MCFly co-editor Marc Hudson looks at a recent (broken) promise by Manchester City Council to improve the way it works on environmental issues.
Manchester City Council is forever banging on about collaboration and working “in partnership.” They talk a very good game indeed. But in March this year they promised to act on a suggestion for improvements “before Easter”. Since then, nothing…
In 2009 it set up (after a nudge from the current author), the “Environmental Advisory Panel,” (EAP) made up of concerned citizens. The group was supposed to meet regularly and provide the council with the perspective of a “critical friend.” It was to be a sounding board for ideas and also supposed to provide oversight of an internal Council group “The Environmental Strategy Programme Board.”
The EAP did a little bit of good work, especially in its first year, when the Climate Change Action Plan was being written. Since 2010 though, meetings (always called by the Council) have been less frequent and ever more sparsely attended. It was in need of a re-boot, as even the Leader of the Council, Sir Richard Leese admitted in an interview with MCFly;
“I’m not a great fan of navel-gazing, but it is probably about time that the Environmental Advisory Panel – and partners, ought to do a little bit of navel-gazing around ‘right, what’s the agenda for the next few years?’ Not spend too long on that… It’s very easy for institutional arrangements to get fixed without being quite clear what they exist for and I think any organisation needs to revisit what it’s doing on a relatively regular basis. The EAP hasn’t done that since it came into being, and it’s probably about due for looking at its relationship with the certain future Steering Group and other parts of what’s going on, and even looking at ‘do we have the right people sitting around the table anymore?’”
Often EAP meetings were called and/or cancelled at very short notice. For example, the last one was announced on 15th March 2012, to take place on the 21st March.
On March 18th I sent an email [you can read it here] to the Executive Member for the Environment, Cllr Nigel Murphy, with a series of proposals about how the EAP could be refreshed, including the idea that past and present members of the EAP were be asked how the Panel could become more useful to everyone. I received an acknowledgement of receipt the following day.
On the 20th of March the following email was sent to all members of the EAP(emphasis added).
Thank you to those who let us know, but it is clear that a large majority of people are unavailable tomorrow night, so we have decided not to go ahead with Wednesday’s meeting. There has been some informal discussion about the future role of EAP and, following discussions between Councillor Nigel Murphy and Marc Hudson, we propose to conduct a survey/questionnaire of EAP members ahead of a discussion at the next meeting – likely to be held in early May. We will be working with Marc on the content of the survey/ questionnaire and intend to get that out to you before Easter.
Since then…. nothing. No contact from the relevant officers. No ‘holding email’ to everyone else about any reason for delay. On April 17th MCFly was told informally that the delay was because of the “purdah” period around local elections, although the elections had been known about before the promise above had been made. The elections were indeed held on Thursday 3rd May, over three weeks ago. Since then… nothing.
It’s almost as if the council bureaucracy would be happier if they didn’t have to work with people from outside their charmed circle.
What they could do to show they are serious (over and above the suggestions in the original email)
a) Don’t announce that you “intend” to do something and then fail to contact anyone when that intention is not turned into action. The impression it gives is that you just aren’t bothered about people’s assessment of your credibility.
b) Make sure that there is more than one person around the table who is willing to speak out without fear of reprisal. When I attend EAP meetings I look around the room to see if there is anyone else whose organisation is not dependent on either the finances or the good-will (or both) of the City Council. I don’t see those people. If the Council wants any amount of robust truth-speaking, then they need an Awkward Squad, not an awkward individual. I have a list.
c) Publish the minutes of the meeting for all to see.