Communities Scrutiny Committee: #climate change dribbled into the short grass #Manchester #a-democracy

The councillor had three objections, which we (1) can call Precedence, Procedure and Price. In the end, none of them stands up, can be allowed to stand up.  The Communities Scrutiny Committee (CSC) of Manchester City Council must start looking at climate change as a major threat to community cohesion in Manchester, whether Councillor Chris Paul (Labour, Withington) likes the fact or not.  Ultimately, he will not be able – as he was at the 6th February CSC meeting – to prevent the chair bringing climate change onto the agenda.

Precedence
Cllr Paul started by saying that climate change was not the responsibility of the committee, and that it belonged in Neighbourhoods Scrutiny (and words to the effect of ‘we can’t go round stepping on their turf’). He dropped this objection very quickly indeed when it was pointed out to him that the Economy Scrutiny Committee has already held an entire mini-conference on green issues.

Procedure
He also objected to the fact that the chair was trying to ask the committee members what they want to discuss. He said that agenda items need to be discussed and agreed by the chairs of all the Scrutiny Committees. Since the Chair of the committee had not done this he was definitely, according to Cllr Paul, bang out of order (not a direct quote, but certainly the sense of what he said) and should go away and do that. He ignored the Chair’s point that the committee is member-led, and doesn’t actually have to go asking for permission for what it would talk about.
It was at this point that Cllr Paul became most emphatic – warning the chair (who is a Liberal Democrat), not to “turn this into a confrontation.”
It’s also a curious thought experiment, isn’t it; if Cllr Paul had wanted the committee to discuss, say, the impacts on a community of the building of a big car park – to choose an example completely at random – would he have been satisfied that a committee member is not allowed to get an item onto the agenda, but rather that council bosses get to decide what is and is not discussable?

Documents-page001Price
This was the least absurd of the objections. ‘Bureaucrats be busy’, it’s true, especially thanks to the cuts shepherded through by the national-level Liberal Democrats at the behest of their Conservative masters. But then, there are workarounds – why not call in experts (academics, practitioners etc) and ask them to come equipped with short reports? They would surely pay their own way. Many would be grateful for the opportunity (the academics especially – this, after all, is how they are being assessed on their “effectiveness” these days.)
The activist community – together with some of the friendly and more switched-on academics and NGOs – could easily put together useful reports on these matters.

Basically, this “objection” is simply using the fact that fewer bureaucrats have more work to dismiss the crucial issue of the 21st century.

Preference
Mr Paul may be mistaking his own personal preference for what he would like to happen for what can and should happen. At no point did he ask any of the other councillors around the table – or think of some who were absent, like a former Exec for the Environment – for their opinion.  I may not be totally up on my Manchester City Council rule book, but I don’t think individual councillors have veto power over what is and is not discussed at Scrutiny. In fact, even members of the public are invited to pitch in –

From here: “If there’s an issue you want to contribute to, let us know.  You can either send a written contribution to scrutiny@manchester.gov.uk or you can attend a meeting and ask the Chair if you can speak. You can also suggest a topic for us to look into by filling in our ‘suggestions form.‘ “

Predictable
In the corridor of Castle Grayskull afterwards Councillor Paul smiled at me and assured me that he is concerned about climate change and wants the conversation to happen. Which explains why five minutes earlier he had very emphatically told the chair “if you want an answer, the answer’s no.”  Simples.

If Cllr Paul had indeed told the Chair “yes, in principle but there are procedures to follow before we can start doing this” then the conversations and presentations could have started happening very soon. As it is, there will now probably have to be a pointless six month bureaucratic battle until these crucial issues begin to be aired.

Practical action
1) MCFly readers could write to the chair of the Scrutiny Committee (cllr.v.chamberlain@manchester.gov.uk) asking him to pursue this matter with all possible vigour.
2) MCFly readers could write to Councillor Paul, (cllr.c.paul@manchester.gov.ukpolitely, explaining that they care as much about climate change as he did about the car park at Christie’s – perhaps more, and they would very much like it if the Communities Scrutiny Committee were able to fulfil its remit.
3) MCFly readers could get involved in adopting a scrutiny committee – see next issue of MCFly, published on March 4th, for full details.

Marc Hudson
mcmonthly@gmail.com

Footnotes

(1) As in, we are the ones being assonant.

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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7 Responses to Communities Scrutiny Committee: #climate change dribbled into the short grass #Manchester #a-democracy

  1. cllrcpaul says:

    This report is highly inaccurate in detail and in generality and very unreasonable indeed. You really should take it down Mark. Really.

  2. cllrcpaul says:

    If Councillor Chamberlain wished to add this to the workplan for this committee he should have given us a little notice instead of ambushing the committee as he did.

    This report is deeply deeply unpleasant as well as being inaccurate. It is also a personal attack. I’m not sure how you might think that might be helpful. It looks very much like you’re bullying.

  3. Cllr Paul,
    you are welcome to your opinions. If the report is “highly inaccurate” and “very unreasonable indeed” please explain how. I was there. I took notes.

    Thank you.

    Marc Hudson

    PS When accusing people of inaccuracy, it’s always good to get their name right. Thank you again.

  4. cllrcpaul says:

    Your notes are wrong Mark. You are not a journalist are you? You do not have shorthand do you?. The whole of this discussion lasted about a minute did it not?
    I repeat: Your notes are wrong.

    The discussion is misrepresented as a result..

    Members of the committee had no notice of this proposal. When was it first made? Can you tell me that?

    You should ask the Chair why the proposal was not shared properly with members of the committee in advance.

    You should ask the Chair why the proposal had not been discussed with Chairs of other overview and scrutiny committees?

    You should ask yourself why the committee is not covering various issues of equality and so on within its remit yet proposing to consider new areas like this?

    The reporting is highly inaccurate. The analysis is ignorant and wrong and vexatious. This is just pathetic Mark. It is defamatory. You really should take it down.

    • Dear Councillor Palu*

      here’s how this is going to work. I am going to answer your questions and respond to your unsolicited advice and allegations. With facts.
      I am then going to ask a series of my own questions (no allegations) to you. And close with a suggestion for a way forward through this whole sorry saga.
      If you choose to extend me the same courtesy of replying to those questions (which I will number) then the conversation can continue, if it needs to.
      If in any response you choose to send you do not respond to these numbered questions, then I will consider the conversation closed.

      Thank you.

      Marc Hudson

      You ask if I am a journalist?
      Well, you certainly didn’t raise any objections to me performing the role before, during or after the coverage by Manchester Climate Monthly of the campaign that you spearheaded against Christie’s building a car park! In January 2012 you were perfectly happy to brief me, be interviewed and quoted by me, and you didn’t mind the articles we published.
      https://manchesterclimatemonthly.net/2012/01/19/news-flash-christie-car-park-turned-down/

      https://manchesterclimatemonthly.net/2012/01/19/the-big-cs-christie-carparks-and-carbon-dioxide/

      Nature Climate Change have published my work (see here and here for a couple of examples)
      http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v1/n6/full/nclimate1198.html
      http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v2/n5/full/nclimate1510.html

      And I have been co-editor of Manchester Climate Fortnightly from 2008 to late 2010, and then co-editor of Manchester Climate Monthly since October 2011. Am I a paid journalist? Very very rarely. In that at least I am a bit like people elected to serve on Manchester City Council – I do not work incredibly long and often boring hours for the money, but because I believe we citizens of Manchester have challenges ahead that we are not yet ready for.

      Finally on this, do you know what an ad hominem argument is?

      You ask if I know shorthand?
      This would be a relevant question if I had claimed that my account was verbatim. I did not.
      In fact, I clearly flagged that not everything I quoted to you was verbatim. For example “and words to the effect of” and “not a direct quote, but certainly the sense of what he said”

      Journalists are in the habit of copying down a few key phrases from a longer speech verbatim. That is what I did occasionally during the five minutes or so (no, far more than “about a minute”) of the discussion.
      So, your question is simply irrelevant, even when the answer is “no.”

      You write “The whole of this discussion lasted about a minute did it not?”
      Well, then surely in a minute I would be able to copy down a lot? You can’t have it both ways! In actual fact, I would estimate that the discussion lasted roughly five minutes. There was another speaker before you (if you remember), and there were repeated contributions from the chair. There was also a brief statement from a member of the Scrutiny Support Team, in response to your objection about precedence. So, no, not “about a minute.”

      You make a series of recommendations about what I should be doing. Thanks for the advice, but these don’t actually address what I wrote (see my questions below), so are irrelevant. If you want to say how my account is not accurate, why have you instead offered advice/asked different questions?

      Still and all, in the interests of dialogue, I will respond. Please note though, that no matter how many times you assert my notes are inaccurate, you have yet – in three separate comments on this website – to point to any specific fact that I have written that you dispute.

      Your questions/advice.
      “Members of the committee had no notice of this proposal. When was it first made? Can you tell me that?”
      Yes. Any reader of my account can. Victor Chamberlain did, on the day, in the “any other business” section of the meeting. Not relevant to your accusation of inaccuracy.

      “You should ask the Chair why the proposal was not shared properly with members of the committee in advance.”
      He was sharing the proposal in the meeting! Where and when else was he supposed to share it? Should there have been a meeting about the meeting? Then why not a meeting about the meeting about the meeting? Mis-en-abyme, much? Not relevant to your accusation of inaccuracy.

      “You should ask the Chair why the proposal had not been discussed with Chairs of other overview and scrutiny committees?”
      Well, you already asked that question on the day. As I reported. The chair pointed out that the committees are member-led. Not relevant to your accusation of inaccuracy.
      (Oh, and in case the memo didn’t get to you, they are no longer called overview and scrutiny committees. Just “scrutiny.”)

      “You should ask yourself why the committee is not covering various issues of equality and so on within its remit yet proposing to consider new areas like this?”
      Climate change is already causing inequality around the world, Cllr Paul. And within cities. Climate change will come to Manchester (fuel poverty, food poverty, ethnic disputes in other countries affected by climate “spilling over” into Manchester.) It is not a “new area”. We have known about it as a coming problem for 20 years. I am trying to get the council to investigate it.
      If you want, I will provide a very very extensive list of how climate change is affecting, and will affect equality (gender, race, class etc). So, not relevant to your accusation of inaccuracy.

      Finally, you use the word vexatious. As the man says “I do not think it means what you think it means.”
      While you are clearly extremely vexed by my account, that doesn’t automatically make it vexatious.

      Now, my questions to you. And to re-iterate. If you do not extend me the courtesy that I have shown you (of answering all your various statements etc), then I consider this discussion closed).

      By the way, thank you for doing some of my work for me! I was going to ask you if you raised the objection of “procedure” when Cllr Chamberlain raised the possibility of the committee looking at climate change. In your choice of words “ambush” and your questions (see above) you have confirmed that you did then – and clearly, a month later still – have major objections to this procedure. So that’s cleared up that then! So, my account was accurate in that you objected on grounds of procedure.

      1) Would you characterise yourself in favour or against the Communities Scrutiny Committee discussing climate change issues in the near future? My account – which you say was inaccurate – says that you are not in favour. If you characterise yourself as being in favour, then the advice to me above ““You should ask yourself why the committee is not covering various issues of equality and so on within its remit yet proposing to consider new areas like this?” is an odd statement.
      Having said all that, if you say you ARE in favour of the committee discussing this in the short term, then, well, I AM DELIGHTED! THANK YOU!!! I CAN HELP!

      2) Did you raise the objection that climate change belongs to Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee and that other scrutiny committees should therefore ‘keep out’ (not, to be clear, a direct quote)? Yes or no? If yes, fine, but then my account is accurate here too, isn’t it? If “no” then I think the recollection of the scrutiny officer who informed you of the Economy Scrutiny Committee mini-conference last June is equally as wrong as mine.

      3) Did you raise the objection of the cost in officer time of producing reports? Yes or no?

      4) Finally, why do you regard a suggestion to that readers of MCFly write to you politely at your official council email address as “look[ing] like … bullying”. Surely that is lobbying, the democratic process, isn’t it? Surely you are not saying that you are NOT happy for people in Manchester to contact you with issues they are concerned about?

      Thank you

      Finally, there is a way forward here.
      You told me in the corridor after the meeting, that you are concerned about climate change. I was extremely glad to hear that, and you have not disputed that you said that to me. You have very simple way of showing your concern. At the next Communities Scrutiny Committee, on Weds March 6th, in “any other business” you could state that you support the Communities Scrutiny Committee in talking about climate change as soon as possible, but without a formal report being written up by time-strapped officers. We at Manchester Climate Monthly will mobilise academics and practitioners to come and answer councillors’ concerns. And we won’t invoice the council a penny..
      That way, everyone will be happy, no?
      See you on Weds 6th March!

      PS Maybe we need to start video and/or audio-recording scrutiny meetings!

      * My name is Marc, not Mark. You have gotten it wrong twice now, so I will repeat my pro-tip; if you are going to accuse people of being inaccurate, it helps your credibility to spell their name correctly!

  5. cllrcpaul says:

    Well Marc (apologies), No I will not play this game while this nonsense is still published. Your piece is wrong. It is inaccurate. It is ill-informed. It is defamatory. It is hostile. It is vexatious. It epitomises the way you behave around potential allies and friends of the cause. You should remove it. It would appear that Cllr Chamberlain has been very unhelpful to both of us in this case. Perhaps that is accidental. Perhaps not. But unhelpful certainly. But that is no excuse for this rubbish. Remove it and we may be able to have a sensible conversation.

  6. You have not answered any of the questions I put, but merely repeated unsupported-by-evidence allegations of inaccuracy and being “ill-informed.” Other people will draw their own conclusions. I have nothing to add until such time as you do. You are welcome to say what you like about Councillor Chamberlain.

    Have a nice day.

    Mark Hudson

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