What is wrong with the Council’s Climate Assembly and how to fix it

The format of the Route to Zero Community Assemblies as hybrid meetings and with breakout groups for small-group discussions is welcome. But the frequency of meetings is completely inadequate to enable effective coverage of the issues.

The Terms of Reference state that there will be 3 meetings of the Assembly a year, each of 2 hours – making an annual total of 6 hours. According to the Route to Zero Report (City Council 12th January 2021) there are 7 priority issues: New Build Housing, Retrofit of Existing Housing Stock, Transport. Electric Vehicle Charging Points, Waste, Energy, and The Natural Environment.

On average less than an hour a year for each issue

The annual time budget for the Assemblies would therefore be 6 hours for 7 priority issues, which means, averaged out, 50 minutes a year for each issue. At the meeting on 6 October at least half the meeting was taken up with the item on pollution. This means that, averaged out, there would be no further discussion on this issue at an Assembly till after the next two meetings, i.e. October 2022. This is completely inadequate.

However, in fact the situation is much worse, because there are other inputs to take into account from two key bodies concerned with climate policies: the WMCA Environment & Energy Board and the Council’s Sustainability and Transport Overview and Scrutiny Committee. The WMCA has policies and powers which affect and in some case determine the climate policies of BCC. The WMCA Environment & Energy Board currently has Task & finish groups on Transport, Energy, New build & housing retrofit, Green space & natural capital, and the Circular economy, all of which relate to the climate agenda of BCC.  The Council’s Sustainability and Transport Overview and Scrutiny Committee has the responsibility of holding the Council to account, and that brief now includes the R20 Community Assembly.

It follows therefore that there has to be time for report-backs and discussion of these two bodies’ deliberations and actions at each Assembly meeting, and in particular those of direct relevance to the Assembly agenda items. In addition the lobbying by the Council of government for changes in policy also needs to be included in the deliberations of the Assembly.

Furthermore, though the introduction of breakout groups for discussion is welcome, they make no contribution to the wider policy discussion unless there is the opportunity, and sufficient time allocated, for feedback from them into the plenary session and for further discussion there.

We need more than 3 two-hour Assemblies a year for real citizen participation

All of this further reinforces the argument that the schedule of 3 Assembly meetings a year, each of 2 hours, is simply not viable, if the Council genuinely intends the Assembly to be an inclusive body in terms both of the issues it addresses and of enabling a genuinely participatory engagement with citizens, in line with the promise of Cllr John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, to put “Citizens’ voice at the heart of decision-making” (Birmingham City Council Delivery Plan 2020-2022, p72).

One way to address this problem would be simply to increase the number of Assembly meetings each year. For example, monthly meetings would provide a total of 24 hours – on average three and a half hours spread over the year for each of the 7 priority issues. An alternative would be to hold Assemblies on specific issues (for example, on Transport), each lasting perhaps an hour and a half and taking place perhaps every three months (so that, for example, there would be 4 meetings a year on Transport, making a total of 6 hours). These would tend to attract people with a specific interest in the topic. There could also be general Assemblies, perhaps 3 a year, whose main purpose would be to gather together in summary form the specific issue discussions to provide an overall picture and opportunity for discussion of it.

This report and proposal has been sent to Cllr Waseem Zaffar, Cabinet member responsible for Transport and Environment, and to Cllr Liz Clements, chair of the Sustainability and Transport Overview & Scrutiny Committee, by CANWM (Climate Action Network West Midlands).

 The next meeting of the Assembly is on  Wednesday 9 February 2022 from 6.00 – 8.00 pm at the University of Birmingham and online.


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