If you want climate change action in Manchester to become even more undemocratic, even more ineffectual, simply stop reading now and move on.
If you want the people of Manchester to have the transparent and democratic institutions they deserve and need in order to meet the challenges that lie ahead, keep reading, then act.
This is the most important of the 630 or so blog posts that have appeared on this site. And it’s one I* really hoped not to have to write. But straightforward questions about cancelled elections are being dismissed as “ranting”. When the chair of the “Steering Group” (itself unelected) declares that to answer questions about transparency and decision-making would be to “waste my time”, MCFly readers have to decide if they will take action or do nothing.
Because if elections can be cancelled without so much as an acknowledgement that they were even promised, then only trouble lies ahead.
If groups that claim to deserve a leadership role can hide behind closed doors, and can arbitrarily exclude people who ask awkward questions, then there is certainly no future for official climate action in Manchester. It will descend into ever more farcical and self-serving nonsense. If you are happy with that, stop reading now.
I have put together a suggested letter, but obviously we are not telling you what to write.
UPDATE 22/2/13: A MCFly reader has suggested the following – ‘I am very concerned that MCC does not appear to be living up to its professions on climate change; that the planned elections have not yet taken place; and that meetings of the unelected Steering Group are taking place behind closed doors, without any definite commitment to letting the elected committee take over. I do not agree with the exclusion of the editors of McFly, or any other members of the public, without good reason being shown. The council rapidly needs to regain its focus and take action if it is to carry out its responsibilities in this area.’
Please take the time to write to the following people about this.
- Leader of the Council Richard Leese email@example.com
- Executive Member for the Environment Nigel Murphy firstname.lastname@example.org
- Chair of the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee (tasked with overseeing climate action) – Basil Curley email@example.com
- Leader of the Opposition Simon Wheale firstname.lastname@example.org
- Your own councillors (You just put your postcode into the box on the right of this page)
- Any other councillors that you have any sort of relationship with.
- Any members the Neighbourhood Scrutiny Committee you know, or who are your local councillors.
- Your MP.
- Any journalists that you happen to know. (MEN, Guardian, BBC etc)
- Other campaigners
I am writing to you because I am gravely concerned about democracy and climate change, here in Manchester. I am writing to you in the hope you will reply to my concerns.
While I was delighted to see that Professor Kevin Anderson addressed full Council recently on the subject of climate change, I am dismayed to find out just how little has been happening “on the ground.” And I am especially dismayed that the unelected Steering Group has cancelled elections, creating a credibility deficit that the city can ill-afford now, let alone in the future.
The original Terms of Reference for the Stakeholder Steering Group stated that “The Steering Group will have 12 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 3 to be co-opted annually by the Steering Group.”
At the 2012 Stakeholder Conference the current chair told attendees that the group was “exploring election mechanisms” so that members could be elected at next year’s conference. He added that they were looking at a co-operative model and details would be finalised by November 2012. There has been absolutely no mention of these elections since then, so presumably they have been cancelled.
Cancelled elections happen in North Korea, or Stalinist Russia. They should not happen in Manchester, ever. This is intolerable.
The Stakeholder Steering Group contains roughly thirty people. For the privilege of being part of it, they could at least be communicating what they are doing. One of the goals of the “key early actions” of the Action Plan ws to “create visible public promotions so people can follow progress on carbon reduction.” The official manchesterclimate.com website has had, in the last two years, 13 blog posts. This is unacceptable. This sends a message of lack of seriousness and failure about the most important long-term issue facing us.
The Stakeholder Conferences have been getting shorter and shorter, with less and less notice for each one. The latest one, for which people have only now received confirmation of attendance, three weeks before it happens, is a mere 3 and a half hours long. Within this three and a half hours, time is being devoted to presentations about Leeds and Liverpool. I think the Stakeholder Conference should be focussed on what is and is not happening in Manchester, and how we make sure that the pace of activity radically increases. I hope you agree.
It also dismays and alarms me that the Stakeholder Steering Group is meeting in private, and not releasing its minutes. It has been asked to do so repeatedly, and the chair, in both June and July 2012 undertook to post minutes online. This has still not happened. It is worth noting that the Terms of Reference of the group state – “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.”
No explanation has ever been given as to why the Stakeholder Group should meet in private like this, or fail to publish its minutes for 2012.
Finally, no explanation has been given as to why the two editors of Manchester Climate Monthly have been excluded from this conference. The decision was NOT taken by the full Steering Group. If small unelected groups within larger unelected groups can exclude their critics like this, I fear very much that we will end up with nothing more than a mutually back-slapping echo-chamber. That is not fit-for-purpose for Manchester in the 21st century.
The Steering Group needs democratic legitimacy. It needs to be transparent and effective, and its decisions to exclude stakeholders need to be explained.
I await your reply.
* This post was drafted by MCFly co-editor Marc Hudson.