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…)