Manchester City Council, made up of 95 Labour councillors and 1 “Independent Labour” councillor, has a choice.
It can release a specific and detailed report about what it has – and has not achieved – over the last 12 months around reducing its carbon emissions. Or it can confirm what more and more people suspect – that it runs from transparency and scrutiny, and that the recent statements of its leader Richard Leese are just more spin. (Asked by a journalist about the consequences of Manchester City Council being entirely dominated by one party, he said “We have to ensure we hold ourselves to account within this chamber and we also need to ensure that citizens – and people that have voted for us – are able to hold us to account on an ongoing basis, not just once every 12 months.“)
The Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee is one of the six “scrutiny committees” that is supposed to keep tabs on what the Executive and the officers are doing.
It traditionally gets a report every July on the “Annual Carbon Reduction Plan.” Last July (2013) Council officers made a series of specific proposals about what the Council intended to do to reduce its emissions in the coming year. Aware that previous proposals had not necessarily been completed, two councillors – Kevin Peel (City Centre) and Fran Shone (Northenden) – specifically requested quarterly progress reports on the Carbon Plan. This request was “considered” (and not implemented).
At the July 2014 meeting of the committee a very brief “report for information” was tabled (see MCFly article “Council thinks a warm winter plus building sell-off equals success”). The chair of the committee, Cllr Basil Curley, said that a “more detailed” report would be brought to the Tuesday August 26th meeting.
MCFly wrote to the Executive Member for the Environment, ccing Councillor Curley.
Dear Councillor Chappell,
as you are no doubt aware, it was announced/agreed last Tuesday that “a more detailed report” on the 2013-4 performance of the Council against its carbon reduction plan would be brought to the next Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee on 26th August.
I’d like to clarify from you if that report is going to include an item-by-item breakdown of the 2013-4 plan,
e.g will there be a table with all items from 4.11 to 4.86 (pages 35 to 43 in the Annual Carbon Reduction Plan 2013-14) with a column for what was proposed, a column for what has actually been achieved and a third column to explain any discrepancy?
If the report is NOT going to include that, could you please let me know what format it will take, and why it won’t.
The Council officers and Executive member are now proposing NOT to present a detailed account of what has and has not been achieved in the last twelve months. How do we know? Well, Councillor Chappell, who earlier this year repeatedly promised to setting up a blog (she has since said – without explanation – that she will not do so), replied thus;
I’ve spoken to Basil and the officers involved.
Since adopting the new 3-Year Carbon Reduction Plan in February of this year, our intention has been to report on progress annually in March of each year. This is a change from the reporting cycle for previous 1-Year Plans where we provided annual reports in July.
Some data which is relevant to monitoring the Plan doesn’t get released until June of the following year so our intention is to issue this as soon as it becomes available. This was the content of the Report for Information at last Neighbourhoods Scrutiny.
As we are four months into a twelve month reporting cycle, we don’t have data or information to report against each element of the plan. We have set this up so it will be available and reported on in March 2015.
In order to provide some more detail, however, we have agreed with Cllr Curley that we extend the existing report to highlight to the committee any elements of the plan which we can already anticipate we may have problems
with by year-end, and similarly those where progress has exceeded our expectation.
Hope this helps
Members of the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee were not consulted about this decision.
The reports for the 26th August meeting are due to be published on the Council’s website on August 19th. At that point we will see if the Council has had second thoughts and releases the information in a format that councillors on the committee can easily digest, or if the assurances of Richard Leese are maybe not entirely to be believed, and the current scrutiny system is just a meaningless ritual.
What you can do:
a) Save the Date – Tuesday 26th August, 7pm. Meeting of the People’s Environmental Scrutiny Committee at the Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount St, Manchester. If you want to come to the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee meeting; it’s at 2pm at the Town Hall. Some of us are meeting at the Waterhouse from 1pm to about 1.45 (just pop in when you can).
b) Send this blog post to any member of the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee who you happen to know. (Here’s a list of the members. If you click on the names, you can get their email address). Perhaps ask them if they are happy with the quality, frequency and format of information that they are being given by officers and the Executive so that they can discharge their democratic responsibilities.