Manchester Council’s Executive Member for the Environment, Councillor Kate Chappell, has back-pedalled on an offer of information made by her predecessor. Manchester’s councillors and citizens will be in the dark for another month about the Council’s climate performance in the year 2013-14.
Councillor Chappell, (who made repeated public commitments to start blogging and then broke that promise without explanation or apology), was responding to questions sent by MCFly. These questions, about elements of the City Council’s internal “Carbon Reduction Plan 2013-4,” had first been sent to Councillor Jeff Smith, who was covering her maternity leave, in December 2014. He had assured MCFly in early December “If you have some specific questions … then I’m sure we can try and answer them.”
The questions (see end of email) were sent, but not replied to. Further emails were sent in January (8th and 19th), to Councillor Chappell. Councillor Chappell has now replied
This query is being treated as an FOI request and will be replied to, I understand we still have a further reply to send you.
That separate Freedom of Information request is about the status of the Council’s “efforts” to get its own councillors to undertake “carbon literacy.” It was only submitted after it became clear that the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee was not going to keep its commitment to have a report produced about the successes (few) and failures (many) of these training efforts.
This active decision to avoid simply replying to questions is instructive for citizens who may have had hopes (or illusions) that something might be better in 2015 than it was in the second half of 2014.
There are two possibilities, neither of which has a happy underpinning.
a) Councillor Chappell has on her own decided to withhold information for as long as possible (while adding to the costs the Council incurs through following a formal procedure.) or
b) Councillor Chappell has buckled to pressure from her bureaucrats. This quote, about “departmentalism” may help.
… how Standard Operating Procedures become converted into specific ‘ideologies’ or world views within entire departments, a phenomenon sometimes known as ‘departmentalism’. For example, in all the countries studied here, departments taking responsibility for energy-related issues tend to favour gas over coal, and supply addition over demand reduction. The fact that departments are physically orientated in a certain way – the allocation of staff, resources and time, for example, tends to pre-determine particularly policy responses to up and coming problems, as does the configuration and ideological basis of the relevant policy network (Jordan and O’Riordan, 1993). Departmentalism is not hard to find in political memoirs: politicians, for example, have been known to display a fundamental ideological ‘conversion’ when they move onto new portfolios. Ministries tend to be associated with particular forms of policy involvement and not others. This aspect of policy making is captured by another well-used aphorism: the departmental ‘view’ (e..g the ‘Treasury view’, the ‘European Commissions’ view’).
Page 82 of O’Riordan, T. and Jordan, A. (1996) Social Institutions and Climate Change. In O’Riordan, T. and Jager, J. (1996) Politics of climate change: a European perspective. London: Routledge.
The answers to these questions – and others, should have formed part of a report brought to Neighhourhoods Scrutiny last July – when Councillor Chappell was still in post. The People’s Environmental Scrutiny Team stitched together a report called “What Have Ye Done?,” based on other Freedom of Information Act requests, last October. It turns out that the Council had NOT achieved most of its stated objectives. In a significant number of cases, it hadn’t even bothered to take measurements to find out if it was on track.
So, what is to be done?
We have a Council that blocks the release of information wherever possible. There is no political opposition, and no sense that a strong group of politicians dedicated to genuine openness, iterative learning and collaboration will emerge to change the culture of hierarchy, boosterism and airbrushing of unwanted promises and failures.
We have a spectacularly mis-named “Steering Group” that is achieving less than nothing. We have civil society dead on its feet. And meanwhile, the carbon accumulates and the opportunities and possibilities of preparing for the shocks are wasted in game-playing, backside-covering and thick (in every sense) reports full of waffle, by professional wafflers. It’s really not looking very good for the species, is it?
Questions put to Jeff Smith, 23rd December 2014.
(Again, at risk of repetition; the questions, which are simply ones that should have been part of the Council’s standard reporting process. If you are going to make a series of pretty promises in July 2013 about what you are going to do by July 2014, then, in July 2014 you should give a specific accounting of what you did and didn’t achieve, and why. Nobody should have to FoIA, or even ask. The only reason you would not release information is if it was embarrassing to you…)
With regard to 4.16 of the Council’s Annual Carbon Reduction Plan 2013-4, please supply a list of which assets were rationalised, and the savings of C02 and energy.
With regard to 4.21 of the Council’s Annual Carbon Reduction Plan 2013-4, will a new “energy efficient” fish market be built at new Smithfield Market? Were two “condition surveys” completed on two other market blocks
With regard to 4.32 of the Council’s Annual Carbon Reduction Plan 2013-4, can you point to some planning and highway decisions made between July 2013 and 2014 that maximised opportunities to create a highway network with the full range of sustainable transport options”. (Please note, this is distinct from bidding for Velocity money.)
With regard to 4.54 of the Council’s Annual Carbon Reduction Plan 2013-4, will a report on the “extensive programme of tree, hedge and orchard planting across the city” ever be brought to a scrutiny committee? Where were hedges and orchards planted? Are they being extended in 2015-6
With regard to 4.56 of the Council’s Annual Carbon Reduction Plan 2013-4, please supply details of the environmental engagement project at Clayton Vale. How many events were held?
How many people were engaged? What specific provision was made to engage “hard to reach” groups?
With regard to 4.57 of the Council’s Annual Carbon Reduction Plan 2013-4, please supply the names and locations of any local nature reserves that have been designated in the period July 2013 to 2014, and please supply the names and locations of any Sites of Biological Importance that have been designated in the period July 2013 to July 2014
With regard to 4.57 of the Council’s Annual Carbon Reduction Plan 2013-4, what actions were taken to “embed sustainability into the design process of refurbishments, extensions, or new school buildings”?
With regard to 4.78 of the Council’s Annual Carbon Reduction Plan 2013-4, was there “a refresh of Low Carbon Plans, both top-down, at a Directorate level, and bottom-up, from an individual team level.” If not, why not. If so, where can they be found on the Council’s website.
With regard to 4.82 of the Council’s Annual Carbon Reduction Plan 2013-4, has any calculation been made of the energy saved by virtualisation/economies of scale OVERALL (as distinct from shifting the energy off the council’s own books).