Council's climate change assembly will cost double the budget available

Cannock Chase Council is considering ditching plans to form a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee its climate change action plan after the cost was found to be double the budget available.

Cannock Chase District Council
Cannock Chase District Council

The Citizens’ Assembly was one of the proposals put forward in 2019 when Cannock Chase Council declared a climate emergency and pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030. The assembly would include a number of residents representing the district, to establish facts and make recommendations to the council for its 10-year costed action plan.

In April the council invited companies to bid to develop and run the Citizens’ Assembly. But no proposals came forward, a report to Thursday’s cabinet revealed.

It added: “Four of the companies that were invited to bid have outlined their reasons for not submitting a bid for the work and have offered advice.

“Cost has been the main factor, with the estimated minimum cost being £50-£60,000 for running a Citizens’ Assembly, which typically consists of 50 people. This is in excess of the £30,000 budget available.

“The timescale for delivery was also an issue with the work in selecting a panel taking up to 12 weeks.

“It has not been possible to set up a Citizens’ Assembly as originally envisaged given the budget available. If this is still required, then a budget provision of circa £60,000 is necessary; this would require a supplementary estimate of £30,000 to be added to the current budget.”

Cabinet members are now recommending the council sets up stakeholder panels instead to carry out wider consultation on the costed action plan. Much of the work could be carried out in-house, the report said, and within the £30,000 budget.

Deputy leader Bryan Jones, who recommended the stakeholder panel option to fellow cabinet members, said the authority had to be financially responsible.

Councillor Adrienne Fitzgerald, cabinet member for housing, heritage and leisure, said: “I think the stakeholder panel is the way forward. A lot of groups are already set up and we have a wide range of people we can go to.”

The stakeholder panel recommendation will be subject to approval at a full council meeting.

Council leader Olivia Lyons, speaking about the Citizens’ Assembly option, said: “We would be spending £60,000 to engage 50 people – that’s an incredible amount of money. We have a duty to be responsible and protect taxpayers’ money.

“The stakeholder panel has a real number of benefits. It is significantly cheaper and it can be dealt with in-house.

“We can involve local residents, community groups and town and parish councils. We’re not just engaging with a select group of people, we really are engaging with everyone.

“We really should be engaging with as many people as possible in consultation on this.”

Councillor Justin Johnson, cabinet member for environment and climate change, said: “Alarm bells rang for me when they said Citizens’ Assemblies could cost up to £60,000 and with other assemblies the cost has gone up to as much as £90,000. That’s a lot of money to be spending just on a consultation.

“When we believe we can do it in-house and we can monitor how much money is spent on a consultation it has to be a no-brainer.”

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