Dear new Councillors,
congratulations on becoming the latest councillors to represent and serve the people of Manchester.
You become councillors at a moment of great danger for the city. I don’t mean the risk of further austerity after the next General Election, nor the rise of far-right parties – though these dangers are all-too real.
The quieter, deadlier threat is … the collapse of the city’s previous ambitions and commitments to deal with climate change
A few basic facts for you.
In 2009, Manchester City Council committed -via the “Manchester Climate Change Action Plan” – to reducing its carbon dioxide emissions by 41% by 2020. It aimed for an interim 20% reduction by 2014. It has missed that target by a very long margin indeed. (A report is coming to Neighbourhoods Scrutiny on this very soon.) The same 2009 plan also set out to create a “low carbon culture.” Virtually nothing has been heard of this since, either from the Council or the arms-length stab-vest group that it set up (the “Steering Group”).
There were supposed to be 1000 signatories of the Manchester Climate Change Action Plan, which is a plan for the whole city, not just the Council. There are 220 or so. Only two of those 220 have gone beyond a signature to create their own “implementation plan”. And nobody seems to care, as long as the buck does not stop with them.
Meanwhile, Manchester Airport and Airport City grows apace. The increased emissions, a proportion of which surely belong to the Council, which owns 35% of Manchester Airport.Group, make a mockery of all other efforts to cut carbon. The Airport, far from being the key to our prosperity, will be the mother of all stranded assets.
And finally, Manchester’s communities are desperately unprepared for the sorts of short sharp shocks that we can expect in the coming years – floods, heat-waves, power cuts, etc. Without proper, collaborative planning, the poorest and the elderly will suffer the worst.
Some of you may think that now you have literally no opposition – 95 Labour Councillors out of 96 – that these problems are either irrelevant or easily solved. But a one-party state may well be a poisoned chalice. Your leader, Richard Leese has said the following–
“But of course that puts big responsibility on us now. The Manchester electorate have put real trust in the Labour Party and we need to make sure that we keel really close to the electorate and we need to make sure that we work with them and that we continue to deserve that trust.”
I am sure you all understand that, and agree with him. What I – and others – want to know is this – What do these fine words this mean in practice?
How much genuine scrutiny can we expect from you? Will you put your careers and the esteem of your Labour colleagues ahead of the need to ask searching questions of what the Executive and the officers are (not) doing? Will you be rigorous, relentless and fearless? Will you undertake to make the scrutiny process more transparent, effective and open? Here are some ideas, flecked with bile. [If you want an example of a dangerously inaccurate summary, try this.]
Specifically, will you get climate change onto the agenda of the six scrutiny committees?
Here are some suggestions for each committee – there are others
Children and Young People
Psychological impacts on young people and children of environmental disasters, their fears and uncertainties for the future (risks of self-harm, suicide, bullying etc). How can we build psychological and community resourcefulness? What is being done well in the city, what is being done well elsewhere?
How Manchester’s vulnerable people (especially the elderly, victims of domestic violence etc) would cope in a prolonged heatwave? *How might disputes between countries/ethnic groups in the rest of the world affect community cohesion here in Manchester?
How can the digital culture sector of Manchester be encouraged to help make Manchester greener and fairer?
What skills will be needed for Mancunians to thrive in the coming decades (outside the traditional curriculum), and what is Manchester City Council’s role in helping these happen?
What progress is being made with the role out of “carbon literacy” training for Council staff, and what synergies exist with other large organisations? What lessons have been learnt, what changes will be made?
How can we minimise the physical and mental health impacts of climate change on various communities (old, young, disabled, poor)?
How ready is Manchester for a climate-related disaster?
The lack of any visible plan for encouraging a “Low Carbon Culture”
The fact that no-one besides the Council itself has an “implementation plan” towards the “official” climate goals
The shambles that is the “Stakeholder Steering Group”
Alongside this, will you persuade the Executive that a seventh committee, dedicated to environmental issues, is a necessity? The only obstacle, apparently, is cost. Well, you’ve got millions sitting in the “Clean City” fund, and you’re not having to pay for a the Leader of the Opposition any more, are you? For proposed terms of reference, see here.
Doubtless many (all?) of you will be firmly invited to undertake “Carbon Literacy” training imminently. Will you encourage your fellow ward and CLP councillors to do likewise, and invite other Labour Party members, and members of the broader community, to do the same? Will you seek to go beyond this very bare minimum training, and actively and consistently engage on what will become an ever-more important fact of 21st century life?
Ultimately, there are two broader questions
Firstly, how do you hope to be remembered?
As people who kept their heads down, who made only quiet noises when bad decisions were being made, when existing policies and commitments are being ignored? Or as those with the courage and clarity to speak up consistently, and the vision and ability to widen the circle of voices heard in the Town Hall beyond the usual suspects?
Secondly, who is your responsibility to?
To yourself, and your own career, and – if compatible – the people who voted for you?
What of those who voted for someone else? Of those who found none of the candidates plausible? Of those who didn’t vote because they were too foreign, too young, too sick.
And what of those who didn’t vote because they have not been born yet, but who will suffer the consequences of our evasions and inactions?
There are many many people in Manchester who will be watching, hoping you make the right moves. There are people with knowledge, connections, passion and principle who want to see the city ready for the challenges, who want the Council to facilitate, not (try to) dominate. What will you do?
editor of Manchester Climate Monthly