There were three key questions. They didn’t get answered, but nonetheless, there is scope for optimism about the way Manchester’s councillors look at the performance of the council.
The Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee, which looks at many other things as well as climate change, met on Tuesday 26th August. The climate portion of the meeting was filmed by MCFly (you can see it further down this post)
In order of importance:
a) The question of quarterly progress reports. Two councillors requested these in July 2013. (Shone and Peel). They were fobbed off. In February this year the Executive Member for the Environment, Kate Chappell (currently on maternity leave) wrote “I intend to ensure that quarterly progress reports on the Climate Plan 2014-7 are presented to Neighbourhoods Scrutiny as standard and to the Economy Scrutiny Committee and others on request.”
Despite being the public commitment of one of our democratically-elected leaders, it seems it still isn’t going to happen. Unelected people seem to not like the idea. The officers managed to answer a different question and to keep it in the long grass. But for how much longer? There are encouraging signs of councillors waking up and smelling the coffee.
b) The question of carbon literacy training.
There were some quite extraordinary outbursts of controlled exasperation here. Many councillors have encountered MAJOR difficulties doing the training, both in signing on to the e-learning and getting booked to do the face-to-face. There was a session on Tuesday morning that several members of the Committee (including the chair!) were not aware of, and would have gone to if they had known. (See video interview with Councillor Mark Hackett)
This saga has been going on for months and months. Leaving aside the proverbial whelk stalls, it raises the question – if the officers can’t even get the basics right, what confidence should anyone have in their ability to deliver a much larger and trickier agenda?
Finally, c), the question of having to buy in external expertise to do core functions (the writing of a Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy; see “Manchester Council to spend up to £30k on Green Strategy that in-house bureaucrats were supposed to do“)
The key question was – why didn’t the inconvenient fact that the environmental “strategy” “team” is spending £30k on external consultants to help them write a policy they promised to deliver years ago get mentioned in the report?
This question never got answered.
Still, there were other excellent questions raised, about aviation emissions (Cllr Veronica Kirkpatrick), street-lighting (Cllr Mick Loughman) and so on. It was one of the least dispiriting performances by the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee in a long time (the 2012 effort drove me to the Samaritans).
* Councillor Mary Watson (Whalley Range) expressing disbelief about the difficulty in people undertaking the training (joined in this by Councillors Daniel Gillard, Emily Rowles and the chair, Councillor Basil Curley). She also pointed out this isn’t a tickbox exercise and should feed into ward plans. Not that there are many ward plans.
* Councillors Carmine Grimshaw and Matt Strong both picking up on the fact that the “17%” reduction is in the context of a much SMALLER council (in terms of number of buildings, staff) than it was 4 years ago. (they didn’t say it, but the question is – how much of these savings are frankly illusory?)
* The fact that the meeting went on for three hours. As one of the members pointed out, it’s a very big committee, with a very big remit, and it’s not at all clear that environmental scrutiny is being performed adequately
Absent – Cllrs Anna Trotman, Shaukut Ali and Tina Hewitson (her second consecutive absence, but with apologies on both occasions. Could it be that relentless day time meetings make life difficult not just for members of the public, but also councillors?)
Absent without apologies being sent (or at least, received and read out by the officer): Kevin Peel and
Abdul Abid Latif Chohan. (apologies for getting Cllr Chohan’s first name wrong.)