Dear Councillor Russell,
we are sure you share the delight of many in Manchester that the Council has just passed the Climate Emergency motion put forward by Councillors Annette Wright and Eve Holt. We also thank you for having voiced your support for the motion in advance, as did your two Northenden colleagues.. The declaration of an emergency is all the more important given the recent bad report that rather than achieving a 13.5% annual reduction in emissions, Manchester as a city only achieved 2.5% last year.
While the motion is full of specific and useful aspirations, clearly more needs to be done. One topic that the motion was silent on was the role of the five other scrutiny committees (besides Neighbourhoods and Environment) . We are sure you agree that the committees are crucial in expanding and accelerating action on climate change, alongside monitoring progress and generating useful ideas for Manchester City Council and the city as we all strive to meet the ambitious goals that have been set.
This letter has two aims. Firstly it lists both specific and urgent issues that the Scrutiny Committee you chair could investigate. Secondly it makes some more general suggestions about how the committees could innovate to make it easier for more citizens to engage over the coming months and years. We would very much welcome correspondence with you about the contents of this letter, and the other activities that you think the scrutiny committees could undertake to help make Manchester a world-leading example of a zero-carbon and socially just city.
l What funds are available for climate mitigation, adaptation and community resilience are available? Which funds have the council NOT tapped into yet?
l How can the Council behave more transparently and in more proactive ways to involve (not just engage) people – especially those currently not engaged – in discussions and decisions about climate change? Are there low-cost actions other councils are taking that Manchester could learn from?
Doubtless you, other councillors and members of the public also have other investigations in mind that fit the remit of your committee!
More generally, we are sure that you agree that engaging and involving as many individuals and communities in the scrutiny process is extremely beneficial. It helps communities understand better the constraints on the Council’s ability to act (especially under the austerity of the last ten years), and makes it easier for citizens to understand that difficult decisions confront policymakers at every turn. Secondly, more people involved means more innovative ideas, helping to manage some of the intractable issues the Council faces. To that end, we propose that all the scrutiny committees consider the following actions to increase their ability to engage with the broadest possible range of voices from Manchester.
- Publicise meetings extensively (perhaps asking the Manchester Evening News to run a story on the coming set of six scrutiny committee meetings), and that the location is well-signposted. We attended a scrutiny committee in June which was very challenging for us to find.
- Create an online system for people to be able to sign up for specific alerts (via email , text etc) for either the either for a whole committee or for specific topics that the scrutiny committee covers Residents can sign up to be notified about planning and licensing but not other issues.
- Use social media – at the very least Twitter, Facebook and Youtube – to publicise the agendas of the six scrutiny committee meetings a week in advance, with a brief description of all the papers on one single web-page, instead of in different pdfs. Each committee could also have an agreed hashtag, and – resources willing – its own Twitter account.
- Create simple videos to explain what each committee does (once a year), and, as capacity allows, about specific upcoming meetings of committees, and what will be discussed. Many people in Manchester have poor reading skills, and are intimidated/baffled by the dense and arcane jargon that the Council sometimes uses. Videos would dent that fog.
- Overhaul the web pages of each committee in order to make it easier to search for reports and find out what reports contain. This could also involved creating an easily searchable database of upcoming reports, with a traffic light system to indicate which reports have been delayed, for how long and for what reasons.
- Allowing for cost implications and the importance of live-streaming in enabling people who cannot attend meetings to keep in touch, might it be possible for scrutiny committees (or at least task & finish groups and subgroups) to hold meetings outside the city centre, especially in wards which do not always get a lot of attention.
We have no doubt that other ideas will be put forward by the members of the public who will start to attend scrutiny committee meetings regularly. Perhaps a monthly anonymous feedback survey for those who do attend in person would help the Council to monitor progress on whether people were finding the meetings useful and understandable.
We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you and the fellow members of your committee.
Co-convenors of Climate Emergency Manchester