Manchester City Council bleats loud and long about openness and transparency. In early June bureaucrats assured elected members they would explain the “Clean and Green Fund” better. A month later, if you want to know who is getting what, you still have to use the Freedom of Information Act. Manchester – you have to weep for it.
The back-story in bullet points;
In July 2013 the Council learnt it would get a £14.5m windfall from the rather-profitable-at-present (don’t mention the carbon) Manchester Airports Group, of which it is 35% owner.
In September it announced it wanted to set up a “Clean and Green fund” to disperse that money. MCFly asked the relevant Executive Member what was particularly green about it, since there was no mention of carbon emissions or biodiversity He was uncharacteristically non-specific.
A few people (MCFly editor included) set up a campaigning group called “Ask the people of Manchester” to try to convince the Council to hold a public consultation on how to spend the money. We listed 5 reasons why a consultation was a good idea, and 4 reasons why should the current non-consultation way of dispersing the money was bad.
We failed to get the 4000 signatures you need to force a debate in Council. Ho-hum.
The petition got discussed, eventually, by the “Finance Scrutiny Committee” in June 2014. From the minutes, it seems that there was much time spent dismissing of the Ask the People of Manchester campaign. What a surprise.
The recommendations included this –
Now, if you want to know how the £14.5m is being allocated, you can ask the Executive Member for the Environment. She will probably tell you to look at this website. http://www.manchester.gov.uk/cleancity
That’s what she told MCFly in mid-May.
We did. There were no details. So we decided to use the Freedom of Information Act to try to prise information from the cold dead fingers of the Council.
Now, in mid July, a month after a bureaucrat was instructed, by elected members, to “promote to residents which groups have so far received funding and what it will be used for” the website STILL has no details. And the elected members haven’t checked up to see if it was done.
MCFly says: Bureaucrats are bureaucrats. They like the dark, they like not being held accountable (and they never have to face the electorate) That’s true from Manchester to Mumbai, from Adelaide to Zanzibar. If you’re going to be a community activist, you had better get used to it (while still trying to change it, find ways round it).
What is extraordinary is how Manchester’s elected members allow themselves to be fobbed off, repeatedly. If you ever attend a scrutiny committee meeting (and I recommend it as an anthropological exercise; just don’t go alone or you might end up converting to fascism), you’ll see elected members ask specific questions. The bureaucrats (with honorable exceptions – well done Julie Price) will duck, weave, waffle or answer a different question. The member will sigh/roll their eyes/mutter about questions not being answered. Then they seem to think they’ve discharged their democratic duty. They haven’t.
Perhaps Councillor Chappell would like to write a post on her blog about this subject?
See also: blistering piece by Janan Ganesh in Financial Time of Sat 12th July2014 “Sir Humphrey is a servant who needs a lesson in civility”.