municipal year, our team scrutiny has reported on the six scrutiny committee meetings, each of which meet monthly. The final two instalments – from March’s Community and Equality Scrutiny Committee and Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Committee are posted below and exemplify the tracking of commitments and promises that is needed. Not every meeting brings a big scoop.
This month’s economy scrutiny committee saw councillors pressing representatives from Manchester Airport Group. But it’s taken time and continued pressure to raise the levels of scrutiny around the airport. The March meeting built on the appearance of MAG at December’s Environment and Climate Change Committee and our accompanying report and briefing note.
In the run up to the local elections, we’ll be launching an alternative guide to the campaigns and what they mean. In May, while the pieces are being shuffled, we’re running a workshop on how to use the Freedom of Information Act to find the things they don’t want you to know, that will likely not be discussed at a scrutiny meeting. Get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org – if you’d like to join or help out with both – we always need more people to push local authorities to keep to their commitments on climate change.
Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee, March 2022
Opening with the Urgent Business, Cllr Cooley asks what if anything is being done in schools to allay fears of young people regarding the situation in Ukraine. Amanda Corcoran (Director of Education) commented that BBC Newsround clips have helped, and materials produced by the Healthy Schools Team explaining the situation were circulated to schools last week.
A letter following from the Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission’s November 2021 joint inspection of Manchester’s implementation of the Special Educational Needs and Disability reforms (introduced in 2014) gave a positive view of responses received from a survey of children and young people with SEND, parents, carers and staff. A good result.
The £2.8m contract for the Manchester Sensory Support Service no longer to be provided by the Lancasterian School, is out for competitive tender. Recommendations that the new contract beginning in April 2023 were endorsed.
It was stated that numbers of COVID cases had been falling, yet schools are still asked to report positive cases to the Manchester Test and Trace team. This data helps to identify outbreaks, monitor case numbers and inform understanding. There will be a future focus on issues relating to Long COVID, and it is recognised that the pandemic has not yet ended.
The Children and Young People Participation and Engagement Plan makes mention of the Manchester Youth Council and recent elections of Youth Parliament Members who will serve for two years. There are desires to ensure young people’s voices are heard, to be much more collaborative, to provide one-off bespoke activities and an inclusive calendar embracing South Asian Heritage Month, Black History Month, and Pride, as well as adjusting services in a co-operative manner to fit vulnerable groups (such as care leavers). It was stressed that the participation of young people was sought in decision-making, improving services and building stronger culturally rich communities within the context of how we recover from the pandemic, tackle climate change and make best use of new investment. The refreshed strategy with high ambition for children’s voice within the city will be brought back in late summer.
A co-opted member would welcome more opportunities for partnerships between schools and their youth councils. Cllr Foley raises questions around serious youth violence and the Manchester Youth Climate Board, requesting updates at the next meeting. Cllr Nunney commends Manchester Youth Council for winning the North West Youth Focus award for most committed to saving the planet, tackling climate breakdown as the generational cross-cutting issue, covering others such as childhood obesity and healthy eating.
In a break from recent precedent, the meeting finished in little over an hour.
Communities and Equalities Scrutiny Committee
In the last round of this municipal year’s scrutiny, members of the committee reflected on its achievements in Cllr John Hacking’s last meeting as Chair after four years, concluding that they have held Manchester City Council’s Executive and Partners to account.
Disregarding all but the ‘A progressive and equitable city: making a positive contribution by unlocking the potential of our communities’ part of the Our Manchester Strategy outcomes table, the report sought to provide responses to Committee members’ questions in relation to road policing. The report included a summary of work undertaken by Manchester City Council Highways with Greater Manchester Police on road safety, with data on collision and casualty. Without consideration of the impact of the issues addressed in the report on achieving the zero-carbon target for the city, and on this occasion, without the question being specifically raised by the committee. So it’s no surprise that other sorts of traffic harm, such as dangerous and illegal levels of nitrous dioxide went unremarked in this discussion. The anti-social noise from quad bike exhausts were raised by Cllr Dar (Ancoats & Beswick), but the silent danger of air pollution prompts the question of should and how might NO2 levels on our streets be patrolled, reported and prosecuted like other offences?
Cllr Judge (Woodhouse Park) raised the valid point of the broad use of defeatist language in relation to reporting traffic crime. An overall ‘What’s the point?’ from all but the offenders compromises the effectiveness of reporting which might otherwise result in consequences which effectively make a difference in the long term. Affirmative language is more likely to engender public trust in the available reporting mechanisms without looking in vain for additional resources, trust being essential for communities as rightly pointed out by Cllr Hussein (Levenshulme).
In the next item, Policy and Programmes Manager, Keiran Barnes’s report summarised the approach to extending the grant funding arrangements in place with voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations currently funded through the Our Manchester Voluntary & Community Sector and Development Fund Grants Programmes. Councillors quizzed the paper’s presentation of the process and timescales for this extension throughout the 2022-23 financial year.
Cllr Dar asked how carbon emissions would be calculated, as outputs would differ between organisations. Cllr Andrews (Baguley) asked if there would be a review of how money has been spent as originally proposed, clearly not convinced by some of the organisations due for funding extensions. He proposed that some were supported for historical reasons, and some perhaps for ‘hysterical’ reasons, causing an unspecified ripple through the chamber. Out of interest, here are organisations currently receiving funding for your consideration of how each might fare in light of the forthcoming sharper focus for 2023-2026 on equality, diversity and inclusion, zero-carbon ambitions, and poverty reduction The source is here:
Simultaneously pertinent to the Climate Emergency and an admission perhaps of a previous lack of emphasis, a co-design process for 2023-2026, subject to budget approval, will refresh the Our Manchester Strategy with a sharper focus in response to urgent priorities.
Wishing you all, all the very best for the next Municipal New Year and the forthcoming local elections: vote well.