Manchester City Council has 96 councillors. At the moment Labour has 86 councillors out of that number. After the May 22nd elections, it will be 95 and a half. One Party State, much?
So, the “scrutiny” process – whereby councillors (and, theoretically, members of the public) ask awkward questions of the 9 member Executive and paid officials – becomes even more crucial.
Sadly, it is utterly broken, an empty ritual played for laughs and sycophancy.
There are various reasons for this, asides from Labour’s iron grip (the hollowing out of the local state, the death of local media, the collapse of civil society institutions, “bowling alone” etc.).
Anyway, enough with the context. The City Council’s “scrutiny team” have circulated a survey to anyone who attended any of the six scrutiny committees’ 10-or-so meetings in the last year. It is, as you’d expect if you’d ever been to a meeting, very detailed, geared to insiders rather than outsiders, procedurally “correct” and yet/because of this, baffling, intimidating and demoralising.
At the end (if you can get that far without killing yourself), they ask you to
“Please describe any other ways in which you think scrutiny could be improved in Manchester”.
Ha. Haha. How long have you got? Well, here’s 7, in no particular order. There are hella more, but since these ideas will be ignored regardless, I ain’t gonna waste much more time.
a) Use social media – at the very least Twitter, Facebook and Youtube – to publicise the agendas of the six scrutiny committee meetings a week in advance, with ALL THE PAPERS having a brief description of each paper on one single web-page, instead of in six different pdfs. This makes it easy for people interested in scrutiny to alert their friends who might be specifically interested in issue x or x. Here’s one MCFly made earlier.
b) Create an email subscription system whereby people can express interest in being kept informed about specific items of interest [housing, recycling, digital economy etc etc etc], so they know when reports are coming to scrutiny (or, more often, being delayed/deferred/ignored.)
c) create an easily searchable database of upcoming reports etc (the “forward plan”) , with a traffic light system to indicate when they are constantly being kicked into the long grass (e.g. the Finance Scrutiny Committee’s promised report on how other councils with a preponderance of one party cope with that).
d) Set up a seventh scrutiny committee specifically designed to examining and IMPROVING the Council’s diabolical under-performance (and that’s a kind interpretation) on all matters environmental (biodiversity as well as climate), with non-council members of that committee, such as proper independent scientists. Here’s some terms of reference for such a committee.
e) Create simple videos that explain the remit and function of each of the scrutiny committees. Many people in Manchester have poor reading skills, and are intimidated/baffled by the dense and arcane jargon that the Council uses. Videos would dent that fog. Here’s one MCFly made earlier. And another. There are others. And god forbid that you actually video and audio record the proceedings. Or livestream them. I mean, it’s not as if this is the 21st century, or that Manchester is constantly bleating about being a digital hub. (Shame about the broadband speeds, eh?)
f) Make it a disciplinary offence for any executive summary of a document to be as inaccurate as last year’s Annual Carbon Reduction Plan summary was. That document hid the fact that emissions had actually gone UP, and that the council was – despite all previous promises – going to miss its “20% by 2014” reduction target. The executive summary was all bland positives. This is simply unacceptable.
g) Create an online attendance indicator so that members of the public can see which members turned up for (how much of) each committee meeting. This should also put a stop to members lying about having been present at meetings. Just sayin’.
Will a single one of these happen? Don’t bother watching this space…