Interview with Councillor Simon Wheale, leader of the Opposition (9 Lib Dems out of a Council of 96 members)
Can you explain your objections to the “Clean and Green” [Spaces] Initiative” please?
I think there’s a really glaring hole in the way in which the report was presented, because we’ve got this great windfall of £14.5 million. But there was no reference whatsoever in the report as to how the decisions will be taken, or where the ideas will come from to actually spend that money. And we believe that we do have existing structures within the Council – cash grants, ward co-ordination that are ways of engaging with local groups in local communities. We would like to see the whole process blown open, blown wide open in a way that would allow communities to be leaders in driving the ideas in each community about how this money can be spent.
And Councillor Nigel Murphy, the Exec for the Environment said that the Lib Dems say one thing in the press and another in Executive in relation to this matter. What do you think he meant, and what’s your response?
[Laughs] I’ve absolutely no idea what he meant, because everybody’s been saying exactly the same thing, which is that the community should drive this process. That’s what we would like to see. We have the structures there. This is a bigger sum than normally goes through the cash grants and the ward co-ordination, but this is a real opportunity to engage people. We think that projects of lasting value will come forward if they’re driven by the local community deciding its own priorities. Those will be different from community to community.
A hypothetical question – if an e-petition were suddenly to appear on Manchester City Council’s website, calling on the council to hold a public consultation on how the money should be spent, do you think that’s something that the Liberal Democrats would support, and could you speculate on how many Labour councillors might support it?
[Laughs] I can answer for the Lib Dems and say we would support that; it would be a good mechanism for opening the process up. How many Labour members might support it I cannot comment on.
Okay, final controversial question; assuming that at least some of the Liberal Democrats don’t hold onto their seats next year
- I’m not making any assumptions –
hypothetically, what sorts of structures do you think should happen in a local authority that has an overwhelming preponderance of one party – whether it is Labour, Lib Dem or Conservative – to make sure that those people living in that local authority are not living in a one-party state.
Right, well, I don’t think that Manchester will have a one party state. We already have a strong representation from one party, in the Labour Party, which can vote anything through already. And what we very strongly need in any council like this at the moment is to have strong counterweights which come from the bottom up. So we must make sure that our ward co-ordination and our cash-grant structure, which we’ve argued for many many many times in our budget presentations, is that we should start to the ward level for determination by local ward residents and groups so that they have an input into that. So we think that there’s huge scope for the cleansing budget, for the roads and pavements – things like that – to be moved to the ward level for local determination. And that ‘s something the Liberal Democrats have always been, philosophically, committed to, and will always be committed to, however the relative balance of the two parties is.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Well, we just welcome the huge interest of Manchester Climate Monthly in the democratic process and engaging in it, and coming and hearing what the councillors are actually saying and making clear your views too on the items coming up. I know a huge amount of work goes into that. It’s hard work, ploughing through the papers and the council terminology to get at what’s actually going on, but it’s a very welcome contribution that’s made.
DISCLAIMER: MCFly’s editor Marc Hudson has worked with, and will work, with Jo Campbell of the “Ask the People of Manchester” campaign. Make of this what you will. This disclaimer will appear on all stories about the Clean and ‘Green’ Initiative published on MCFly.