Manchester’s Climate Change ‘Steering Group’ decides to by-pass its own democratic protocol of electing members
Annual elections that would give much needed credibility to Manchester’s Climate Change Steering Group have been cancelled. The Steering Group’s chair, Steve Connor, told MCFly over the phone that “after long debate the group decided that there wasn’t any mechanism for election.”
This decision is in direct contravention of the Terms of Reference of the group which stipulates that three members of the Steering Group must be elected at the annual conference- presumably by those in attendance. It is unclear who was present when the decision was taken, and whether any member of the Steering Group registered their dissent, because – as previously reported in MCFly – no minutes have been kept of meetings. (1)
Important questions remain over the transparency of the Steering Group– in particular around the decision to postpone of the annual conference. In the same telephone conversation last Friday, Mr Connor informed us that the decision to delay the conference was taken by the Steering Group alone. Noone else was consulted or asked to contribute their views on the matter.
Connor added that following the positive response to the call out for new members (over 20 applications), the Steering Group has now decided to enlarge the group. They will be trialing a total membership of 30 for a year. This, according to Connor, reflects the group’s evolution from a group closely aligned to the council to “one which is more representative of the city of Manchester.”
MCFly has learnt that interviews were not held with at least some of the new Steering Group members. Once we have the full list of members, we will take a closer look at exactly how representative the group is in its colour, gender, age, wealth and educational attainment.
New Terms of Reference are currently being drawn up to reflect the changes to the structure of the Steering Group and these will be discussed at the next meeting on the 15th of December 2011.
(1) In addition to the election of a number of Steering Group members at an “Annual” Stakeholder Conference, the Terms of Reference state that “agendas and minutes will be publicly available and circulated to an emailing list.”
In the short-term the lack of openness and transparency of the steering group hurts mostly itself. How do its members expect people to get involved when the stakeholder conference – which is supposed to bring people together – is cancelled for the year without any real regard for them? How do its members expect people to know what is going on when minutes, and even “action points” are not pubished, when even short blog posts (as had been promised) summarising meetings are absent?
In the short-term, expanding the group may produce a flurry of activity. A cynic might call it a ‘diffusion-of-responsibility’ ploy. Surely a steering group is small for a reason, namely to steer, make decisions and take action.
The idea that holding elections is an insurmountably difficult task is baffling..Groups seem to manage to elect members at their annual AGMs all the time, Manchester City Council holds elections, we’re told. Maybe they could offer their expertise?
In the long-term, the cancellation of elections just breeds cynicism and apathy. Manchester needs to create trust – via democracy, accountability and transparency. Only with these, will genuinely broad engagement and adaptive leadership become possible.