Agenda Page 227 (Corporate Risk Register) states that on July 18th, 2019, a Motion was passed at Council declaring a climate emergency. The Council gave itself six months to establish the Borough’s carbon footprint and develop an action plan setting how the Council would achieve its targets by 2030. The report goes on to add Further Actions to Mitigate Risk mentions Cross Council officer group established and ongoing work of working group with further report back to Council in 2021 on progress against target.
At its meeting on 21st January 2021 the Council considered a Motion (450), submitted by Andy Croy, and seconded by Carl Doran. ‘Council believes the Executive should commission a Citizens’ Assembly on the Climate Emergency. A Citizens’ Assembly on the Wokingham Borough response to the Climate Emergency is required to address the hard choices which need to be made if the Borough is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. The Motion was defeated as every Conservative present with the exception of the Mayor and his Deputy voted against the motion.
My question therefore is what assurance has the Audit Committee sought with regards to the effectiveness of the mitigating actions around the Climate Emergency risk on the Corporate Risk Register?
With regards to risk management, the Audit Committee’s remit is to provide independent assurance of the adequacy of the Risk Management Strategy and the associated control environment. This includes, but is not limited to, receiving quarterly reports reviewing the implementation of the Council’s Risk Management Policy and Strategy to determine whether strategic risks are being actively managed.
To discharge this responsibility, I ensure that the Committee receives comprehensive reports from officers on the Corporate Risk Register and that Committee members are able to assure themselves that the Council is actively managing its most significant risks. The Committee does this in a number of ways including through questions to the Chief Executive, Deputy Chief Executive, and Directors who regularly attend our meetings.
It is pleasing to note the comments of our External Auditors later on this evening’s agenda that risk management arrangements have been strengthened over the past period albeit I acknowledge the helpful suggestions for further improvement including the comment that the Committee should avoid taking “active deep dives” into individual risks which I fear your question may be encouraging us to do. Indeed, the External Auditors go to say that it may be better covered by the work of Overview & Scrutiny which, I know, has already examined the topic of climate emergency in some depth during 2020 and reported its recommendations to Executive in October 2020.
Climate emergency is a priority for the Council which is why it is reassuring and correct to see it identified as one the key strategic risks on the Corporate Risk Register. Following the climate emergency declaration made in July 2019, Wokingham Borough Council adopted a Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP). Within this plan, the Council committed to communicate and engage with residents, businesses, schools, and other organisations to work together to identify and deliver actions towards reducing the Borough’s carbon footprint and encourage behaviour change.
Overall, the Climate Emergency Action Plan aims to deliver warmer homes, cleaner air, better health, more green spaces, as well as reduced emissions. However, despite the Councils best efforts, many of the outcomes of the CEAP rely on factors which are outside the Council’s control. The effective delivery of the action plan depends on the influence and support of multiple agencies.
Citizen’s assemblies have been reviewed as a potential process that can provide a good way of drawing attention to the climate emergency agenda. Although, this can bring out diverse perspectives on the complexity of climate change, the Council concluded at its meeting of 21 January 2021 that this might not be the most adequate engagement tool at this stage. Gaining a broadly representative group of people can be challenging and expensive, and the process for developing and planning an assembly is intensive and demanding on human and time resources. An indicative budget for a local citizens' assembly, consisting of approximately 50 participants for 32 hours of learning, deliberation, and decision-making range between £60,000 to £100,000. The Council concluded that there are most cost-effective engagement tools and that funds that will be required to deliver a citizen assembly can be directed to more effective actions.
Engagement and public consultation are activities that Wokingham Borough Council have extensive experience with, and frequently do, as a key element to produce and deliver policy or projects. The Council regularly carry out survey work, liaise with pressure and action groups and implement methods for hearing and acting upon individual opinions on different matters. The communication and engagement of the Climate Emergency Action Plan will be built upon the Council’s experience and from tried and tested tools and mechanisms delivered by other organisations and local authorities.
In conclusion, I would reiterate the importance of the Committee focusing on its remit and continuing to provide both challenge, oversight and constructive suggestions to help the Council develop and improve further its risk management arrangements, and I am sure that, if you’d care to stay for item 49 on this evening’s agenda, you will see that in action.