Scrutinising Climate Action Event Blog

This overview will provide a summary of the key themes that emerged during the morning and afternoon session on 18 September 2020, as well as some practical advice identified by participants.


The Local Government Association (LGA) and Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (CfGS) webinar, Scrutinising Climate Action, was a two-part event looking into the role of scrutiny in council climate change programmes and outlining a practical approach for scrutineers to understand and seek oversight on climate action in their localities.

This event expanded upon the recent publication between CfGS and the LGA ‘10 questions to ask if you are scrutinising climate change’.

This overview will provide a summary of the key themes that emerged during the morning and afternoon session on 18 September 2020, as well as some practical advice identified by participants.

Over 200 people attended the online sessions chaired by Cllr Liz Green, Vice-Chair of LGA Improvement and Innovation, with speakers from various councils focussing on the following topics:

  • The declaration of climate emergencies and the role of elected members in providing leadership
  • The intersection between climate change and other policy areas
  • If councils have declared a climate emergency, what do such declarations actually commit councils to in practice?
  • The wide-ranging and important role scrutiny will play in supporting and improving councils’ action on climate change, and the types of questions scrutiny can ask
  • Scoping and designing effective scrutiny reviews
     

Session one

A poll was conducted at the beginning of the morning session to find out where attendees thought scrutiny was best placed to focus regarding climate action in councils, and the most popular choice was: ‘the role of scrutiny in challenging how climate change mitigation and adaptation is being embedded into the activity of each council department’.

Cllr Clyde Loakes, Environment Portfolio Holder at London Borough of Waltham Forest and Deputy Chair of the LGA's Environment Board, spoke about the importance of the council’s elected leadership in championing, directing action and taking ownership of climate action. He shared the progress made in Waltham Forest towards their climate goals, as well as the council’s commitment to being held to account and challenged through scrutiny.

Tom Knowland, Head of Sustainable Energy and Climate Change at Leeds City Council, presented the work being done at the council to embed climate considerations into report writing and future plans across all departments. This was instituted in a similar way to reports containing considerations on any equality and diversity impacts. He highlighted the importance of ensuring that all strategic decisions, budgets and approaches to policy are in line with the council’s climate goals, and how this can be assisted by changing internal processes.

Kate Grigg, Senior Research Officer, Centre for Governance and Scrutiny, outlined the recent publication between CfGS and the LGA ‘10 questions to ask if you are scrutinising climate change’. She mentioned the areas in which scrutiny can really make an impact – by providing the space for cross-party and evidence-based recommendations to be developed, testing assumptions and asking how well the council understands risks and opportunities in the local area, and securing wider political buy-in for long-term action.

Session two
In the afternoon session the focus was on sharing practical advice on carrying out scrutiny work on climate change.

Roslyn Tidman, Overview and Scrutiny Officer at Milton Keynes Council presented on their Climate Scrutiny Review, emphasising their approach to reviewing the work currently being undertaken by the council and highlighting the benefits of the task and finish group working alongside the council’s action plan in developing policy.

Cllr Susan Juned, Chair of the Climate Emergency Task and Finish Group at Stratford District Council, shared the experience of Stratford and how their work began by defining the council’s direct and indirect powers to act and then actions to prioritise within that scope. She also drew attention to scrutiny’s role in steering plans that will outlast changes in political administration.

These reflections from both councils that had undertaken scrutiny reviews into climate action were invaluable in identifying aspects of their scrutiny that worked well, and aspects that didn’t work so well. The positives from their experience below can help guide your planning process if you are scrutinising climate action in your council.

What works well when scrutinising climate action?
 

  • Prioritising
    • Focusing on specific workstreams
    • Themes selected on what the council can do – with such a huge issue to tackle, any review should be set up to reflect which levers are within the council’s control or influence
  • A call for evidence
    • The opportunity to gather views from a wider range of people than could be heard in evidence sessions
    • Testing current council assumptions against the evidence gathered in the review
  • Involvement of Senior Officers
    • Providing senior officer buy-in throughout the review process
    • Looking into how staff from all departments are involved in helping the council reach its climate goals
  • Public engagement
    • The opportunity to involve many stakeholders in such a wide-ranging issue
    • Using scrutiny as a forum to channel resident views
    • Scrutiny getting a clear sense of how it can best engage the public and to understand their likely aspirations and expectations
  • Developing realistic recommendations
    • Designing recommendations to support council improvement and lead to measurable outcomes

Ensuring scrutiny will be involved in monitoring progress and performance