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Green city boast set to haunt former coalition

Green city boast set to haunt former coalition

🕔28.Jun 2012

It should come as no surprise that the first major review to be conducted by Birmingham City Council under Labour control may expose serious flaws of a flagship policy much trumpeted for eight years by the outgoing Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition.

That is the claim – however wildly improbable it seemed  to some of us at the time – that Birmingham was leading the way on tackling climate change through various green initiatives that were on course to reduce carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2026.

The problem was, although much work did take place including a £1.3 billon scheme to reduce energy use and eradicate fuel poverty for thousands of households, there was never any way of monitoring the success or otherwise of the great C02 reduction scheme.

That is to say, you couldn’t tell the extent to which C02 was being reduced, and nor could you say for certain whether public money was being spent wisely.

You just had to believe what you were being told by the politician with overall responsibility for carbon reduction, former deputy council leader Paul Tilsley.

Sadly, while Coun Tilsley undoubtedly talked a good game, work undertaken by the council’s internal audit team makes it clear that no one knows whether Birmingham is on course to meet the less ambitious Government carbon targets, never mind the macho ‘we’ll show the way’ 60 per cent figure devised by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition.

Here is an extract from the audit report: “Our review highlighted a number of serious concerns with the existing arrangements to ensure that the set targets for reducing the level of carbon emissions produced by the council are met which, if not addressed, have the potential to result in the council incurring significant financial costs of several million pounds per annum in the medium to long term, and could also have an adverse impact on the council’s reputation.”

The financial consequences of failing to deliver on the green agenda are potentially serious. If the council does not meet the Government’s 26 per cent reduction target by 2020, it will find itself paying hefty ‘fines’ in the form of having to purchase a higher carbon reduction commitment allowance from the Government.

The auditors went on to explain that it was impossible to judge whether Birmingham was meeting its C02 reduction target, or whether there was any likelihood of meeting the target, because no system of monitoring was in place and there was no management information available.

Evidence of incompetence behind the scenes and an apparent failure of council officers to do what they had been instructed to do were also highlighted by the audit report. In 2009 a carbon management plan was devised to “embed across all departments” the actions required to meet the targets. But the plan was never approved by the city’s Carbon Management Board, with the result that C02 targets will not now be met unless “radical management action” is taken.

Labour council leaders have set up an inquiry into all of this, and haven’t missed the opportunity to put the boot into the former coalition.

Coun James McKay, cabinet member for a Green, Safe and Smart, said the review would be a top priority a new Green Commission – whose members will consist of representatives from across the private, academic and third sectors.

He added: “Birmingham has made solid progress on the environmental agenda over the last few years but there is a huge question mark hanging over precisely how much of an impact has been made – and if our targets are appropriate or achievable.

“The council’s new administration is determined to make Birmingham one of the world’s leading green cities.

“We are fully committed to the green agenda. To build the public support we will need to put this into practice – so it is vital we are open and honest about progress so far.

“The Green Commission will draw on people with a variety of knowledge and experience to spearhead this effort, and its first piece of work will be to conduct a stocktake of where we are, so we know what needs to be done, what is achievable and how we get there.”

Although the audit report has only just been published, the absence of any accurate information upon which to base the claim that Birmingham is delivering on the green agenda has been known about for well over a year.

In April 2011, Sandy Taylor, the council’s head of climate change and sustainability, admitted to a scrutiny committee that he had no way of proving that Birmingham was on course to meet the 60 per cent C02 reduction figure. “We do need effective monitoring of our progress”, he told the committee, before apologising for a lack of useful data.

Mr Taylor’s comments then might have set alarm bells ringing, you would think. It might have dawned to Coun Tilsley and his colleagues that an unmonitored carbon reduction scheme was worthless.

Fourteen months later, there is still no useful data. But at least we have an inquiry.

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