Its name hardly trips off the tongue and several months of patient research went largely unnoticed, but the interim report of the Sustainability and Climate Change Task and Finish Scrutiny Committee goes to the heart of an eternal Birmingham problem.

The sheer size of the City Council, with 55,000 employees administering to the needs of one million people, makes pinning down the strategic delivery of key issues extremely difficult.

A council that has struggled in the past to get to grips with "headline" challenges such as schools, social services and housing could perhaps be forgiven for paying little attention to sustainability – which a decade ago was a topic yet to make its way on to the local government agenda.

The scrutiny report highlights an organisation ill-prepared to tackle the varying issues thrown up by the sustainability agenda. There appears to be little in the way of corporate approach to the issue; there is no strategic director for sustainability; there is no cabinet member for sustainability; the attitude of the council towards sustainability in planning and procurement policies is one of an optional bolt-on extra rather than a must-do consideration.

All of this is perhaps not surprising given the council's historic disinterest in sustainability.

It wasn't until 2004 that selected households were given recycling bins and encouraged to take part in a trial green waste project – leaving Birmingham light years behind the pioneering vision displayed by other West Midlands local authorities.

In selecting Moseley Labour councillor Steve Bedser to chair the scrutiny committee, leaders of the council's Tory-Lib Dem coalition suspected they would get a frank report. If they wanted a no-holds barred examination of mediocrity, they will not be disappointed.

The report hits out at insufficient accountability at chief officer level for taking the sustainability action plan forward and inadequate reporting to deputy council leader Paul Tilsley. Crucially, although sustainability issues fall within Coun Tilsley's portfolio he is not empowered to reach across other cabinet portfolios in order to carry out his duties.

The creation of a cabinet member with sole responsibility for driving forward the sustainability agenda is a key recommendation in the report.

Coun Bedser makes it clear he is not being critical of individuals. Certainly, it would be quite wrong to point the finger at Coun Tilsley since he has almost single-handedly been responsible for promoting the sustainability agenda at cabinet level since becoming deputy leader last year.

Birmingham, seemingly, is lagging far behind other local authorities in the importance it places on sustainability. The council's sustainability team consists of a job share equivalent to one person, while Leeds City Council has 38 members of staff dedicated to the task.

The Stern Review suggests a city the size of Birmingham ought to be spending about #200 million a year on promoting sustainability. The scrutiny report does not say how much the council is actually spending, but it is clearly only a fraction of the amount recommended by Stern.

By pushing three main recommendations the scrutiny committee has pinpointed important issues where environmentalists believe the council could and should be doing much more.

The first is in the area of procurement, where it is suggested the council must be more pro-active by sourcing the #900 million of goods and services it buys each year from sustainable producers wherever possible.

The second area is property management, where the scrutiny report urges the council to pursue a culture of sustainable development rather than simply one of mere economic development. There is particular criticism of Eastside, where development to date is described as unsustainable and lacking in proper vision.

The third proposal is to instill among council staff and politicians a culture of sustainability.

The report concludes: "We believe that leadership is fundamental to our vision of a sustainable Birmingham, and is something that needs to be addressed not only politically but corporately too."

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