The story so far: in late January a bunch of citizens signed an open letter to Manchester City Council calling on it to take 9 specific actions on climate change. After a slightly disappointing start, the Executive Member for the Environment, Kate Chappell, wrote back. The reply to her letter, which includes a very astute comment from one reader of this website, is posted below.
The tl;dr is this – It’s good that some things are progressing (carbon literacy etc), not-so-good that important things like an Environmental Scrutiny Committee are being kicked into the long grass. And on everything, the devil is in the detail – promises are easy enough, but delivering x by time y, and z by time a, is going to be crucial…
thanks for your very encouraging reply to the Open Letter on climate change that was signed by many residents of Manchester.
What follows is my personal responses, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the original signatories.
Before replying to your comments on the nine actions that were outlined in that open letter, I’d like to respond to the following. “The content of the letter as whole is… very process-orientated. I along with some of my colleagues of both parties were disappointed in this emphasis rather than on the substantive causes and solutions to climate change across the city. If Climate Change Activists are going to take the trouble to lobby for 9 things – make them big!”
I’ll pass over the irony of how telling activists “what to do” might “never get the desired response” and suggest that a focus on process is a predictable – and perhaps even strategic – response when the last four years have been spent listening to repeated big promises from organisations that often meet behind closed doors and then fail to deliver. And from organisations that try to spin increases in their emissions as decreases. Process, basically, becomes important when there is no (longer) trust.
Secondly, if you’re looking for “big picture” ideas, there is the Call to Real Action report from 2009, and more recently Steady State Manchester’s various reports. These both contain both big picture and fine detail, and a series of policy suggestions. The SSM process dates back to late 2011, when a group of signatories offered to work with the council on producing a substantial piece of work about steady-state economics. That offer, accepted by the members of Economy, Employment and Skills Overview and Scrutiny Committee (as it then was), was not in fact taken up by the relevant officer. He chose to produce his own report with a fellow bureaucrat. This – and other examples like it – may help you to understand why there is a focus on “process” in the Open Letter.
- Carbon Literacy
I am delighted that you have committed to trying to persuade all your colleagues of the value of this training.
Could you please create a page on the Council’s website so that residents of Manchester can find out which of their three ward councillors have become carbon literate?
Can you please also let us know any and all dates when the carbon literacy training clustered in wards for interested residents and other stakeholders will take place. This is the sort of information that Manchester Climate Monthly readers (both of them) would be very interested in.
- Signatories to the Climate Change Action Plan and implementation plans
I am glad there is clarity about who is responsible for getting more signatories on the plan. I will ask that the Steering Group explains its strategy on this topic.
You ask for my opinion about whether to reinstate the concept of signatories. I personally don’t see any other option. Either we are trying to get the two headline goals endorsed and enacted by individuals and organisations across the city or we are not. The response given in the past by council officers has been to mumble something about the Environmental Business Pledge. Well, what if you aren’t a business?!
There is, by the way, a separate “pledge” that is being worked on by some activists. More on that another time…
- Goal Two – a “low carbon culture”
The suggestion that the low carbon culture be mentioned in all public documents was a Freudian slip. I meant to propose it only for all documents and speeches that referenced climate change, but actually, I like the broader suggestion more!
This suggestion, by the way is in response to a worrying trend, over several years, of ignoring goal two and instead only mentioning goal one the 41% reduction target. A cynic would say that a 41% reduction target is – even if basically unobtainable – at least measurable and therefore within the comfort zone of a bureaucratic organisation. The cynic might suggest that the attempted creation of a low carbon culture might force the bureaucratic machine to not only try to take action without obvious metrics, but also open it up to accusations of “social engineering” and a “nanny-state.” But as the first and only Head of Environmental Strategy was fond of saying, a low carbon culture is going to be essential to help the city make the deeper cuts in emissions needed beyond 2020.
Enough speculation and history; here’s a concrete idea. At present, every council report has a box to measure impact of that policy on the Community Spine.
|Community Strategy Spine||Summary of the contribution to the strategy|
|Performance of the economy of the region and sub region|
|Reaching full potential in education and employment|
|Individual and collective self-esteem – mutual respect|
|Neighbourhoods of Choice|
Well, why not the same thing for the “Climate Spine”? Here’s one I made earlier.
|Climate Strategy Spine||Summary of the contribution to the strategy|
|Reducing the City’s Carbon Emissions by 41% by 2020 from a 2005 baseline|
|To engage all individuals, neighbourhoods and organisations in Manchester in a process of cultural change that embeds ‘low carbon thinking’ into the lifestyles and operations of the city.|
I personally am not putting any faith in the MACF sub-group on low-carbon culture. The track record of MACF has been, basically, appalling. Manchester Climate Monthly and other groups will be trying to get a citizen-led process going, and have a definition in place by end of the year. We will probably ask you for an interview for your input!
- Environmental Scrutiny Committee
I fully expected that this would get rejected. A scrutiny committee made up of non-expert councillors is one thing, but one made up of scientists and other awkward types would be much harder to bamboozle with different baselines, different percentages etc etc.
You write “this won’t be possible; it involves constitutional change and further cost and has been ruled out by the Executive.”
Um… constitutional change happens all the time, and there are accepted mechanisms for this!? Cost? It would pay for itself in terms of stupid policies avoided. And the cost could and would be minimal, as laid out in the Draft Terms of Reference for the Environmental Scrutiny Committee proposed by myself. (I can send you another copy of that if you like).
I’ll quote from a response to your open letter posted on the Manchester Climate Monthly website.
Kate Chappell’s response seems quite positive and promising overall, it’s excellent news that the executive member for the environment is taking on board some of the points and also actually engaging on some of the issues raised.
I’m a bit puzzled, though, by the response to point four, about creating an environment scrutiny committee, the response to which seems to be, and I paraphrase: ‘Well, actually that’s a very good idea, and we might’ve done it ourselves in good time, but because you’ve forced the issue, the council’s going to cut off its nose to spite its face.’
The response reads as though Kate Chappell herself thinks it’s a good idea, and something she might’ve initiated herself at some point, but because it’s you/the open letter writers that instigated it, ‘the powers that be’ have ruled “it won’t be possible”.
It’s sad that someone who seems to be otherwise willing to engage and work with others might end up constrained by petty politicking and the council being spiteful and opposing good ideas and good initiatives just for the sake of it.
I do hope Ms Chappell manages to get her colleagues on board with her work, and that they support the executive member for the environment – even if, or especially if, there’s consensus that an initiative is a good idea.
This is an issue that is not going to go away, by the way. There is long grass, and there are lawn-mowers; it’s a dialectic.
- Progress Reports
I am delighted that quarterly progress reports will be presented to Neighbourhoods Scrutiny and Economy Scrutiny and “others on request”.
Could an email distribution list for this report be set up, with a “subscribe” button. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope that the reports can eventually become something the council is proud enough of to publish prominently!
I will look into the subject of other large organisations or local authorities publishing quarterly reports. If there aren’t any, well, it’s another first that Manchester can be proud of!
- Getting the other six scrutiny committees to include climate and environment issues, alongside food and fuel poverty.
I am delighted that you are “happy to encourage Scrutiny Committees to consider relevant issues relating to climate change”, though not sure what “as and when they occur” means. I agree that child safeguarding is important! I along with other people will be engaging consistently and constructively (though that term is sometimes contested!) with the six (eventually seven) scrutiny committees. This is especially important given the fact that we are heading into a period of absolute one-party membership of the Council.
- Ward Plans
As you may know, I looked into the ward plans after composing the open letter. I could find only 9 plans on the council’s website, and even these were out of date. I have been promised further information, but this has not yet been forthcoming.
I suggested a simple “contact your ward co-ordinator” form, but this apparently is too difficult or deemed unnecessary. Perhaps this is something you can look into, so other wards are as vibrant and active as Rusholme. There is further work to be done on getting disaster preparedness and adaptation into the ward plans, but I will save that for another time…
- Regular Q and As and Executive Blogs
I am delighted that you have asked for a blog to be set up by March 15th. Sadly, I cannot find it yet on the City Council’s website. Can you give a revised date for when it will indeed be set up? I hope it is more like the Leader’s blog, where comments can be left, than the truly appalling “On the Platform” blog, where no comments are allowed.
You mentioned that you would “ask any other Exec members if they would like to have a blog as well.” What did each of them they say? If they said no, what reasons did each of them give? If they said yes, when are they going to set them up?
Finally, thanks for your kind offer to do a Q and A at the next Manchester Climate Monthly event (though I would reiterate that the Open Letter demand was that ALL Executive members do REGULAR Q and As – the last thing we need is for climate and environment to be totally ghettoised and dumped on one Exec Member).
Venues are yet to be confirmed, but the dates will be as follows
Monday 9th June
Monday 7th July
Monday 25th August
Monday 22nd September
Monday 20th October
Monday 17th November
Sharp eyes may notice that these meetings are at the beginning of the weeks in which the six (and eventually seven) scrutiny committees meet. Their agendas may be on the agenda…
- The Steering Group
The key point in this was that any money that the Steering Group gets from the enormous and non-consulted pot of Airport dosh should be given only on the condition that the Group meets the basic democratic norms that were set for it in its original terms of reference, and repeated at its March 2012 (behind-closed-doors) meeting – i.e. that it hold the elections it is supposed to. And that it meets in public.
Of course, people who promise elections and cancel them may well regard the people who point this out as “overzealous” and “misguided”. To quote Mandy Rice-Davies “well they would, wouldn’t they?”
The Steering Group has a justifiably very low profile, having not actually done anything of note. Its recent “networking event”, while fun for those who went – and your speech was very enjoyable. It was very poorly advertised and attended by a very small number of people, from within the “greenosphere.”
The event in June that you refer to is not, to my knowledge, an Annual Stakeholder Conference. It is a two hour AGM and progress reporting, a very different beast. I will send you separately a few suggestions about how that event could be more worthwhile than the aforementioned debacle.
Finally (!) it would indeed be good to meet up again. Enjoy tonight’s Steering Group meeting, and I can only hope that money from the Airport will only go to this group when it makes a commitment to holding its meetings in public and enacts the March 2012 internal agreement on electing its members.