Will someone not kill off this undemocratic and worse-than-useless “Stakeholder” “Steering” “Group”? #manchester #climate

What do you call an organisation that promises and then cancels elections to its board?
What do you call an organisation that unilaterally cancels day-long community-focused conferences and replaces it with a 90 minute talkfest by three old white men?
What do you call an organisation that couldn’t even run its own website and sighs with relief when instead it gets swallowed by a joke of North Korean -style ‘everything is awesome‘ s(h)ite?
What do you call an organisation so inept and obviously pointless that can’t even get funding from the City Council’s “Clean City Fund”, even though it has long been the Council’s climate change stabvest?
What do you call an organisation that won’t even allow elected members of Manchester City Council – let alone members of the public – attend its meetings?

I am sure you can think of plenty of names. But “Stakeholder Steering Group” (SSG) is unlikely to be among them, now, is it?

Gavin Elliott, the second (and hopefully last) chair of the SSG, finally appeared before a group of councillors today (the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee, one of six scrutiny committees that is supposed to keep tabs on the Council’s elected and unelected bosses.). He had been due to appear two years ago to the “Environmental Sustainability Subgroup”, but Council officers never quite seemed to be able to coordinate diaries for him.

Elliott started by claiming that the Stakeholder Steering Group’s very existence was down to discussions between Council Leader (since 1996) Richard Leese, the first (and last) ‘Director of Environmental Strategy’ (Richard Sharland) and Steve Connor (first SSG chair). Most everyone who was actually engaged in climate politics in this city at that time – 2008 to 2010 (Elliott was not)- would raise an ironic eyebrow at the characterisation.

Elliott then did NOT to mention that the Climate Change Action Plan that the Steering Group is supposed to be steering on had two headline goals – a standard emissions reduction target (which he conceded we are missing) and – well, let’s quote it in full

“To engage all individuals, neighbourhoods and organisations in Manchester in a process of cultural change that embeds ‘low carbon thinking’ into the lifestyles and operations of the city. To create a ‘low carbon culture’ we need to build a common understanding of the causes and implications of climate change, and to develop programmes of ‘carbon literacy’ and ‘carbon accounting’ so that new culture can become part of the daily lives of all individuals and organisations. Every one of the actions in our plan will contribute in some way to the development of ‘carbon literacy’ in the city. However, achieving a new low carbon culture – where thinking about counting carbon is embedded and routine – can only be delivered as a result of all the actions together, in an overall co-ordinated manner. Enabling a low carbon culture in the city will be particularly important if the challenge of meeting even more demanding carbon reduction targets between 2020 and 2050 is to be met.”

And since he didn’t mention it, he also didn’t mention that that goal was continually characterised by Sharland, in 2010-2 (i.e. before he got involved) as MORE important than the first goal, since only with a low carbon culture could we hope to make the much much deeper cuts needed AFTER 2020.

“Low carbon culture” came up – for literally a minute – later in his presentation. The only metric that has been developed, apparently, is per capita emissions. Seriously. Elliott did not mention that last year the Steering Group actually had a presentation from the authors of a report on Manchester and a “Total Carbon Footprint” approach. (The Climate Change Action Plan, as well as committing to everyone in Manchester having received a day’s carbon literacy training by 2013, also said the Council would move to ‘consumption-based metrics’ by 2013. Neither happened). Elliott also didn’t mention that a report was produced (by this author) about “What is a Low Carbon Culture?” Wonderful stuff.

There was more, but the key bit (and if you need a reason to kill yourself, you can watch the whole thing here), but the gist of it was that Manchester’s emissions have been tracking the other ‘core cities‘ (Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham etc), albeit at a slightly higher per capita level. And a chunk of the reduction to date may well be down to the recession, so as growth returns, so might emissions growth.)”

None of the councillors (and there’s a separate blog post to be written about the structural as well as personal/personnel reasons why scrutiny in this city is QUITE so useless) asked the very obvious question.

“If all the other core cities have carbon footprints that have matched Manchester’s (at a slightly lower level) and yet most of these cities don’t have ‘Stakeholder Steering Groups’, then isn’t it the case that your group has probably had NO IMPACT on carbon emissions?” (The obvious next question, given the answer is ‘yes’ – And so, at present, are you are not wasting your time and ours?)

None of the councillors asked about the cancelled elections, the cancelled stakeholder conference (replaced with an ‘AGM’), the lack of a website, the lack of events, the feeble social media presence (No youtube account, no facebook – 442 twitter followers? Really?)

We are more than half way to the 2020 target date, and yet Elliott is still talking about ‘early steps’. After two years in the role,he neglects to mention his abolition of the stakeholder conference, holding two short AGMs and claiming that there are four meetings a year (they actually managed 3 in 2014. I haven’t bothered to count this year; according to the MACF’s eventbrite page there was nothing between last December and the AGM in July 2015-

macf events

Apparently being a community interest company and being able to get European funding (in theory) is progress. In 2015. Seriously.

Elliott was then asked a straight-foward question by the chair of the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee – are meetings of the Stakeholder Steering Group open for members of the public – and indeed elected councillors – to come and observe (a meeting in public, as opposed to a public meeting)?

Elliott twisted and turned on the hook, resorting to the feeble ‘I’m sure the meetings are too dry and boring‘ line (i.e. ignoring the fact that in a democracy it’s up to adults to decide how and when they will be bored, and that a group that calls itself a Stakeholder Steering Group that forbids stakeholders from attending its meetings is, well, um…)
Gillard pointed to the fact that five of us had turned up at the NSC meeting and were still mostly alive.
Elliott twisted and wriggled on the hook some more, and refused to give a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. So, that would be a…..?
Elliott quickly moved to Gillard’s other question, which was about the obsession with economic growth to the exclusion of all else.

Readers of MCFly may remember that in 2010 the Council committed to looking at Steady State economics (after the current author spoke at a scrutiny committee). And that process ended in farce, when the bureaucrat who volunteered to write it delivered a useless page and a half and then failed to consult, as later asked to, by a croup of Economy Scrutiny Committee councillors, and this then led to an alternative report that…

Oh, look. If you believe that our elected representatives, or the bureaucrats at the Town Hall, are acting at the scale and speed required to prepare Manchester for the challenges it will face around climate, then you clearly have not been paying attention for the last 7 years or so. We’re toast. Carpe the diems.

As for what you’d call the Steering Group – One of the names I can think of for it is “joke”. But it’s not a funny one, and when Manchester finally (and too late) comes to take climate change seriously, if we ARE serious we will
a) learn from the multiple multiple failures of the Steering Group
b) not let any of the people who committed those failures, over and over and OVER again, anywhere near the levers of power.

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About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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5 Responses to Will someone not kill off this undemocratic and worse-than-useless “Stakeholder” “Steering” “Group”? #manchester #climate

  1. Prof Martyn Cowsill says:

    Reverend! … but are the people who can make a change actually listening to this? Everything written here is true, but they don’t want to hear it… so where does that leave us? What sort of direct action could be taken to rectify the situation? Is it possible to present the argument to decision makers and persuade them to do things differently? Or are we banging the drum in the wilderness? Unless you can come up with a way of getting rid of the cabal, of banging the drum within the circle of decision-making (does it exist) the beer is on you on Thursday … at least the first ones.

  2. I cannot remember if it was Marc Roberts or yourself, that pointed out, when Gavin was appointed. He was not qualified for the job and if I remember correctly he admitted it himself at the town hall meeting announcing his appointment. We Mancunians were not surprised at that, as we have been used to totally unqualified and untrained people being put in positions of authority. This led, of course to Thatcher’s drive to privatise, public services, because they were on the whole mismanaged. And Leese and Bernstein have been keen supporters of Thatcherism. But there is a problem, the failings of public services or also reflected in private enterprises (as witnessed by the collapse of British industry). So nothing changes, except tax-payers money goes into shareholders pockets, into services.
    So, one must wonder, why people who lack the qualifications, are put in positions of authority? It is to ensure, those like Leese and Bernstein remain in power. That no one has the ability to knock them from their perch. It ensures their permanency, being surrounded by sycophants, , which comprises mostly of ‘incomers’, who are mostly white middle-class, university educated yuppies.

  3. rogerbysouth says:

    Speaking as a MWMCUEY (can one acronym be part of another one?) and also an incomer (though not from Syria):

    The university that educated me and its like, I gather, don’t offer the qualifications you have in mind that any self-respecting secretary of a MACF SSG should have. Or of any successor organisation that might get on with the necessary.

    You’re probably right. In the authority’s defence it’s kind of a new phenomenon and it may take a bit too long to wait for higher (or any other kind of) education to see the gap in the market.

    What would appropriate non-piece-of-paper qualifications be?
    Might it not be an idea to go for testable skills and experience, knowledge and attitude?
    Perhaps it’s time to sketch out what Manchester’s new improved alternative would look like.

    Explaining to people what the post/s need is helpful for those putting themselves forward and for those holding them to account. It’s quite a lot of mournful fun having a go at the SSG. But perhaps we should offer an alternative sooner rather than later.

    And in reply to your next question… well I’ll have a think but don’t hold your breath as I am definitely “totally unqualified and untrained”.
    (Oh and sorry if you’ve already done this. I haven’t checked the archives.)

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