Manchester City Council has poured lukewarm water over an “open letter” suggesting low-cost actions on climate change. The letter, which has appeared online and in the Manchester Evening News was from citizens of Manchester, who offered their help in implementing nine specific actions.
Responding to a brief statement made by the editor of Manchester Climate Monthly to the Council’s 9-member Executive at the Town Hall this morning, the new Executive Member for the Environment, Cllr Kate Chappell, stated that she felt three of the ideas were of interest – carbon literacy, funding [unconditionally] the [utterly undemocratic] Stakeholder Steering Group and ‘councillors doing more’.
She then delivered a mini-homily on the nature of collaboration and behaviour change, and committed to replying in “some detail” to the letter. This reply will presumably be cced to the many people who have emailed her during the last 8 days.
The City Council’s Executive then endorsed the “Climate Plan 2014-7”. As reported previously, this official document never spells out a simple and extremely inconvenient truth; the long-promised 20% reduction in the Council’s own carbon emissions by 2013/4 has been totally missed, with actual reduction probably about half of that target, and mostly due to the sell-off of surplus buildings. (We will know the exact amount in July 2014).
The nine actions in the open letter include the setting up of an Environmental Scrutiny Committee and the release of currently-secret quarterly progress reports about the Council’s climate action. The letter was created by Manchester Climate Monthly and then endorsed by a growing number of citizens. A 30 page document that included implementation plans for each of the nine actions was sent to Executive members earlier this week. This was an effort to show that all the nine actions were eminently feasible and remarkably cheap, and to help a council that has often struggled – even before austerity kicked in – to move from strategy documents to implementation documents, let alone to implementation itself. It seems, however, to have backfired, providing a pretext for kicking the nine actions into long grass.
Tactical blunder? Perhaps.
There is an argument that says releasing a 30 page implementation plan to the Executive forced them onto the back-foot. Nobody likes being bossed around, after all, and told their jobs. Perhaps such a document could and should have been released immediately after the Executive meeting.
Maybe, but this is not a Council that has shown – since the halcyon days of late 2009 – any interest or ability in being innovative in its policy-making. This is a Council that has spun increases in carbon as decreases, has promised that a 20% reduction was on track and now finally “admits” (but only in a meeting, never on the page!) that it will be lucky to get a 13% reduction by the target date. This is a Council that has managed to get only 6 out of its 96 members to undergo a straightforward training in “carbon literacy”. Maybe they do need to be helped with implementation plans after all.
Let’s not be naïve about what we are dealing with here. Even in the absence of that aggravating implementation plan, it’s highly likely the response would have been the same level of luke-warmness. Some other excuse would have been found.
And finally, let’s consider the absolute “best case” scenario – the Council actually unambiguously welcoming and committing to the nine actions. (By the way, these actions are – in the words of one person in a position to know about these things – “sensible suggestions.”) Would that have meant we could have patted ourselves on the back for a job well-done and gone home? Would that have meant that no further surveillance, chivvying and scrutinising – of a council that will in all probability be 100% Labour – would have been needed? Let’s remember, left to their own devices the Council’s target for so simple an action as getting all its elected members to be carbon literate was March… 2017.
Who would trust them to be able to deliver on these nine actions? Only somebody who had been paying no attention whatsoever in the last few years, someone who believed that austerity’s culling of capacity and talent would not matter to what was someone (now on the cusp of retirement) described in 2010 as “Delivery, Delivery, Delivery”.
It was always the case that, if these 9 actions were to happen (and all the others that need to happen.), then citizens of Manchester would have to be involved every step of the way. Today’s events don’t change that. Citizens will have to learn new skills, build new relationships, uncover and share new knowledge. All the while they will have to sustain their own and each others’ morale. They will need to be able to effectively welcome new people, and be able to allow everyone – old and new – to scale up and scale down their involvements when “real life” intervenes, as it so often does.
A previous effort to give the Council tools it needed – Call to Real Action (2009-10) – signally failed to do those things in the long-term. Such failures! – we cannot afford them any more. If you want to learn those skills, build those relationships, uncover and share that knowledge, please, get in touch. firstname.lastname@example.org
If you can come to our first meeting about this, on Tuesday 25th February, from 6.30pm at the Friends Meeting House, (rolling programme – come for as long as you like), then great. If you are busy that day/hate meetings/can’t afford to come but still want to be involved, get in touch. email@example.com