Here’s the short version: Manchester City Council has spent 30k outsourcing the creation of a “Green Infrastructure”. They “consulted” – but mostly with the consultants they hired!
Manchester City Council promised a “Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy” would be in place by end of 2012. Mid-2013 the Council Leader told full Council (while sneering at the few Lib Dems still around) that the strategy was almost ready. A year later it emerged that the council was spending 30 thousand pounds for someone else to do the heavy intellectual lifting (this information was prised out of the Council, of course).
So, at December 2014’s “Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee” there was a long presentation from one of those consultants. He said that there had been extensive consultation. I asked “who, where, when”, pointing out that Friends of the Earth’s weekly e-newsletter had never once mentioned it.
Jessica Bowles, head of “City Policy,” replied with a long answer, citing “engagement with the MACF green and blue subcommittee”, and then mostly of irrelevant detail (answering a different question is a favourite tactic of politicians and bureaucrats everywhere. It gives the appearance of replying, and also “runs down the clock.”)
The chair of the committee spotted this, and asked the same question again!
Then a different bureaucrat answered, with emollient words and, again, mention of the MACF green and blue subcommittee. (MACF is an unfunded quango that the Council set up to have climate change at ‘arm’s length’ – it is a pointless laughable talking shop that should be abolished, but that’s a different blog post.)
I strongly suspect that none of the elected members of the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee knew this, so I pointed out that- the consultant presenting his work is also the chair of the MACF green and blue subcommittee. (For the sake of any lawyers – I’m not saying the relationship is improper in any way.)
So, when asked, point blank, “who are you consulting/engaging with?” the most prominent name that the two bureaucrats could reach for was … a committee chaired by the same person who is writing the report for them, just wearing a different hat!!!!
Manchester, a cretin future.
For what it’s worth, the conversation continued. The Executive Member responsible (covering mat leave) first stuttered out an answer and then later came back with the bold claim that “hundreds” of people had been consulted.
The same day, I sent this email.
Dear Councillor Battle,
thank you for reassuring me that the Green and Blue Infrastructure has been extensively consulted upon. I will ask my friends and see if any of them has been so lucky as to be part of that elect group.
I am delighted that a document containing a list of individuals and organisations that have had conversations with the Council is going to be circulated to members of the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee. I am writing to you to be added to the distribution list for that document.
The March 2015 meeting of NSC will certainly be something to look forward to!
With regards to the list of “consultees”
It would be helpful and transparent if asterisks are placed next to the names of “consultees
- who are employed directly by a local authority
- whose main focus of work is either Greater Manchester or indeed another local authority
My understanding of this strategy is that it is for Manchester, not Greater Manchester, and it would be a shame to give an inflated appearance of consultation by including too many external (geographically-speaking) stakeholders without being crystal clear. Could there be some indication of whether organsiations were consulted specifically about this Strategy, rather than it being mentioned as part of regular “keep in touch” meetings of the type alluded to by the Head of City Policy when she referred to six monthly meetings with the Canal Trust.
Finally, since the last document and its consultation in early 2014, there doesn’t – to my clearly inadequate eye – seem to have been much consultation and engagement. To correct my misapprehension, could you please point me to
- any pages on the City Council website where people have been invited to leave a comment about the evolving GBI strategy
- any public events held by Manchester City Council at which the Green and Blue Infrastructure was the focus of discussion, including the dates and venues of these meetings, and the rough estimates of attendees.
- any use of social media (facebook, twitter, youtube) about the GBI by Manchester City Council
- The same questions as above for both the BDP, the contract winner, and the Manchester A Certain Future Steering Group Green and Blue Subgroup (fortunately, the same person will be able to provide answers for both organisations!)
- Indicative examples of where opinion has been sought via the communications (newsletters, magazines, e-bulletins) of partner organisations (e.g. Red Rose Forest, GM Ecology Unit). As I said in the meeting, no mention of the GBI strategy has, to my knowledge, been made in Friends of the Earth’s weekly digest.
- The dates and venues and attendees of any academic workshops held with experts at University of Manchester.
- The numbers of official consultation documents sent out and the number of replies received.
I know this seems like a long list, but you were very confident that a large amount of consultation had indeed been done, so this shouldn’t take too long to knock together.
By the way – when you said that the people who had been consulted were ten times the number around the table, there were 22 people (including yourself) at the table. So, if were were to invite 220 people, all of whom had been consulted (which is more than “informed of”) about the Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy, perhaps, to paraphrase the policeman in Jaws “We’re gonna need a bigger room.”
Once I have the information requested. I will get back to you
Watch this space.