Manchester’s “Stakeholder Conference on climate change” should be happening any day now. Haven’t got your invite? Well, it’s nothing personal; neither has anyone else. Without consultation or explanation, the conference has been postponed, probably till March 2012.
Who made the decision to delay? An unelected “Steering Group” which has met regularly for 18 months without ever publishing its minutes, a requirement under its Terms of Reference.
First, a little history; during 2009, Manchester City Council worked with a range of “stakeholders” to produce the Manchester Climate Change Action Plan. This was agreed by the Manchester City Council executive in November 2009, and taken to Copenhagen as an example of Manchester’s boldness by the Council Leader, Richard Leese. As well as a headline grabbing “41%” reduction goal for Manchester, the plan’s second aim was “to engage all individuals, neighbourhoods and organisations in Manchester in a process of cultural change that embeds ‘low carbon thinking’ into the lifestyles and operations of the city.”
The democratic oversight for that plan was to be an Annual Stakeholder Conference. The first such conference was held in November 2010, attended by a little over 100 people.
To make the stakeholder conference a reality, a “Steering Group” had been formed in the middle of the year (This was reported on exclusively by Manchester Climate Fortnightly “Steering Group meets at long long last”).
It was made up of a mix of Council members and officers and people nominated from the Environmental Advisory Panel (an ad hoc group of “concerned citizens” and council types) and the Manchester Board (we’d explain, but you’d fall asleep: see here.)
For the purposes of transparency and legitimacy, three members of the Steering Group were to be elected at each Stakeholder Conference. The relevant sentence is in the Terms of Reference seen by MCFly (but not posted on the manchesterclimate.com website) are “The Steering Group will have up to 15 members: 3 will be nominated by the Manchester Board, 3 will be nominated by Manchester City Council, 3 will be elected annually by the Annual Conference and up to 6 to be co-opted annually by the Steering Group.”
Those elections didn’t happen at the November 2010 meeting. And the Annual (the clue is in the name) Stakeholder Conference for 2011 is… not happening. It has been pushed back to “Climate Week” in March of 2012.
More interestingly, an email inviting people to apply to join the Steering Group circulated in October failed to mention any impending election at a Stakeholder Conference (application form here). During writing this article, it also emerged that there were plans to significantly alter the format of the Steering Group and so the Terms of Reference document is being edited to reflect this. Whether the need to elect people at the stakeholder conference is changed is still unclear at this stage.
MCFly approached the Council and the Steering Group for answers on three questions –
1) Who took the decision to not hold an Annual Stakeholder Conference in 2011, for what reasons and having consulted what other people?
2) Will elections to the Steering Group be held at the next Stakeholder Conference?
3) Given that the Steering Group’s Terms of Reference include the statement “Agendas and minutes will be publicly available and circulated to an emailing list. Reports to the Group will similarly be made public unless a specific request for confidentiality is made and agreed by the Group”, when will the minutes of the Steering Group be posted on the website?
Nigel Murphy, the council’s executive member for the Environment, explained that the reason the stakeholder conference was delayed was linked to the cuts as the administration of the Steering Group was previously carried out by the council but this was no longer possible. A tender was put out for an organisation to organise the stakeholder conference and Groundwork, an environmental charity, was appointed in August. However, due to the delay this process caused it was decided that it would be best to hold off the conference till the next year.
Murphy also added he wasn’t sure whether elections for new steering group members would occur during the stakeholder conference and referred me to Steve Connor, Chair of the Steering Group, for more information.
Connor, was contacted today with regards to the above questions but hadn’t replied at the time of publication.
The website controlled by the Steering Group, http://www.manchesterclimate.com has no record of what happened at the 2010 conference, and a grand total of 6 blog posts in the last year. The Steering Group seems to have very little publicity about itself, and stakeholders have not been systematically informed about progress over the past year.
Marc Hudson and Arwa Aburawa (freelance journalist)