Polarbear Facepalm: Australian PM Tony Abbott. No words, no words…

From here.


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#Manchester activist writes on the Lima to Paris #climate talks

Justice or the climate, which would you choose?

So the Lima talks have apparently ended in ‘success’.

If so you have to ask how much more ‘success’ the planet can take.

Twenty two years after the Rio Earth Summit you really would have hoped that we would have achieved agreement on rather more than an accounting system for greenhouse gas emissions because, whatever way you measure it, we are not doing anything like enough.

Lima also contains another, potentially very worrying, development.

In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol  split the world in two. There were Annex One nations who emitted the
most CO2 and who had a commitment to cut down, but only slightly, and then there were the developing countries who got a pass, for now.

The seventeen years since then have muddied this distinction a bit. China and Brazil have raced ahead economically and are now big polluters in their own right, but the fundamental divide between big emitters and small remains.

It’s a crude distinction, but there is a certain amount of justice in it. Those who have benefited most from Greenhouse gas emissions should be the first to change. Those who have polluted most should pay first.

The new agreement does away with that. Instead everyone has to cut down and everyone has to pay.

How much has not been agreed. There could be a fair and equitable dividing up of responsibility in Paris, there could be no deal at all, or there could be an agreement that puts the burden of solving the Climate Change problem on those who have contributed least to making it.

You can almost rationalise such a move. Countries with little already infrastructure could perhaps more easily skip the fossil fuel stage of development, places with lots of sunshine could go solar quicker and populations with very little to do could be made to do environmentally beneficial work.

The only problem is that this would require the rich countries to invest heavily in poor ones, and Lima made it clear that’s not going to happen.

Instead there remain the possibility that the big polluters will simply shaft the poorer ones.

International trade deals works on the principle that rich countries can put up trade barriers, but poor ones can’t and international law works on the principle that tin pot dictators who use torture end up in court, but not US Presidents. So it doesn’t require a lot of imagination to envisage a climate deal that sees poor countries making cuts whilst rich ones get richer.

If so, what should an environmentalists do?

Accept the deal? After all, we can make utopia tomorrow, but if we don’t sort out Climate Change their won’t be a tomorrow?

Maybe, but if there’s one thing that we should have learnt in more than two decades of climate inaction it’s that bad deals are often worse than no deal.

Believe it or not, back in 1992, the year of Rio, Al Gore and a raft of big conservation groups were trying to persuade us to accept NAFTA. Never mind the effect on jobs, this was going to save the environment. Well, it didn’t. NAFTA has been a disaster for the environment, and a whole load of other people.

Then, after Kyoto, it was free market solutions that would save the day. Europe reluctantly agree to a
Carbon Trading scheme which the USA had suggested, and then backed out of. It was (and still is) a disaster.

And so on.

So if someone tells me in Paris next December that’s it either justice or the climate I will choose justice, because only climate justice can give us lasting change. It will be bad enough having to spend my old age watching the world turn to dust without also having to live with the thought that I compromised my values for nothing.

Reposted with permission from here.

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The hopelessness of #climate change and #Manchester City Council getting you down? Try “Ignorital”!!

Rampant emissions, evasive to the point of duplicitous bureaucrats, over-worked councillors.  Rampant emissions.  No apparent political leadership.

It could all get a bit depressing.  That’s why this drug, as advertised here, seems such a good idea…

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#Manchester City Council discusses the cuts…

I attended this week’s MCC Economy and Communities Scrutiny Committee meetings. I hope this report may be of use to some of you. I’m happy for material in it to be forwarded to other interested parties, with the proviso that it’s my interpretation of events and details may not necessarily be completely accurate.
Dick Venes
[MCFly At least these two scrutiny committees had reports to consider. Neighbourhoods? Not so much.]

The Economy Scrutiny Committee (ESC) was back to its usual venue in the Town Hall. I got the impression the meeting might be a little contentious as the usual Councillor attendees were supplemented by Cllr Leese (Council leader), Cllr Sue Murphy (deputy leader) and Cllr Flanagan (Exec member for Finance and Human Resources). Public attendance was minimal – I was the only person there for the whole meeting.

1. The Committee noted the minutes of a task and finish group on the Living Wage (held on 1/12/14) without comment. Tabled minutes of the meeting showed it had been addressed by outside persons, including: Tom Skinner of the Living Wage for GM Campaign, Alan Wort of Equality NW and Christian Spence from the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. The meeting had discussed: the wider economic impact of the Living Wage, including consideration of the impact of the Council specifying it in procurement contracts; the Living Wage in relation to Agency workers; the long term impact; and healthy work. However, the topic did not appear to be ‘finished’ as the notes showed no significant decisions were made!

2. Most of the Scrutiny Committee meeting was taken up with a consideration of reports for resolution on the 2015/17 Budget Options and 2015/17 Budget Options for the Corporate Core.

The latter report contained a lot of detail on costs and possible reduction of workforce on different areas of the Council’s activities. The Chair of the Committee stated the task of the Economy Scrutiny Committee was to identify ‘key lines of enquiry’ for the January 2015 meeting.
Discussion commenced with some Councillors unhappy that the Corporate Core report had been forwarded to them very late, with the result that they had not been unable to consider it properly.

An officer said (unconvincingly in my view) this had been because they had had trouble cutting down a long list. One Councillor was concerned that the report stuck to financial matters and did not identify real-life impacts likely to be caused by the options.

After Cllr Karney had made a brief Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party to the citizens watching on the webcast, on the budget option problems being all the fault of the Conservative government, the Committee considered various budget cut options in the report.

These covered the areas of:

• Marketing Manchester Tourist Information;
• Reform and Innovation;
• Neighbourhood Focus/Regeneration;
• Galleries and Cultural Grants;
• Early Help;
• Early Years;
• Adult Education Services.

I don’t propose to go through each section in any detail, but some of the points discussed by Councillors were as follows:

• Cllr Flanagan pointed out early on that the Scrutiny Committee members were not able to make any decisions on options – these will be made by the executive with input from all the Committees and the public consultation on budget options.

• Two Councillors were concerned at the possible unintended consequences of cut options.

• Another concern was the loss of skills and expertise of Council employees losing their jobs as a result of the cuts, which might be difficult to recover in the future (RJV comment: well recognised in the private sector).

• On the ‘Reform and Innovation’ section, several councillors pointed out they had no idea of what the 3 options presented represented what work might not be done. Cllr Leese was not able to provide a succinct explanation.

• This led to a comment by several Councillors about the quality of information in this section of the report in particular. One expressed the view that he was not sure if it was deliberate that the three options were not understandable or that they were just ‘loosely worded’. One Councillor re-iterated that the Committee had previously asked for examples of what various departments do but this had not been provided. They noted this was especially true where Council employees are not in ‘face to face’ contact with Councillors. At this point it was clear that several of the Committee members were dissatisfied with the quality of information in the reports. (RJV comment – if Councillors cannot understand it how can members of the public be expected to make worthwhile contributions to the online ‘consultation’?).

• At one point Cllr Leese did mention the option of reducing the grant to the National Football Museum(!), without further discussion.

• On the Galleries and Cultural Grants section one Councillor said they had never heard of half the bodies receiving grants. When the Chair tried to move the discussion on by saying this should be left to another Scrutiny Committee (see Communities Scrutiny Committee report below), some Councillors complained that grants also have an economic impact so should be considered by the ESC.

• At various points in the discussions, Councillors repeated their requests for information on actual impact of the cut options as well as just financial figures. Finally, the Chair went through the items that will be brought back to the January 2015 meeting of the Economy Scrutiny Committee.

The Communities Scrutiny Committee (CSC) was something of a contrast. There was a very large public attendance, which subsequently turned out to be composed of representatives of the voluntary and community sector bodies whose grant funding budget options were part of the meeting’s agenda. Cllrs Flanagan (again) and Sue Murphy attended in addition to the usual Committee members.

1. Equality Framework for Local Government.
Verbal report by a Senior Officer. No printed report was tabled. Nothing of interest.

2. Sexual Orientation Monitoring.
This item was concerned with this issue internally within the Council and externally via provision of services. Verbal reports were made, again no printed report was tabled. External speakers were from the Gay and Lesbian Foundation and the NHS Central Manchester Health Trust. Gender identity was also mentioned as a future issue. (RJV note: there seemed to be an assumption that authorities/organisations have a right to enquire about sexual orientation – surely this is up to individuals to decide what information about themselves they need to provide?).

3. Budget Saving Options.
This item occupied most of the meeting. The tabled report was, in my opinion, of a much better standard that that at the ESC, with information on the number of ‘interventions’ and services provided in some areas as well as financial figures. The community/voluntary organisations were represented by Mike Wild and Beth Plant from MACC (Manchester Community Central). MACC had organised a meeting of these organisations recently to discover their views on proposed options for Council grant cuts. The MACC reps pointed out that many of these organisations are already in a poor financial position and some are depleting reserves to stay afloat, and that Manchester is one of the most unequal cities in the UK. They mentioned possible use of the Airport dividend to support the work of their organisations, and a reduction in the salaries of MCC Executives. Cllr Flanagan jumped on the latter suggestion, pointing out that to do so would result in the Council being sued for constructive dismissal. Cllr Murphy noted that some senior managers had been and will be made redundant as a result of past and forthcoming cuts.

There was some discussion on Advice Services currently funded by the Council. In response to a suggestion, Cllr Flanagan said that although Manchester has about £240 million of reserves, most of this is allocated to specific functions and so cannot be transferred to a general revenue pot to fund grants. There was concern that any of the options on advice services would lead to effectively the complete loss of such services in Manchester. Cllr Andrews (rightly) pointed out that the issue with respect to cut options is all about choices (as per national government resource allocation decisions).

Perhaps the most emotive issue of the overall budget discussions was the provision of help for cases of domestic abuse, with participants very concerned about the impacts of any cuts in this area of services. It was noted that the closure of women’s refuges in other areas had increased the workload of Manchester-based services.

Overall, the Chair had a hard time keeping discussions to the point (but did well in my opinion).

She also made the point that the Committee members could do with more information with respect to cut options in some areas. She summed up by noting:

• the Committee sees beyond the cash i.e. what cuts will bring in terms of service reduction;
• people are encouraged to participate in the Council’s participation exercise;
• there will be additional meetings between Councillors and community/voluntary bodies;
• the Committee is not happy with either option on advice services;
• information on impacts of cuts options will be collated for further consideration.

Dick Venes
Hon Secretary, Manchester Green Party.
20th December 2014.

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

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.


  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.


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.


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…


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.


Donald Connolly
Governance and Scrutiny

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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?



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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

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