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KNOWSLEY: Stark warning to council over climate emergency

KNOWSLEY: Stark warning to council over climate emergency

Alok Sharma President of the Cop26 climate summit, ahead of an informal stock taking plenary session, during an 'overun' day of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow. Picture date: Saturday November 13, 2021.

Knowsley councillors were given a stark warning tonight about their role in tackling the climate emergency.

At a meeting of the council’s climate emergency scrutiny committee, officers provided an update on the work carried out to date by Knowsley Council since declaring a climate emergency in January 2020.

The chairman, Cllr Colin Dever began the meeting by saying the recent COP26 summit demonstrated that “more needs to be done” to reduce emissions.

He said: “Whilst news stories were plentiful, the one thing that stood out is that more needs to be done, the science is clear and it’s also clear that every one of us has a role to play in tackling this important issue.”

Officers said work was ongoing on several major projects focusing on flood mitigation, sustainable travel and making council owned buildings carbon neutral.

Work on changes to council owned vehicles, however, has stalled due to the difficulties of retrofitting the council’s ageing depot to make it ready for electric or hydrogen powered vehicles.

Other actions have also hit hurdles due to vacant posts and staffing pressures, including plans to review ways of integrating carbon emission criteria into the council’s procurement policy and reporting of major contracts.

Head of environmental sustainability, Caroline Holmes said however she was “quietly confident” a £1.3 m bid to decarbonise Kirkby Leisure Centre and Nutgrove Villa would be successful.

Ms Holmes said that the sudden availability of pots of money to help decarbonise council buildings led to decisions to prioritise the “big hits” that would bring the greatest level of carbon reduction to enable to council to meet targets.

In response to a question about from Cllr Cath Golding about the feasibility of decarbonising some of the borough’s older buildings, Ms Holmes said: “It’s technical, it looks at energy use and a calculation of carbon emitted from energy use, so every building is completely different with a different solutions.

“We had a very tight time scale so we tried to look at buildings that were deliverable. One of the big emitters is Kirkby leisure centre but the amount of work to make that carbon neutral is quite a lot.

“Based on our current stock we’re looking at doing five buildings a year, it’s a big ask so we need to look at where we can make big hits now as technology will advance and costs will come down in time, it’s the nature of the market.”

With the delays in meeting deadlines for a third of agreed actions, officers were asked what was being done to fill the vacant posts.

Cllr Edward Connor said: “The vacancies and where we’re delayed, these vacancies have been there since last time we met, we’ve talked about it, we’re talking March now before we bring in the officers, they’re going to have quite a bit of work to catch up on.”

Caroline Holmes said: “I take your point on the new staffing appointments, that’s what we’ve looked at when we’ve revised dates when they can practically start and complete actions.”

Cllr Dever asked officers to produce a risk register in relation to staffing so that officers could update at future meetings and explain what measures they were taking to mitigate.

He said: “As a collective we need to understand what constraints are in place that will restrict the delivery, it’s quite clear here that vacant posts is one of those.”

Councillors then heard from business representatives whose companies were involved in green activities or bringing climate emergency considerations into their ways of working.

The chairman of eStar, a Mercedez Benz company which has recently acquired premises in  Knowsley, gave councillors a stark warning.

Sid Siddique, who also runs several companies in the green economy, referred to one of the actions which has been delayed by Knowsley council due to staffing pressures in the procurement team – the inclusion of green considerations in the council’s own supply chain.

Mr Siddique said: “You as a public sector body are procuring services.

“If you’ve declared a climate emergency, when you’re bidding or asking bidders to bid for work can you please make sure that the green agenda is scored?

“The way it is it’s 10% social agenda and 90% price, it should be 30% or 40% social agenda, price is secondary.

“If we believe in what we say that we’ve got an emergency, money needs to be secondary.”

Words:  Lisa Rand, Local Democracy Reporter

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