Mind-reading ability no longer required for ESP Board minutes

Attention Conservation Notice: Readers who fall asleep at the mention of council meetings and minutes should skip this post. Anyone concerned with democracy, adaptive leadership and that sort of thing should probably soldier on.

The story so far: In 2008 the Council set up an “Environmental Strategy Programme Board.” It was made up of Council officers and other public sector partners. Members of the public could not attend. Chief Executive Officer Sir Howard Bernstein’s name appeared as chair for the first few meetings, but it seems he rarely if ever was able to attend, and chairing duties fell to another very senior officer. In late 2009 the Council – without explanation – simply stopped posting the minutes of the meetings on its website. The editor of MCFly (and it was fortnightly back then) asked – during a meeting of the grandly-named “Environmental Advisory Panel” – why the minutes were no longer posted, and was told “no-one asked.”

Fast forward to November 2011: ESPB meetings were still taking place, and minutes were still not being posted. This, combined with the zombie-like state of www.manchesterclimate.com, got our dander up. So we put in a Freedom of Information Act request about the ESPB.

And voila, 20 working days later (well, slightly more, but who’s counting?), we have the minutes for the period requested. (ESP Board _17_ Minutes – 25.11.10, ESP Board (18) Minutes – 25.01.11, ESP Board (19) Minutes – 28.03.11, ESP Board (20) Minutes – 14.06.11, ESP Board (21) Minutes – 26.07.11, ESP Board (22) Minutes – 23.09.11)

Do they matter? Should we get out more often? “Yes” to both those questions. The editors of MCFly will read them and come up with all sorts of questions we can ask about progress and lack of progress with the Council’s plans. And then we can ask those questions. And get answers, as efficiently and rapidly as possible. And then write stories that will inform – and, possibly – inspire y’all. You can help us with that, if you want…

But beyond this (brace yourself) – there is A Principle At Stake, Dammit. Why were the minutes not published? We don’t know. Doesn’t the fact that outside observers (even members of the aforementioned EAP, which is supposed to have oversight over the ESPB) are not allowed to attend make it even more important that minutes are published? Did anyone think that this was a Bad Look for a local authority committed to partnership working and openness?

We have it on excellent and hyper-local authority that the Executive Member for the Environment, Councillor Nigel Murphy, is a very careful reader of MCFly. He has almost certainly read this before you have. And perhaps, by the time you’re reading this he used the comment function below to tell us – and our readers (we do have some now)

Why the minutes have not been published until they were prised out – who took the decision and on what basis?

and perhaps, in the interests of openness and transparency and all that Good Stuff like that, he will commit to publishing the minutes from before our FOIA request (November 2010 onwards) without the need for another of those very time-and-labour consuming FOIAs.

and most importantly of all – drumroll please –

He’ll commit to ensuring the minutes of future ESPB meetings are published on the Council’s website.

Watch this space (as in scroll down…)

Marc Hudson

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
This entry was posted in Climate Change Action Plan, Democratic deficit, Manchester City Council and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mind-reading ability no longer required for ESP Board minutes

  1. Sigh. Egg-on-Face time here at MCFly Towers. There was an attached document along with the minutes sent as pdfs. I didn’t read it, and that was obviously a mistake of mine, one I regret, and I apologise to both the Council officer concerned and to readers. If I had read it, I’d have still asked the same questions and made the same points, I’d have just framed the whole thing differently. Shan’t repeat (exactly) the same mistake again…

    Marc Hudson

    Date: 14thth December 2011
    Our Ref: CEX/8NLLXJ
    Dear Ms Aburawa & Mr Hudson

    Please accept our apologies for the slight delay in responding, we have recently received a high number of FoI requests in a short period of time.

    In reply to your Freedom of Information request dated 14th November 2011, Please see the response outlined below.

    As a result of changes to MCC’s internal arrangements regarding approvals for web publishing, and a change in local IT systems (specifically, the move away from PCs and local software availability), there was an increase in the complexity and time required to convert minutes from Board meetings into .pdf format, and uploading them to the Council’s website. Traffic to the relevant section of the website was also analysed and found to be minimal.

    Furthermore, the minutes are distributed to partners from the Sustainable Neighbourhoods Action Group, via their ESPB representative, and traditionally it has been a standard agenda item at the Environmental Advisory Panel (EAP). Due to recent structural changes in the Council the meeting cycle between ESPB and EAP has been amended and minutes have not always been available in time for EAP. Going forward it is anticipated that EAP meetings will be scheduled to allow members to see ESPB minutes.

    [MCFly – It should be noted that the Sustainable Neighbourhoods Action Group (http://www.snag.org.uk) ceased updating its website in May 2011, and that while the ESPB has met 6 times this year, the EAP – which putatively has oversight over it, has met 3 times- and its minutes are not posted anywhere. How is a member of the public supposed to know what is going on? How is this transparent?]

    It is felt that the actions outlined above represents an adequate distribution of the minutes to interested partners and a decision has been taken to cease the regular uploading of minutes to the website; this decision was not given formal consideration by the ESP Board and I am not aware of any requests to resume web-hosting of the Board minutes until now.

    Further to your other request to see ESPB minutes since November 2010, please see the associated attachments.

    I trust this addresses your queries

    Yours Sincerely

    Richard Sharland
    Head of Environmental Strategy

    The questions – about the publication of the other minutes, and the minutes “going forward” still stand. If the Council wants to send them on to us, we will bear the excessive labour of posting them as pdfs and html documents (complete with hyperlinks!), and we won’t even invoice.

  2. They make out the want to keep local communities informed, but will publish the minutes to ‘interested parties’? They actively try to prevent local communities gaining access to information, which should be public. Their web-site is constructed in such a way, it can takes hours to find a simple piece of information. The Planning Portal is a prime example, compare Manchester’s with Trafford’s, and you will experience a totally different environment.

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