Agenda item

Report of the Climate Emergency Advisory Panel - Citizens' Assembly

To consider and, if thought fit, to approve the recommendations set out in the associated report.

Minutes:

Councillor Bailey moved, and Councillor Scott seconded, the recommendations set out in the report. Comments included:

·         a Climate Emergency had been declared in July 2019, the motion also included a recommendation to run a Citizens’ Assembly as a way of involving local residents in tackling climate change.

·         The cross-party Climate Emergency Advisory Panel had been formed and it was decided that this panel would undertake further research into this area.

·         Following talks with providers, it had become apparent that this was a complicated field with many different options and high potential costs for Cabinet’s consideration.

·         CEAP also requested that its report go back to Full Council so that all councillors could examine the issues in more detail and make their own views known.

·         There were three different options presented in the report: Citizens Assemblies, Citizens Panels and Citizens Juries – they all had different numbers of participants, different structures and varying costs.

·         The report also contained two important caveats: the Council should explore the possibility of outside funding to pay for any such event; and prior to the Council committing significant amounts of it’s own resources (if indeed Cabinet chose to) that consultation should be undertaken with residents to ensure that local taxpayers were happy with any funding proposal.

·         The final decision on whether to run such an event was one for Cabinet and no binding decisions would be made at this meeting.

 

Ms Townend (Head of the secretariat organising Scotland’s Climate Assembly) had registered to speak. Comments included:

·         Scotland had just concluded 7 weekend meetings and published their interim report.

·         Citizens’ Assemblies were a more expensive option than a consultation so would not be right for every situation but were particularly useful in addressing complex and contested questions.

·         Scotland had challenging climate change targets and meeting them would require changes that impact on almost every aspect of people’s lives; taking a participatory approach to decision-making should mean better, and more accepted, policy interventions.

·         Independence from government and Parliament increased the recommendations’ credibility.

·         Members had been selected to be representative of Scotland including age, income and attitude to climate change – this gave the recommendations legitimacy.

·         Participants were compensated, this helped include a wider demographic, not just the committed or the available.

·         Assemblies had three parts: learning, deliberation and decision-making.

·         The learning phase had over 100 speakers, but more important than the number was ensuring a range of views and options was presented and that the evidence was available through our website and social media – so the evidence was transparent.

·         The deliberation allowed members time to discuss the evidence they heard and also bring their own lived experience into the debate.

·         Professional facilitation of these group discussions was expensive but essential to ensure all voices were heard.

·         Decision-making – Scotland’s assembly had made over 80 recommendations covering transport, diet, and work amongst others, so while the process was resource intensive, the outputs were rich.

·         It was worth agreeing from the outset what would happen with the recommendations. This meant that the route to policy making was clear and justified the work of the members and the financial investment.

 

Having taken advice on the form of words, Councillor Holden moved, and Councillor Williams seconded, an amendment to the effect of deleting the second point and replacing it with: “Council recommends to the Cabinet that in addition to considering the three options in the report it also considered whether it will itself discharge the responsibilities having declared a Climate Emergency. Therefore, Council recommends to Cabinet that, because climate change has such wide ranging significance, a new Climate Change Committee of the council is set up to establish detailed practical action the council may take to meet the Climate Emergency. Council further recommends that any resources which might have gone to the various options in the report be assigned directly to its own action programmes through the Climate Change Committee rather than to random unelected and unaccountable bodies.” Comments included:

·         There was a need for real action.

·         The Council was a citizens assembly with members elected through a democratic and publicly engaged process.

·         The options set out in the report were unaccountable.

·         Climate change should be embedded in the policy of the Council and the Council should be the body to implement it.

·         There had been sufficient public debate on the matter already, the Council needed immediate action.

 

Having received several requests for clarification, the Mayor, on the advice of the Monitoring Officer, determined that the amendment was in order and related only to the matter at hand.

 

Debate included consideration of the following points:

·         The ultimate purpose of the amendment was to set up a climate change committee of the council and to redirect any resources to it.

·         There was evidence of the success of Citizens Assemblies around the world, particularly to move forward potentially contentious issues. 

·         Citizens assemblies were established to be a representative sample of the area. Alternatives such as opening council meetings to wider public participation would be impractical.

·         Local Citizens’ Assemblies, despite the presence of national assemblies, were relevant in the same way that local government exists in addition to central government.

·         A local Citizens’ Assembly would enable residents to shape local issues.

·         Everyone from individuals to international organisations had a part to play.

·         This was a major project that would incur costs. The Citizens Assembly would help avoid many of the negative aspects of major projects that undermined previous projects.

·         A Citizens’ Assembly would put residents at the front at an early stage and avoid the perception of putting a fait-accompli to a token consultation.

·         Rather that wasting money on consultants to justify preconceived ideas, unbiased and expert option could be presented to inform a genuinely open decision-making process.

·         The upfront cost of Citizens’ Assemblies would be repaid by savings later.

·         The Council needed to have effective carbon reduction policies itself and for the borough but also to engage the public in the process.

·         There were other tools, better than citizens’ assemblies, that could help increase engagement in the community where councils had found it difficult to use traditional methods.

·         Experts advising a citizens’ assembly would be the same as those that would advise the Council.

·         The Council should involve everyone including school children and could explore additional methods to expand and increase engagement of the public.

·         The Council had suffered in the recent past for a lack of engagement, the amendment pushed the Council back into its old behaviours.

·         The third paragraph of the amendment made the assumption that finances would be redeployed which prejudiced the other options.

·         The amendment concentrated responsibility for climate change on one committee whereas this should be a matter for all councillors.

·         All committees should take account of the climate implications of each decision.

·         The amendment would be counter to the recommendation of the cross-party working party.

·         Climate change would not be solved by a committee of the council. It needed wide public engagement and education in order to change behaviour.

·         The amendment recommended a mechanism in which accountability was held directly through elected councillors whose position was upheld by the public.

·         The Climate Emergency Advisory Panel noted that it operated largely in isolation whereas action needed to be taken across the board so the idea of concentrating all responsibility in one committee was not supported.

 

The Mayor took a vote on the amendment by roll-call. Votes cast were 2 for, 39 against with 3 abstentions.

 

AMENDMENT NOT CARRIED

 

Debate returned to the original motion.

 

Debate included consideration of the following points:

·         Many of the arguments for a Citizens’ Assembly had been put forward in the debate on the amendment.

·         The process of formulating a definitive outcome to the debate was unclear. The motion called for a debate to inform the Cabinet, whilst the minutes of the meeting would provide a summary a full recording would also be available.

·         The motion from November 2019 called for a Citizens’ Assembly as a way of involving residents, particularly young people, and businesses in a process that will have long lasting effects on them.

·         Anything less than a Citizen’s Assembly would be relying on a very small group of people.

·         A Citizens’ Assembly should be seen as a long-term investment paid back through future cost savings and inward investment. Existing measures such as LED lighting showed the potential for savings.

·         Further carbon reduction measures would be expensive and public support would be needed.

·         The views of younger people were essential if determining actions for the future. A Citizens’ Assembly was the best way to achieve this.

·         The Council previously agreed to a Citizens Assembly and should honour that.

·         Whilst the Council should remain flexible to changes, nothing had changed since the motion in November 2019. Members were not naive to the potential costs.

·         The Council would need to remain the final decision makers taking account of any recommendations of a Citizens’ Assembly.

·         The cost of Covid, for which the government had not fully repaid the Council, was a material change that needed to be taken into account.

·         There was very little desire from the public for an Assembly, most people expected the Council to act.

·         Climate change should infuse all aspects of the Council’s work but councillors need to be making decisions, not a citizens assembly.

·         Everyone was interested in taking measures against climate change. There was already a great deal of action taking place and the Council’s role was to coordinate the champions of this cause.

·         The cost seemed very expensive for outcomes that could be achieved through other means.

·         Both the Council and KCC were committed to neutral energy policy by 2030 and Councils were the best places to implement these proposals.

·         A Citizens’ Assembly may not be the best way to engage young people. All the proposed options required significant time commitments from participants and there may be better ways to engage.

·         External funding should be sought as opposed to all funding coming from the Council.

·         A Citizens Assembly should be just part of an engagement programme which could target different demographics.

·         A Citizens Assembly would be a public demonstration of changing attitudes at the Council – it needed to reach out rather than keeping things in the Town Hall.

·         The Prime Minister had pledged to spend millions of pounds on tackling carbon emissions in this country and the Council should be appealing to the government for all the funding and support it can get.

·         The cost of a Citizens Assembly was proportionately small compared to previous major projects and could lead to novel savings or better solutions that were more acceptable.

·         Cabinet would consider all the options including modern engagement which was not previously available. New engagement tools were not expensive but utilising the correct tools in future was important.

·         The Council would carry on with achieving its own targets regardless of what engagement method was decided upon.

·         Some legitimate concerns had been discussed with Citizens’ Assembly providers, there was still some questions about next steps following an assembly meeting.

·         Even with the most expensive option an assembly only involved a small number of people and being representative of the whole borough would only include a handful of young people.

·         Harnessing the enthusiasm of young people could be effective if done right. Each school having its own climate panel supported by the Council could be a more effective way of engaging young people.

·         Regardless of an individual’s opinion on Citizen’s Assemblies, the motion asks for opinions to be taken back to Cabinet and so should be supported.

 

The Mayor took a vote on the motion by roll-call. Votes cast were 41 for, 2 against with 1 abstention.

 

RESOLVED –

1.    That the report from the Climate Emergency Action Panel, and the options for public engagement on climate issues be noted; and

2.    That the Council’s debate provide guidance on the preferred engagement option.

Supporting documents: