Exeter City Council’s response to the climate crisis has so far been characterised by numerous failings. It has failed to question flawed assumptions and appears determined to keep going down a road that has already demonstrably failed to deliver.
Unfortunately its attitude towards accountability for its actions in this area is also cause for concern.
Last month’s meeting of scrutiny councillors voted to establish a permanent committee called a “standing overview group” to oversee Exeter net zero delivery.
Labour chair Rob Hannaford emphasised the importance and value of this ongoing formal monitoring mechanism, the creation of which had been suggested by Green councillor Tess Read.
He proposed the motion himself, which was seconded by Conservative councillor Andrew Leadbetter.
But when council CEO Karime Hassan subsequently reported to the council’s executive committee, he omitted to mention the vote, instead saying: “Members called for an ongoing role in looking at the body of work and would seek to make this point to the scrutiny programme board”.
(Like other council bodies, this board meets in private without publishing its decisions, which it refers to the council’s strategic management board on which Mr Hassan sits.)
Not only is this not what the meeting of scrutiny councillors decided, it appears to frustrate their legal powers to act as a “check and balance on the executive”.
These are the same powers the council denied to scrutiny councillors when it controversially, and apparently unlawfully, decided to send Mr Hassan and another senior director to work for Exeter City Futures.
Mr Hassan’s report to the executive also failed to mention Councillor Read’s request for an Exeter greenhouse gas emissions monitoring report to be published annually so the city’s decarbonisation progress could be better understood.
In a written response, which was not published until several weeks after the meeting was held, he said doing so would have “resourcing implications”. He also said that Exeter City Futures does not have the capacity to do this, adding to the lengthening list of the company’s limitations as a decarbonisation delivery vehicle.
At the same time Mr Hassan inserted several recommendations into his report that he had not mentioned at the meeting of scrutiny councillors.
One was for the council to make an “immediate and concerted effort” to concentrate on the delivery of a new district heat network despite acknowledging elsewhere in his report that “many hundreds of thousands of pounds” had been spent on failed attempts to implement such networks in the city centre and at the South West Exeter extension.
Another was to “invite Exeter City Futures to reflect on the challenges of resourcing the step change in activity to meet the net zero 2030 goal and to suggest options for meeting these challenges”, a proposal he said was particularly important, suggesting that the company would need “an enhanced resource commensurate to the challenge in hand”.
There were several more. Nothing was said about possible conflicts of interest arising around Mr Hassan’s proposal as council chief executive for the council to commission the services of a private company of which he is also chief executive.
Nor was anything said about his participation in scrutiny and executive decision-making meetings which directly addressed the company’s role.
The executive committee also noted, without comment, that Mr Hassan, who was until recently both CEO and a director of both Exeter City Council and Exeter City Futures, had unilaterally decided to appoint Labour councillor Zion Lights to the company’s board using powers he acquired in February 2016 which have not been examined since.