There is, in democracy, a beautiful and idealistic concept called ‘Scrutiny’, which is a way to make sure policies are getting implemented, money is being spent wisely, and lessons are being learned. It’s a political instrument to avoid the hoarding of power by one party and make sure that the council delivers on the wicked (especially climate-shaped) stuff. That’s the theory.
Then there’s the practice, which in Manchester’s case regularly looks like 91 Labour Councillors doing the Spiderman point at each other for an hour and a half a month before recommending that nothing is changed and everything bad is the government’s fault. That’s not an inevitability, and we at Climate Emergency Manchester are constantly working to make scrutiny work. Here is where you can find out more about what we’ve done and are doing, as well as 101 content to get your own scrutiny journey on the road.
Scrutiny and the council for beginners
The council and its processes are confusing, so over the years we have spent time preparing reports to make it more accessible so that anyone can get involved. If you’ve somehow arrived here with absolutely no prior experience of local democracy, we would recommend this comprehensive guide to Manchester City Council (last updated April 2022). If you want to get into scrutiny specifically, check out our scrutiny handbook, ‘What’s Going On?’ (published October 2020).
Team Scrutiny Fabulous
Scrutiny wasn’t (and often isn’t) working, so we gathered a team of local folks to report on and influence how Manchester City Council looks at what is (and is not) being done on climate change, environmental and social justice issues in the city. You would not believe how many people were so desperate for a hobby that they would accept watching council meetings as a viable option.
At first, we focussed on a broad-strokes cover-every-committee-regardless-of-relevance approach in order to deeply understand what the council is and isn’t talking about. With time, and probably with the help of consistent pestering, we’ve had more climate content to explore in depth and have moved towards a more targeted model. Most posts are tagged so should be fairly easy to find on the website.
Team SF would always appreciate more volunteers, so if you’ve got a corner of time to spare and want to grow a deep understanding of what MCC are doing, let us know.
We are now covering scrutiny week through a podcast, which was launched earlier this year. Members of the core group and Team SF gathered round a microphone to talk through the major items of the month across the different committees. You can find the podcast on all the major podcast platforms, and head to the podcast page for more information.
After May elections, the first scrutiny meeting includes an agenda-setting activity which occurs behind closed doors. This is when the committee decides what they’ll talk about for the rest of the year, including whether climate change will be as cross-cutting as we are often promised it will be. For the last two years, we have worked with local groups to prepare a citizen’s work programme and sent it out to scrutiny chairs. You can read 2021’s suggestions here and 2022’s suggestions here.
Petition for a Seventh Scrutiny Committee (2020)
This is worth including for the sake of not memory-holing local climate movements, and also because a lot of people put some hard graft into it. In 2020 we ran a petition asking the council to create a seventh scrutiny committee, which would specifically tackle climate change. We ran a campaign and managed to get over 1500 signatures from every single ward in Manchester despite being in the midst of the pandemic. Read this blog for a contemporaneous roundup of the campaign.
Consequently CEM were invited to present our case at the Resources and Governance Committee, and you can read that transcript here. The council ultimately didn’t create a seventh scrutiny committee, but decided to rejig the priorities of each of the committees to change the Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee into the Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee. More contemporary coverage can be found under the tag ‘Petition for cash and democracy‘.