Tomorrow morning at 10am an important moment in Manchester’s environmental future will be decided, by the action – or inaction – of “backbench” councillors. Members of the Economy Scrutiny Committee, meeting in the Town Hall,can decide to insist that the Council’s Executive starts to take account of the environmental impacts of council decisions in every report. Or they can decide that this key recommendation – and they themselves- can be safely ignored.
The explanation: every-so-often a “sub group” (also known as a “task and finish group”) of councillors gets together to examine a problem. It might be “drainage”, it might be “homelessness” or “Council communications.” These groups meets 3 or 4 times, then report back to scrutiny committee(s). Recommendations are agreed, and the officers then have to produce ‘implementation plans’ for the recommendations.
Eighteen months ago an “Environmental Sustainability Subgroup” was formed. Its last meeting was in January 2014. It came up with 17 recommendations. These were agreed by the Neighbourhoods and Economy Scrutiny Committees in March 2014. Officers were asked to go away and come up with a plan for turning the recommendations into reality.
In June they returned. And Economy Scrutiny members said “not good enough. Do it again.”
In September they returned again. And Economy Scrutiny members said “STILL not good enough. Do it again.”
This was EXTRAORDINARY. This stuff just does not happen in Manchester. One of the big bones of contention for the Economy Scrutiny Committee members was that the last recommendation, “that all Executive reports include consideration of the impact the decision has on the environment” had not been dealt with. The “plan” in September was the same unsatisfactory sentence as in June – “The recommendation is under consideration by Executive Members .”
Economy Scrutiny committee members asked why no Executive Member was present to give an explanation. They were angry.
So were some citizens, who wrote an independent implementation plan for the 17 recommendations and tried to present it in October. They were, of course, ignored (this is Manchester.) A cobbled-together rehash of the September “plan” was waved through by the Economy Scrutiny Committee instead.
And now we are here, in March 2015, a full year after the 17 recommendations were made. After three separate “implementation plans” have been put forward to the Economy Scrutiny Committee, it’s now time, apparently, for a “progress report.”
Ignore the other 16 items. Let’s focus on the one that would actually make a difference, that would actually force the decision makers of this city to acknowledge their decisions have real environmental consequences.
What is there under the “Progress to date by end- February 2015 ” column for recommendation 17. Really, do you have to ask?
Will the members of the Economy Scrutiny Committee accept this blatant disregard for democracy, for their time and effort? Will the chair of the Environmental Sustainability Subgroup for all but its last meeting, now the Executive Member for the Environment have an explanation that satisfies the committee?
Time will tell.
You can watch it live here.