Councillors fail to scrutinise the agenda, the #Manchester budget, themselves

Manchester City Council is having to make very big cuts to its budget. Councillors on the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Council wanted reports on different options, but will not get them. On Tuesday 16th November they kicked off at everyone – but themselves. Marc Hudson reports

What to cut? What to save? The members of the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee wanted to have informed opinions, ahead of the budget-setting process. It is their democratic duty, and some of them are facing the voters next May. (1)

At their November meeting they had requested a number of reports to come to the December meeting. Time was short, because by January a draft budget would have been created, and the bureaucratic and political momentum would be behind the proposals in it.

And did the minutes of the November meeting reflect those requests? And did the agenda of the December meeting – published a week previously – contain items called “discussion of budget” or “those reports you requested”? And did any of the councillors raise this in a timely fashion before the meeting, making sure they were able to fulfil their obligations?

No. No. No.

Instead, there was a 20 minute heated wrangle about the accuracy of the minutes. It is available online to see, if you can stomach it (bring a sick-bag). It was a bewildering and frankly embarrassing scene. One observer, in a position to know, said “this is exactly how not to chair a meeting.”

But it is the members of the committee – rather than the chair or the scrutiny officers – who should be reflecting the most. Rather than blame individuals in the heat of the moment, or pin the blame on the people who wrote the minutes (2), the councillors need to think for a minute; how did they let it come to this?

The meetings agenda (3) was out a week before. It contained only two items – Green and Blue Infrastructure report (more on that debacle later) and the Homelessness Task and Finish Group.

Did NONE of the councillors check this agenda? It seems not, because if they had, they could have communicated, with days to spare, that something was amiss.

They could then have contacted their colleagues on the committee, and someone could have watched over the discussion of the November meeting and made a written list of amendments to the formal minutes, That could have been submitted in writing days in advance.

And, more importantly, got the budget reports that they requested brought in a timely fashion.

So that there can be proper scrutiny of the draft Budget BEFORE it starts to be set in stone.

But that didn’t happen. Instead we had a chaotic, undignified and unintentionally hilarious squabble.

There are some very good councillors on the NSC. But this was not their finest hour.

So was this – the lack of reports to Neighbourhoods Scrutiny – a conspiracy or cock-up? Almost certainly cock-up. But isn’t it funny how cock-ups always end up centralising power in the hands of a few? The cock-ups never increase democratic oversight.

What else do we learn? That it isn’t just members of the public who are unable to influence the machine that is the Executive-Senior Officer Nexus. Elected councillors, even ones with positions of authority within the Labour Group, are also treated with disdain and contempt. Welcome to Manchester.

Footnotes

  1. The truth is that the Labour party is currently invulnerable. The Greens and Lib Dems have no hope of winning any seats. UKIP theoretically might get up in a couple of wards (Moston?), but it ain’t likely. Labour could recruit Mark Thatcher, or the corpse of Augosto Pinochet, stick a red rosette on ‘em, bish bosh, new councillor.

  2. The reason given for the incompleteness of the minutes was that the minute-takers were at times struggling to get the video recording to function. You could ask “well, why didn’t they watch the video back, to catch the bits they missed.” It’s a fair question, but maybe they didn’t because – thanks to staffing cuts – they simply don’t have time and are doing the jobs of three people? A reliable source tells MCFly that the officers involved are among the best that Manchester City Council has, and MCFly’s experience confirms that.

  3. The chair has the responsibility for the agenda. Did HE not see that the reports requested by the members of the committee were missing? Eh?

Below is an email exchange with a Council officer with responsibility for these sorts of things. What is interesting is that, contrary to what one councillor once said to a Liberal Democrat who was chairing a committee, a meeting CAN go ahead without minutes being agreed…. Too late now, but good to know…

Tuesday afternoon.

Hello,

I attended Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee today (16th December).  There was a prolonged (35 minutes) discussion about the accuracy of the minutes of the November NSC.

Members were very reluctant to agree the minutes. At one point an Exec member (who made clear he was NOT a member of the committee) said that if he were, then he would call for them to be “referred back”.

The meeting progressed in some ambiguity to me.

My question (presumably to the City Solicitior?) is about the mechanisms for meetings going ahead when the previous meeting’s minutes have NOT been agreed as a true and accurate reflection.

What does it mean for a meeting’s minutes to be “referred back” (I admit, I may have got the terminology wrong)

Can a meeting go ahead without the previous meeting’s minutes being agreed?  If a meeting physically goes ahead without agreed minutes, what is its legal status?

How often has this happened in the last four years?
many thanks

Wednesday morning

Dear Mr Hudson

Your question to the information compliance team have been passed to me. I am not responding to it ‘officially’ as an FoIA request, as you will see below.

The minutes of all meetings in the Council have a number of jobs to do:

  • they need to establish an accurate record of the decisions made, if any, and the rationale for those decisions;
  • comply with legal requirements (such as recording attendances);
  • where the minutes are used by the Council to make decisions, the minutes need to explain to the Council what the issue is and what decision(s) the Council is being asked to make (for legal reasons this is not something that Scrutiny Committee minutes ever do – the Executive, and Non-Executive Committee meetings, will do this from time to time); and
  • provide adequate information about the authority’s business for the public, the press and any other councillors who were not present so that they can know what business was conducted at the meeting.

The legal significance of minutes varies, depending on the meeting and the matters considered at the meeting. For example, the minute recording the granting of planning permission will be legally very significant should the legality of a development ever be challenged. Likewise the minute that records the setting of the Council Tax each year is important. Scrutiny Committees are not decision making committees, they are not legally empowered to take decisions of that sort. They have to refer matters requiring a decision on to other decision-making committees or to the Executive. So a question about whether a scrutiny committee’s debate is accurately described is not going to be as significant as a question over whether planning permission was granted or not.

“What does it mean for a meeting’s minutes to be “referred back” (I admit, I may have got the terminology wrong)”

Councillor Andrews did say he believed the correct term was ‘referred back’. That is something that a meeting of the Council can do when it is considering and receiving the minutes of a committee meeting. Any issue in the minutes of the committee’s meeting that the Council believes needs further work or consideration can be ‘referred back’ to the committee. But in the context of yesterday’s meeting it is not relevant. The committee cannot refer its minutes back to itself.

“Can a meeting go ahead without the previous meeting’s minutes being agreed?”

Yes, indeed it must go ahead if there is a quorum present.

“If a meeting physically goes ahead without agreed minutes, what is its legal status?”

Exactly the same as if the minutes had been confirmed as correct record. It makes no difference to legal status of the meeting.

“How often has this happened in the last four years?”

It depends what you mean as ‘this’. Minutes are routinely corrected for accuracy at the next meeting, the probably happens half a dozen to a dozen times in a  normal year. In such cases the minuets are normally approved as a correct record subject to the changes being made to them after the meeting that were raised and agreed at the next meeting. Minutes not being adopted as a correct record and brought back to the next meeting is very rare. I have a recollection that it has happened at least once before in recent years but to give you an accurate answer to both types of changes will need us to go through the minutes books, and we will need to deal with this as a FoIA request if you want the precise numbers. Please let me know if you do.

I hope this helps.

Regards

Donald Connolly
Governance and Scrutiny
Chief Executive’s Department, Manchester City Council

And reply

Dear Mr Connolly,

first of all, I want to say thank you for the extreme speed with which you have replied  (and thanks to information compliance for passing it on!).

Secondly I want to thank you for giving clear and comprehensive answers to my questions.

Thirdly I want to confirm that I do NOT want to take up staff time on going through the minutes book.  Your recollection is perfectly fine for me.

Finally (!), upon further research, it seems to me that the minutes of NSC were agreed as an accurate record at the last Full Council meeting.  That does seem to render the discussions held yesterday somewhat moot!  Now that full Council has voted these minutes to be an accurate record, can they be amended?

Best wishes
Marc Hudson

 Dear Mr Hudson

Thank you for sparing us a search through the minutes of all the meetings held in the last four years.

“it seems to me that the minutes of NSC were agreed as an accurate record at the last Full Council meeting”

If I can save you some research: no, scrutiny committee minutes are presented to the Council for the Council to note, never for the Council to approve as a correct record. If you were to study the minutes of Council meetings you will see that when scrutiny committee minutes are considered the records shows…

“Decision

To receive the minutes.”

That is not the same as “To approve the minutes.”

The only minutes a Council meeting ever ‘approves’ are those of the previous Council meeting.

Regards

Donald Connolly
Governance and Scrutiny

Posted in Democratic deficit, Manchester City Council | Leave a comment

It’s official: #climate is not “urgent business” for #Manchester City Council

You have a plan.  But it isn’t working.  Your carbon emissions are going UP, not down.

The short report where that was admitted is not even in the papers for the meeting.  And the council’s carbon emissions are not on the agenda.

It’s looking pretty desperate.  But wait, there is hope!  There is a procedure in place for just this sort of eventuality.  The first item on every scrutiny committee meeting is “Urgent Business”, where councillors – who are elected and paid to scrutinise – can “consider any items which the Chair has agreed to have submitted as urgent.

And at 2pm on Tuesday 16th December 2015, in the Scrutiny Room of Manchester Town Hall, did any of the assembled councillors, who had been lobbied to do so by members of the public, think that climate change matters? Did any of them want to point out that for all its very many fine words, their council is failing?

You know the answer to that one.

The system isn’t “broken”.  The system is being broken, everyday, by councillors who keep schtum, by officers who claim to have done broad consultations about strategies  but have “consulted” the person who they’re paying to write the strategy, when he is wearing a different hat.  (More on this soon).

If you have a spare 20 minutes, and you want to watch an official meeting descend into failure so complete that the words “catastrophic,” “farcical” and “humiliating” don’t really cover it, then watch the discussions that took place after other “urgent business” (inspired by an MEN beat-up about taxi drivers).

The link is here. Have a sick-bag ready.

And, no, climate change didn’t come up in the Overview Report at the end of the meeting.  And the report on how “Carbon Literacy” is coming along is not scheduled either.  Good thing a Freedom of Information Act request went in, isn’t it?

 

 

Posted in Democratic deficit, Manchester City Council | Leave a comment

Job Alert: Red Rose Forest Heritage Trees Engagement Officer

from here

Jobs at Red Rose Forest

Heritage Trees Engagement Officer

Fixed Term to December 2018

Salary: £24,892

Hours: Full-time, 36 hours per week.  

Based at the Red Rose Forest Office, Salford

Application: via application form – see below

Do you have the skills and enthusiasm to engage a wide range of audiences in natural heritage?

Do you have experience of successful partnership work? 

Can you identify and create opportunities to maximise project outcomes? 

Every tree tells a story… Red Rose Forest’s brand new exciting Heritage Trees project aims to reconnect people across Greater Manchester with our tree heritage.  This ambitious four year project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and will work with people and communities to develop a fantastic interactive website which will hold a comprehensive collection of information about the physical and social significance of our tree heritage.  In order to do this you’ll be managing volunteers to help collect facts, information and stories from a wide range of people… we believe that everyone has a story about a tree.      

You will also be responsible for delivering a busy programme of activities and events giving people the opportunity to learn about, care for, and plant new trees and woodlands within our landscape.   

Our office is based in Salford but you’ll be working across Greater Manchester, with particular emphasis in parts of Manchester, Trafford, Salford, Wigan and Rochdale.  

Red Rose Forest is a leading environmental regeneration initiative and the Community Forest for central and western Greater Manchester. We are working to develop well-wooded, multipurpose landscapes to transform a large part of Greater Manchester into a greener, healthier and more satisfying place to live, work and invest. At the heart of our strategy is the involvement of a wide partnership of local communities, businesses and other partners in the environmental, social and economic regeneration of the area.

A full driving licence is required and a Disclosure and Barring Service check will be requested for the applicant who is successful at interview.  Some weekend and evening work will be required, however the Team operates a flexitime system, and annual leave of 25 days per year plus bank holidays.

For an informal discussion about the post, please contact Jessica Thompson or Hilary Wood at Red Rose Forest on 0161 872 1660, jessicat@redroseforest.co.uk hilary@redroseforest.co.uk

Alternatively contact Anne Carpenter, Red Rose Forest, Dock Office, Trafford Road, Salford Quays, M50 3XB,  0161 872 1660.  anne@redroseforest.co.uk

CVs will not be accepted

Closing date for applications:  Friday 16th January 2015

Interviews will take place on Wednesday 28th January 2015

The post holder will be employed through Community Forest Trust (Charity No 1072706 and Company No 3598556) on behalf of Red Rose Forest.

Further details:  

Application form

Job description

Person spec

- See more at: http://www.redroseforest.co.uk/web/content/view/31/138/#sthash.zTkxHk2H.dpuf

Posted in Job Alert | Leave a comment

Polar Bear Facepalm: The hairless apes keep burning the coal…

From Guardian article.

polarbearcoaldemandgrowth

Posted in Energy, Polar Bear Facepalm | 1 Comment

#Manchester Environmental Education Network website relaunched – quite snazzy…

It’ s here.

Screenshot from 2014-12-15 09:58:09

 

And, stolen from the public facebook of the co-ordinator, this kinda sums it up…

Coming back through school I was spotted by pupils who came rushing up to me asking ‘Are we doing Eco Club today?’ ‘When are you next in?’ ‘You know we’ve got a lot to do!’ as one pupil commented. These young people had been involved in an energy and climate change event we’d organised at Manchester Cathedral and are passionate about looking after their planet. But for all their passion they can’t do it on their own, they need us adults and those at Lima, and later in Paris, to stop talking and start changing the way we live and work. To make this happen we need to keep the pressure up on the ‘powers that be’ and make sure we keep talking to young people, supporting their initiatives and helping them create a future worth having. MEEN has just launched its intergenerational project on climate change with the aspiration of opening up more conversations between young people and more ‘seasoned’ activists – so look out, we’ll be in touch! In the MEENtime go to the newly updated website www.meen.org.uk and have a mooch about.

Posted in Campaign Update, capacity building | 1 Comment

Job Alert: People’s Environmental Scrutiny Team administrator

job spec 1

Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

#Manchester #climate- scaling the 41% carbon reduction down to 27%? Nope, EVEN WORSE; 22.6%

The short version: Manchester City Council, whose own emissions are UP, is not scrutinising its own climate performance, and YOU can help change that by contacting your councillors.
Meanwhile, things are even worse than reported yesterday; Manchester is missing its reductions targets by EVEN MORE than the council motion indicates.

In 2009, in the run up to the Copenhagen Climate Talks (1) Manchester City Council engaged with “stakeholders” to create Climate Change Action Plan. The plan had two headline goals – a reduction of Manchester’s carbon emissions by 41% by 2020, and the creation of a “low carbon culture.” The council is doing nothing to help that low carbon culture into existence, and nor is the so-called “Stakeholder Steering Group”, the official group set up in 2010. The only people attempting to even define the term “low carbon culture” are the “People’s Environmental Scrutiny Team.”

Meanwhile, the carbon reduction goal is going to be missed by an ever growing margin. In an ambiguously worded motion to full Council on Wednesday, it was mentioned that “forecast reduction has now been scaled back to 27%”.

That’s bad enough, but in the process of getting clarification of this from the aforementioned Steering Group, MCFly has been told the following;

“The 27% figure is actually taken from the MACF Annual Report 2014, based on the data we had at the time. Since then MACF has produced a revised trajectory based on more recent Government data, showing a 22.6% reduction trajectory by 2020.

So. No low carbon culture – which was talked up as the more important goal, to help make the deeper cuts beyond 2020 possible.
No really significant reductions in Manchester’s own emissions.
Manchester City Council’s own internal emissions? Going UP on the same time last year.
Manchester City Council’s scrutiny process – not even planning to discuss the increase in its own emissions.

Thank goodness the climate talks in Lima, Peru have gone so well, or you’d begin to lose hope.

What can you do?
Write to your councillors about the lack of scrutiny.
Come to the People’s Environmental Scrutiny Team meeting on Monday 15th December 7pm Friends Meeting House. If you can’t/don’t do meetings, there are other ways of being involved – see website for more details.

What have we learnt?

  • Even though it is a nauseating circus, the full Council has to be paid attention to. MCFly was behind the ball on this story. Does someone want to volunteer for “Keeping Tabs on Full Council” duty? It’s a few times a year, just going through the motions
  • Things are usually worse than you think, but not automatically in the precise way you think.

Below is the full text (in italics) of a very promptly sent reply to questions from the chair of the Steering Group, Gavin Elliott about the Council motion (which is copied and pasted below that).

“as you are presumably aware, on Wednesday at full council a motion went through where the Council admitted that it wasn’t going to keep the “41% by 2020″ target for itself.  It is silent on whether this still holds for the wider plan, stakeholders.”

To contextualise this, it is worth noting that the wording relates to a motion regarding the proposition to set up a Manchester ESCO. However, in setting the background case for the proposition, the paper states “That this Council was informed on October 15th 2014 of a reversal of its progress towards its 2020 41% reduction in CO2 emissions target. The forecast reduction has now been scaled back to 27% “. This refers to the ‘State of the City’ presentation by the CEX to Full Council which showed the citywide CO2 performance to date, and that the trajectory shows we are on track for a 27% reduction by 2020.

The use of the term ‘forecast’ is slightly ambiguous but I can confirm that this is not the target being re-set (lowered), but rather a predictive forward extrapolation based on the progress to date – which in the context of the discussion, was actually being used to impress upon the members the urgency to act.

I’m told that in the webcast of the meeting you can see/hear that Cllr Shilton Godwin who presented the Motion was clearly talking about citywide CO2 emissions. (http://www.manchester.public-i.tv/core/portal/home) although I wasn’t personally in attendance, as you know.

The 27% figure is actually taken from the MACF Annual Report 2014, based on the data we had at the time. Since then MACF has produced a revised trajectory based on more recent Government data, showing a 22.6% reduction trajectory by 2020. (http://macf.ontheplatform.org.uk/article/carbon-challenge-manchester-business)

The Motion was formally agreed, which means that the CEX has been formally tasked with setting up a Council task-and-finish group to investigate the establishment of a Manchester Energy Services Company, including whether this should be at a Manchester, GM, or other level.

I’d like to know – for publication

a) was the Steering Group consulted about this beforehand? No, there was no need to. This was simply a re-statement of existing previously published data
b) if so, did it agree/disagree to the change. If it agreed, why?.  In the light of the contextual piece above, this isn’t relevant
c) if it disagreed – what arguments did it give and how does it feel about its opinion being ignored? Ditto
d) does the SG have a position on whether the rest of Manchester should be going now for 27% or keeping to 41% Ditto
di) If 27%, what does that mean for a 2 degree global target Ditto
dii) If 41%, why should other “stakeholders” be aiming for more than its own Council is willing to do? Ditto

Council notes: -
1. The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published on 3rd November 20 14, which issued a stark warning that the pace of change in reducing carbon emissions must stepped up sharply, if the world is to avoid severe, widespread and irreversible impact
2. That this Council was informed on October 15th 2014 of a reversal of its progress towards its 2020 41% reduction in CO2 emissions target. The forecast reduction has now been scaled back to 27%
[See email from Gavin Elliott above – it’s actually even worse]
3. 32,000 households in this city are living in fuel poverty – a 7,000 increase on last year
4. The progress of other major European cities, including the British cities of Nottingham and Bristol towards the establishment of energy companies which will invest in more carbon- efficient local energy generation, in improving the energy efficiency of homes and public buildings, and offer lower cost energy to their residents;
5. The terms of the Devolution deal for Greater Manchester also announced on 3rd November include powers to invest in infrastructure through the“earnback” deal, renewed commitment to the 2020 48% carbon reduction targets, and new planning powers.
The time has come for Manchester to step up the pace and develop a distinctive energy policy, which includes the establishment of our own energy company, so that we can support our residents to live in warm homes, and give us the CO2 reductions that we need, in the timescales which the planet needs. A bold, ambitious energy plan has the capability not just to produce cost-effective energy for hard-pressed residents and reduce CO2 emissions  but also to earn much needed income for the city.
This Council calls on the Chief Executive
1. To establish a task and finish group with a brief to:
a Scope the most appropriate business model for a Manchester Energy Services Company ( ESCO)
b Consider the appropriate level of governance for a Manchester ESCO(City, GMCA or core cities)
c Identify the key major partners for such a venture, both for infrastructure development and investment
d Identify and address the barriers to rapid implementation of such a venture
e Make recommendations to the Executive for the most advantageous way forward for this City for the long term for the benefit of Manchester residents Information about the Council

 

Footnotes

(1) Those were the 15th annual United Nations talks since the climate convention was came into force in 1994. They ended in farce. Meanwhile, the 20th talks, being held in Lima, Peru, are also ending in disarray. The basic problem, unchanged since about 1997, is that the rich nations are demanding the poor nations make carbon reduction targets (which is contrary to agreements that those rich countries signed up to in both 1992 and 1995), AND they’re also not paying up nearly enough money to pay for poor nations to adapt to the coming impacts.

Posted in Climate Change Action Plan | 1 Comment