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One of the key themes of the Task Force is community engagement: as the Notes from the first Task Force meeting on 17 October 2019 say, ‘working with citizens to enable them to shape what they think a sustainable future should look like’ and ‘build collective agency for change’. The Notes include as one of its ‘Key discussion points and actions’:
Community and stakeholder engagement
- Importance of genuine community engagement: ensuring we see the city as a community of communities; understanding the needs and drivers of communities of place, practice, and interest (including ‘at risk’ groups); working with citizens to enable them to shape what they think a sustainable future should look like.
This should comprise three processes:
- Drawing on and sharing the knowledge and concerns of community members (including partners etc)
- Enabling citizens to shape future policy
- Working with communities to change practice
The sandpits are one site where these can take place, eg:
Transport – to bring forward ideas about how stakeholders across the city can work together and align our efforts to reduce emissions from transport in Birmingham and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. (Climate Emergency – Report to Sustainability and Transport Scrutiny Committee 18 March 2020)
According to the Report ‘The outcomes of these [sandpit] sessions will help to shape the June report’. It is planned to hold a citizens’ assembly ‘in June/July, once the action plan has been developed’.
There is no mention in the Report of any further stakeholder engagement after the plan is published. But that opportunity is presumably necessary if the citizens’ assembly generates amendments and additions to the plan.
That absence indicates a more fundamental issue about the process of the development of the Council’s Climate Emergency response. It would be wrong to conceive of it as a two-stage process of an initial developmental stage culminating in the plan, followed by an implementation stage for the next 10 years until we achieve net zero carbon by 2030. On the contrary, it will inevitably be a continuing iterative process combining implementation, feedback from actions taken, continuing stakeholder engagement and consequent further development of policy and actions.
In the case of Transport, we need to see how the plan works in practice, drawing on the analyses of professionals and the feedback from citizens and communities of their experiences and their suggestions. Over the coming years we need to bring all those together on a regular basis, share them, and develop revisions and extensions of the plan in their light.
How will the Council and the Task Force manage this ongoing process? There are some existing Council policies to draw on. ‘Working Together in Birmingham’s Neighbourhoods’ is the city council’s policy for devolving more power to communities. It was launched in a White Paper in 2019, and in her foreword Cllr Sharon Thompson, Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods, says:
It is about how we can all work together to liberate the energy, creativity and innovation within our neighbourhoods and empower our communities to achieve their ambitions. (p4)
The White Paper says that it is a key principle that ‘The democracy of the city needs strong participation as well as elected representation’ (p7). The White Paper builds on an earlier document, ‘Citizen Engagement’ (2014), a Report of the Districts and Public Engagement Overview and Scrutiny Committee. In her introduction Cllr Lisa Trickett, the chair, wrote ‘We need to secure fundamental change in the way we behave and interact with communities and citizens in the city.’
These aims should be put into practice in relation to the Climate Emergency and the Task Force. The principle should be that the participatory activities of the Task Force are structurally linked to the governance bodies of the Council (and not solely through reports to full Council). On that basis there are five measures which Birmingham City Council should put into practice:
- The Sandpits, including of course the one on Transport, should continue to meet regularly, perhaps every two months.
- The Cabinet member for Transport and Environment should establish an Advisory Committee on Climate Change, meeting regularly, with representatives of the various stakeholders. Other councillors could also be involved. The Advisory Committee should work closely with the relevant sandpit. Similar Advisory Committees should be considered for other Cabinet portfolio areas, such as Housing.
- The Sustainability and Transport Overview and Scrutiny Committee should have a Climate Emergency item on each meeting agenda. It should invite citizens, including from the Sandpit and the Advisory Committee, to contribute to that item where appropriate.
- Regular Climate Emergency Forums should be held in each constitutency, with presentations of progress from the Council and the opportunity for citizens to speak and present suggestions and proposals.
- Ward Councillors and Ward Forums should be encouraged and supported to ensure that the Climate Emergency is a prominent issue on their agendas, with regular reports to the relevant Cabinet Member(s) and Scrutiny Committee(s).
While the lockdown is in place these five proposals should be put into practice as far as possible using online meetings.
RH 18 May 2020
Cancel local authority debt to the Public Works Loans Board
An unprecedented crisis requires emergency measures. To stave off a collapse of council services the debt held by the Public Works Loans Board should be cancelled. This would give local authorities around £4.5 billion extra income a year. Continue reading
Public · Hosted by West Midlands Labour Continue reading
These are Notes for a talk by Richard Hatcher at Birmingham Trades Council’s May Day event, 2 April 2020
We all have experience of doctors’ surgeries and hospitals. Most of us have little experience of adult social care. (I’m not going to include children’s social care which raises different issues.) It has taken the pandemic to make people more aware of the social care system – the number of deaths the shortage of PPE, the risk to dedicated staff. Continue reading
Professor Anne Green writes about ‘Estimates of the Local Impact in the West Midlands of the OBR Scenario of a 35% Reduction in Real GDP in Q2 2020’ in the City REDI Blog at Birmingham University, 28 April: Continue reading