The Manchester “Stakeholder Steering Group” on climate change has refused to release its first annual report, ahead of its Inaugural General Meeting. Martyn Cowsill, a renewable energy businessman, has been rebuffed in his request to see the report, which will only be released at the meeting, to be held on Tuesday 10th June at Manchester Town Hall.
On Friday 16th May he wrote to the secretariat
“I am told that Gavin will be presenting the first Progress Report. I am guessing that this will be a substantial document which we, the attendees, could do with reading before we get to the event. “Any chance you could send it out in advance?”
The reply came thus
“The AGM will provide the opportunity for Gavin and the Steering Group to launch the M:ACF Annual Report and for a discussion on progress to date, as well as discussing the steps the Steering Group and the City will need to take on this important issue over the next 12 months and beyond… We recognise that some attendees would be keen to see the report in advance but after much debate the Steering Group have agreed that the report will not be released until the event itself, in order to encourage better attendance on the day, and to make as big an impact as possible. (emphasis added by MCFly)
“Once the report is in the public domain we will be seeking feedback from the widest group of Stakeholders possible, and also trying to enlist as many people as possible in support of these important issues and actions.
We hope you will be able to attend and look forward to seeing you on the 10th June.
[MCFly says – maybe if they were worried about better attendance they could have, um, advertised it more than 26 days in advance, and used, um, you know, social media? And really, they think people are going to come to be the first to grab a report, as if this were the latest One Direction album? Seriously? This is just brittle control-freakery. No change there then.]
There was then a further exchange, with Mr Cowsill, who wrote a blistering account of the 2013 “Conference” (which MCFly editors Marc Hudson and Arwa Aburawa were banned from attending), making the following points.
Well it won’t be much of a debate if we’re not allowed to read the report before the debate. How could anyone possibly make any sensible contribution to a debate without having digested the report’s contents?
It seems to me that there is no real will to engage in discussion at all. The Steering Group is not democratically elected, their meetings are held ‘in camera’, there are no SMART objectives anywhere to be seen in any ‘plan’ / ‘action’ documents I have seen – I don’t see any point in attending.
As part of a further email exchange he wrote
[The AGM’s] intention was to have a discussion. If we are supposed, instead, to listen to just the SG’s view of the report, then take it away to read at our leisure with no idea of when the discussion will take place, then there is no prospect of discussion at all. Yes, you might tempt more people to attend, but to what real purpose? What is the point in having those people together in the same room if it is just to listen to a one-sided, self-congratulatory report? What real good does that do? Will it convince those attending that the SG’s definition of success is a flag of convenience under which MACF will avoid criticism?
I have read the ‘plan’. It is not a plan as any business-minded person would understand, but rather a nebulous, aspirational set of ideas. Saying we are going to reduce CO2 emissions by 42%, or whatever, without saying how this is going to be done, by whom and in what stages, is a bit like saying: “We are determined that there should be daylight tomorrow.” And, lo, there is daylight the following day and that’s all down to us!
“A greater level of transparency”? Please explain how that will be achieved from here on. Withholding publication of the report is not any thinking person’s idea of transparency.
“How we are actually doing”? Sure, we achieved daylight again today, but the companies, individuals and organisations who have actually done something to reduce CO2 emissions etc are doing it for reasons other than the exhortations of MACF. When I went along to the three year ‘refresh’ meeting, I was greeted with disbelief when I said I had never heard of MACF. The attitude was: “But we’ve been around for three years, surely you must have heard of us.” Ask yourself the question “Does the existence of MACF actually mean anything or make any difference at all to the people of Manchester?” If it didn’t exist, would CO2 emission reduction continue at the same pace? You already know the answer.
MACF ought to be doing more to make a difference. The ‘plan’ needs to be stripped down and re-built with SMART objectives. Only then will the wider public sit up and take it seriously.
Talk is cheap. The simple fact is this: even Manchester City Council releases its reports before its meetings. (In a supreme act of irony, the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee should be hearing – in the same building and immediately before this event – about how lousy the Council’s own performance has been in the last year. And that report will be available for inspection a week in advance). Sure, the Steering Group will argue that it is not a statutory body, has no legal obligation blah-de-blah de blah. Tosh.
How do you show people you care about transparency, accountability and meaningful dialogue? By making it easier rather than harder, by allowing people to digest what is going to be discussed and come equipped. To include people who can’t be there (4pm on a week day. Would you book annual leave? There was a time I would have. No more.)
I for one won’t be there. Even if I could be, I think I’ve probably had enough of soul-destroying blandishments and promises of “lessons learnt,” a brighter future, and “seeking feedback from the widest group of Stakeholders possible, and also trying to enlist as many people as possible in support of these important issues and actions.” (Like the last 4 years? God help us).
All done by and for middle-class white people. Attendance merely lends legitimacy to a fundamentally illegitimate process, which should be abandoned.
Oh, and it will be interesting to see what press release – if any – goes out before the event. A little bit of top-spin, perhaps?