We just got this amazing comment from a local businessman, who has been involved in the “Manchester A Certain Future” process since last year. We at Manchester Climate Monthly have been asking questions about democracy and “process.” He is asking hard-headed questions about effectiveness.
“As something of an outsider, and having first been invited to attend the “refresh meetings” last summer, I wonder whether a fresh pair of eyes is worth anything? If they’re not, then don’t read on, but if anyone would like the view from the SME installer side of renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies (insulation, building fabric measures, plus the usual PV bling) who comes to MACF as a novice of its history, then I’d say this: Last summer, at the first meeting I attended, the comments and facial expressions I received from those around the table when I said “I don’t know anyone in the industry in GM who has heard of MACF” were a signal that all was not well. The reaction was generally “But! everyone’s heard of MACF!” … er… No. Secondly, I was stunned to hear that this was in fact the third year and that this whole wave of “refresh” meetings was simply to update a plan that had been put in place some years previously, but which had achieved …. er .. what exactly? The discussions around the tables were punctuated by the facilitator asking for any evidence at all of any activity, however tangential, that might be attributed to the efforts of MACF. It was clear that nothing could actually be attributed to MACF. So I asked why. The answer I was given by one of the people organising the event: “We forgot to assign responsibilities after the first plan was put together, so nothing has actually been achieved.” Now, she might have got that wrong. Her view might have been poisoned by some personal experience, but since that first couple of meetings last summer I have tried to find evidence of real results that can be attributed to MACF. I haven’t given up searching yet, but other things have happened that make me wonder.
“The steering group asked last autumn for nominations to head up sub-groups. Telephone interviews were held, emails apologising for the delays were sent out and then ….. nothing.
“Whether one agrees with the style of this most recent “workshop” with the plasticene, and the expensively produced brochures etc. is open to debate and taste, but the more important questions are about its content. Why is it, I ask myself, that in the 4th year of MACF, the facilitators at the tables are asking us what we think should be done. I thought the idea of planning was to pave the way for action rather than more planning. None of the “objectives” that I have seen in the first plan for MACF nor in the refresh, are SMART. They are all aspirational, of course. Nothing wrong with aspirations, but shouldn’t we by now be arriving at Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed objectives? Shouldn’t we be able to point to a level of success, or is this all about telling ourselves that we are doing a great job of it?
“This may not be important to most people. Most people are more patient than me, but it is important to me and to others in the industry. Why? Because from the industry’s side of the fence we’re getting a bit fed up of the prowess shown by the “powers that be” in planning and strategising. Three years ago, there was a lot of noise made about Manchester being named as the first “Low Carbon Economic Area for the Built Environment”. Flags out, trumpets blown, back patted. Meanwhile Bristol, Leeds and London were busy doing it. Now the LCEA has been superseded by the “Low Carbon Hub”, so presumably we will now need to set about another three years of strategising and planning. Yes, the landscape has changed, but it will change again in another three years, so the value of the plan that is being re-written, is … exactly what if it is never put into action? I can’t fault the planning and the strategising and the formulation of policy. Ten out of Ten for that. But what exactly have we done compared to ReFIT?
“I’m not determined to have a go at the MACF forum, but I really don’t see what the benefit is. Help me to explain to the industry that this is not a giant waste of public money. Tell me, please, that I have misunderstood and that there really is some tangible result to point to.”
MCFly says: We’ve checked this gentleman’s bona fides as best we could. Normal journalistic practice would be to try to get a react quote. Well, if we contacted the City Council’s Green City Team, they would probably refer us to the Press Office. The Press Office would then certainly say “The City Council doesn’t control the Steering Group and cannot issue statements on their behalf.” So why not go straight to the Steering Group? Well, the current (but outgoing) chair has recently stated he will never engage with us ever again. MCFly readers can either contact them as citizens (it’s still a free country) and stakeholders. Or they can wait for the new chair to be announced (famously, no elections were held at the last Stakeholder Conference) and ask them.