Council rejects bid to take money from Climate Change action to fund increases in Economic Development team

A bid to take money from a fund allocated to a Climate Change Action Plan and to be diverted towards Economic Development has been rejected.

read:https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/council-rejects-bid-take-money-3819142

According to this press report a request for two additional posts in the Economic Development area had been put forward by Cllr Mike Allen (Con) to Cabinet last week. This was supported by both Overview and Scrutiny Committees, who as part of draft budget proposals, requested East Devon District Council’s cabinet consider funding these posts from part of the sum allocated to Climate Change.

As you might expect Owl has red lines when it comes to the environment and climate change. In this case the cabinet, in Owl’s opinion, made the right call in rejecting bids to take money from the Climate Change action fund. The article above went on to suggest that the joint meeting of the Scrutiny Committee, chaired by Cllr Alan Dent (Con) and Overview Committee, chaired by Cllr Nick Hookway (Ingham Indy group), tasked with reviewing the budget, had unanimously agreed that a proposal to take money from climate change to fund two new economic development posts should be put to cabinet. It has taken a week for Owl to calm down and try to understand, by listening to recordings of the joint committee debate and reviewing the draft cabinet minutes, why this could be so.

What Owl has found is that the debate at the combined Scrutiny and Overview was somewhat confused. There were eight budget proposals that members thought were unfunded or insuffiently funded and which they thought deserved to be reviewed at cabinet. They were also unhappy that the sizeable Climate Change budget of £323,000 was a ring-fenced allocation with, as yet, no definite spending proposals. Officers pointed out that as and when costed proposal were made these would have to be approved at cabinet and council. Just how these two concerns ended up as a single proposal to cut the Climate Change budget by £100K to fund two economic development posts rather than any of the other underfunded proposals is unclear. In the past EDDC, has equated economic development by sacrificing greenfield sites to build, build, build, the very antithesis of reversing climate change, so this trade-off looks particularly inappropriate.

Where this is spelled out in the audio recording of the joint committee and draft cabinet minutes is a mystery.

Owl shares, however, the concern that the Climate Change budget for the year doesn’t appear to have definite proposals yet. Owl’s message to officers and the portfolio holder for the environment is this: setting a climate change budget is necessary but not sufficient to deliver progress. You have the strategy for 2020 to 2025:

https://democracy.eastdevon.gov.uk/documents/s7944/EDDC%20Climate%20Change%20Strategy.pdf

This says: we will draw up 5 year Action Plans to address these key priorities, and progress towards them will be measured annually. We are already into the second month of 2020. Where is the plan?

Full devonlive article reads:

A bid to take money from a fund allocated to a Climate Change Action Plan and to be diverted towards Economic Development has been rejected.

A request for two additional posts in the Economic Development area had been put forward by Cllr Mike Allen, and was supported by both Overview and Scrutiny Committees, who as part of draft budget proposals, requested East Devon District Council’s cabinet consider funding these posts from part of the sum allocated to Climate Change.

But Wednesday night’s cabinet meeting saw that recommendation rejected, with Cllr Geoff Jung, portfolio holder for the environment, saying: “I can hear Extinction Rebellion banging on our doors now.”

Making his proposal, Cllr Allen said there was a need for a senior commercial officer in East Devon to focus on working with businesses to broker the growth of small business units in the area and to make sure there is someone with commercial property experience who can go out and make sure there is inward investment which encourages ways in which business can grow.

He said; “We have lots of small businesses and have people who have been landlocked in terms of available space. They want to expand but simply can’t. The reason is they don’t know the best way to do it and there is no mechanism for us to help them as our resources are overstretched.”

But Cllr Ian Thomas, portfolio holder for finance, said he was concerned about the proposal that linked two different aspects of the budget.

He said: “We declared a climate emergency and wanted to put it at the core of everything that we do. I’m not comfortable that this proposal comes from the climate change budget, and am concerned that this is not supported by the officer teams or the SMT. In the absence of a coordinated proposal,

“I feel we have a mismatch, and I think we should refer it back to the service department for a review. If the service lead supports these additional staff, then we do have funds in the budget that could be used for this purpose, but it should not be linked to the reduction in the climate change budget.”

Cllr Jung added: “I cannot approve reducing in the climate change budget. It should be the wrong direction for the council. We should be serious about the climate change action plan or not, and do you want to expand a department to promote economic growth and take it from the budget for climate change? I can hear Extinction Rebellion banging on our doors now.”

Cllr Kevin Blakey, portfolio holder for the economy, added: “As much as I want to see economic growth in the district and it may be that some additional staffing is needed in the future, I don’t think now is the time. Funding it should be part of a long term commercial plan and it should not be coming from the budget from climate change action plan.”

The cabinet recommended their draft budget to full council for approval, without the proposal for £100,000 for two additional posts in the Economic Development service and reducing the sum allocated to the Climate Change Action Plan from £323,000 to £223,000.

The draft budget also includes a Council Tax increase of £5 a year, giving a Band D council tax of £146.78 a year for 2020/21.

The cabinet also recommended that full council adopts the Climate Change Strategy 2020 – 2025, which incorporates the Climate Change Action Plan

John Golding, Strategic Lead – Housing, Health & Environment, said that an initial assessment has been made on the cost implications associated with the Climate Change Action Plan has been made to meet the council’s clear ambition of being carbon neutral by 2040 at the very latest.

He told the cabinet that he would be bringing papers with a number of specific actions to be taken ‘imminently’, around the electrification of their vehicle fleet, sourcing green energy, and investment in the council housing stock to heat them via air source heat pumps.

The council has budgeted for £10,000 to be spent on each of its 4,200 council homes, but Cllr Thomas said that figure might not be enough and that if a £25,000 investment was needed, it would costs more than £100m, ‘a sum larger that we borrowed to buy the whole housing stock in the first place’.

He added: “This shows that we are not even in the right millennium in terms of our funding and if are to meet the objectives and aspiration, we will need central government support as we cannot do it under our budgets.”

Cllr Jung added: “It will cost a lot of money, but we have to get started now and get on top of climate change.”

One thought on “Council rejects bid to take money from Climate Change action to fund increases in Economic Development team

  1. Congratulations to cllr Jung. Declaring a climate emergency is just lip service – action is needed & its needed now! He has done well resisting pressure to dilute his plans. If things start to slip at this stage there is no chance of meeting the targets that have been set. Shame on the cllr’s who want to reallocate the funding that has been set aside for climate change action.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.