Shropshire Council must have been taking lessons from Sir Humphrey Appleby. You will remember him as the permanent secretary who advised and cajoled the hapless James Hacker. When the politics of the moment were tough and when decisions were stalled by inaction and indecision, Sir Humphrey would recommend a review, a committee, anything that would not disrupt the inertia that drives all bureaucracies towards their natural state of inaction.
That is all too often Shropshire Council’s approach to the environmental issues of our day.
The council declared a climate emergency in May 2019. But we learnt from Shropshire Council’s scrutiny meeting a week ago that the council’s action plan on climate change will not be considered by the council until September, 18 months after the climate emergency was declared. Any council that took climate change seriously, would have presented its plan at last December’s meeting, or at its meeting in February.
The political interest on climate change in Shropshire Council’s cabinet is low. The portfolio holder, Dean Carroll has responsibility for “Adult Social Services and Climate Change”. Climate change seems to have been tagged on his brief because other cabinet members don’t wish to have it.
There is almost no relationship between the two parts of Dean’s portfolio. Dealing with adult social care is a big ask alone and must always take priority. I don’t doubt Dean’s abilities and energies. I don’t doubt his commitment to tackling climate change. But this is an over-stretched brief. Logically, climate change should be part of the transport brief as this sector generates around 30% of Shropshire’s CO2 emissions. But the portfolio holder for transport supports extension of the M54 and is an enthusiastic supporter of the North West Relief Road.
If Shropshire Council wants to be as credible on climate change as other councils are, it must appoint a deputy portfolio holder with the sole responsibility of driving forward the council’s and the county’s response to the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis.
Back in December, a petition calling for the council to agree net zero carbon by 2030 was dismissed by the council leadership. Portfolio holder Dean Carrol “advised that work was ongoing to obtain baseline data that would enable the setting of a realistic date for net carbon zero target for the county”. Sir Humphrey would have been proud of that. It didn’t commit the council to anything. Despite a climate emergency having been declared seven months earlier, the council has made little progress. Covid-19 has also become an excuse for struggling to delivering something that the council should have completed earlier. The threat to our environment and our descendants’ future has not diminished.
The following question at Performance Management Scrutiny Committee was asked by Lib Dem councillor, David Vasmer. Shropshire Council has now commissioned work to get baseline data. Its not clear why this wasn’t commissioned a year ago.
Question from Councillor David Vasmer on climate emergency
Since the Council Meeting in December when a timetable was agreed to generate an Action Plan on Climate Change what progress has been made given the understandable interruption that Covid-19 has caused? Has a proposed Partnership Advisory Group been set up?
Councillor Dean Carrol’s response
Steady progress has been made towards the objective of publishing a corporate Climate Strategy and Action Plan, although there have been some delays due to the need to prioritise staff resources to meet the challenges posed by flooding and Covid 19. Officers now plan to present a draft document for consideration by Cabinet in September.
However, the Council has firmly adopted the principle of: “Don’t stop acting just because you’re planning” and action has therefore continued across a range of other initiatives, including guidance on a range of Committee reports, and corporate construction, transport and renewable energy projects. Officers are also working closely with representatives of the Green Shropshire Exchange and other local environmental groups to identify potential actions to improve carbon performance across the whole of Shropshire and to develop proposals for a Climate Action Partnership which will also include Telford & Wrekin. As part of this joint work, Shropshire Council has just commissioned the Centre for Sustainable Energy to carry out stakeholder mapping which will inform the structure and participation in a Shropshire-wide stakeholder partnership.