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Devolution & Climate Change Workshop

Contributed by Matthew Millet on 08.02.2016

An article written by Matthew Millett about the Devolution and Climate Change Workshop

Manchester Friends of the Earth AGM / Devolution & Climate Change Workshop

Following the Manchester Friends of the Earth Annual General Meeting on Saturday 23rd January, the Methodist Central Hall played host to an exciting day of panel discussions and workshops under the banner, ‘Devolution and Climate Change’. Featuring a host of enthusiastic panel members, the day provided an engaging and inclusive platform for Manchester residents to discuss many of the issues surrounding Manchester’s devolution, and its relation to the need for action on climate change in the city.

Kicking off at 11am, the event started with an opening plenary from members of the panel. The panel included; Anna Watson (Senior Campaigner with Friends of the Earth), Simon Bullock (Senior campaigner with the Climate Change and Energy team at Friends of the Earth), Neil McInroy (CEO of Centre for Local Economic Strategies) and Sue Derbyshire (Leader of Stockport Council and Vice Chair of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority). The opening plenary gave all attendees the chance to familiarise themselves with the panel, and provided an interesting introduction the context of the debate to be had.

As the first, and chair, speaker, Anna Watson began the event with a warm welcome to all those in attendance, before introducing each speaker in turn, outlining their role within Manchester’s devolution, and their areas of expertise.

This friendly introduction to the afternoon was followed by a handover to Simon Bullock who engaged the audience with a round up of the previous 12 months at both the international and national level. Beginning with reference to perhaps the biggest event of the past year; the COP21 Paris Climate Talks, Simon talked about the initial success that seemed to have been gained from the climate talks, but also some of the drawbacks that the event may have suffered. Talking through some of the other defining moments of 2015, Simon identified the scrapping of the Keystone XL pipeline, Shell’s exit from the arctic, and the continuing rise of renewables around the globe as some of the key triumphs for the environmental agenda. In addition to these, Simon demonstrated that 2015 was perhaps the year when the urgency of the climate change debate became utterly main-stream, with key figures such as the Pope, and the Governor of the Bank of England providing support for the agenda, which has hopefully fostered large public support for action on climate change.
In retrospective however, it was not a purely positive year, with Mr Bullock citing large scale environmental disasters, and the UK Government’s taxes on renewables as antithetical to some of the incredible advances that were seen during 2015. To round off his talk, Simon Bullock called for 2016 to be a year of increased pressure on national government, with that pressure coming from a united front at the local and regional levels, in order to consign fossil fuels to history.

Following Simon, it was the turn of Neil McInroy, who delivered what was to be a fiery and engaging talk on the true meaning of devolution, and the relevance of environmental issues in devolution plans. With a focus on economic growth models, Neil identified devolution as a key foundation to the alternative, and stressed the ability of devolution to capture the intimacy of economy and place, an ability he described as fundamentally important for people to be able to relate to it. With reference to the concerns of people fed up of centralised Whitehall power, he warned against over-exuberance in terms of optimism for the ability of devolution to overhaul the current system in entirety. The change that devolution is able to bring about lies in its ability to bring about progressive change, and it’s potential to incorporate environmentally and socially just principles into local government. Neil centred much of his talk on the need in England for a constitutional conversation that would help to identify how devolution can fit in with increasing austerity and cuts, and diminishing public systems and services. Too often, he argued, the debate remains purely technocratic, and as such remains inaccessible to the general public. The remainder of his talk focussed on the need for a new local-social contract that incorporates pro-social and pro-green policy in order to challenge the prevailing neo-liberal model.

The final speaker of the plenary was Sue Derbyshire, who delivered an inspiring overview of the changes taking place in Greater Manchester as its devolution package continues. Being Vice-Chair of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA), Ms Derbyshire knows the extent to which Greater Manchester Authorities are able to work together and share knowledge, which she explained, is the reason that devolution is able to work so well in the area, as all ten local authorities are able to speak collectively, and are recognised nationally for this ability. Citing Greater Manchester’s ability to think forward and progressively, she explained how this enables the area to constantly be granted new benefits terms of its devolution package. These benefits however, rather than being awarded in a top-down motion, are rather achieved through existing initiatives that are presented to Whitehall by the region. This ‘Knocking on the Door’ of Whitehall is the main reason that devolution in Manchester has been so progressive. With regards to the current devolution landscape in Manchester, Ms Derbyshire highlighted the ambitions of AGMA to form a local energy supply company that would enable raised funds to be reinvested in local communities, and the directions that Manchester is taking to form a globally recognised low-carbon hub. The main message that Sue Derbyshire advocated was that whilst devolution is a fantastic opportunity for Manchester and its residents, the transformative changes that are expected to occur under devolution by many are actually reflective of previously existing aims of AGMA, but which will be made easier under the process of devolution.

Following the opening talks from the speakers, the floor was opened up to questions, and the real debate thus began. The topics highlighted in the Q&A session were broad in topic, and reflected the wide range of interests of those present.  From the number of jobs to be created in the low carbon sector, to the role of national and international policy on local government power, and the necessity of airport expansion, the questions were often complex in nature, reflecting just how deep many Manchester Residents’ concerns are held. After this engaging question session, a light lunch was served, with attendees also asked to vote on the choice of topics for the afternoon.

The format for the rest of the afternoon was dictated by the votes allocated during lunch. These voted topics were to form the basis of discussion groups, to allow for small group debates that were fed back for a whole group discussion at the end of the session. Under the title ‘What do we want devolution to deliver?’ the topics included the following; flooding, housing, food, energy, governance, democracy, economy and health. There was time for two separate discussion group sessions, allowing those attending to take part in debating separate topics.

These group discussions were illuminating in their ability to draw out a great variety of opinion and expertise, which fed back into a larger group discussion as to where devolution should head next. After an afternoon of intense and exciting debate, the workshop was closed by concluding remarks from the panel.

For more information, you can follow #devoclimate on twitter.

Panel Speakers;
• Anna Watson (Senior Campaigner with Friends of the Earth)
• Simon Bullock (Senior campaigner with the Climate Change and Energy team at Friends of the Earth)
• Neil McInroy (CEO of Centre for Local Economic Strategies)
• Sue Derbyshire (Leader of Stockport Council and Vice Chair of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority).

 

Image Courtesy of Bernt Rostad, Flickr