For reasons that escape all explanation, Manchester Climate Fortnightly’s editor did not pass the (mysterious and unexplained) selection process for the recent Mayor’s “Green” Summit. Go figure. Anyway, some people who did go have written up their reflections. Here is the first one. Others to follow; the more the merrier.
Fwiw, MCFly’s take is this: of course Andy Burnham wants to have another summit. It’s good PR. And of course it will be more of the same top-down guff about plastic straws. The real work of democracy, which neither Burnham and his cronies NOR the environmental ‘campaigners’ want is for the actual machinery of democracy and scrutiny to be there all year round. For the former that would be too uncomfortable, for the latter too much like hard work.
GM Mayor Andy Burnham’s Summit Report.
I arrived early as requested to clear security; as it happens although my bag was checked, nobody asked for proof of ID (the driving license I had dug out proving superfluous). Initially I was frustrated that the ‘here to help’ helpers seemed unable to help me locate either cloakroom or refreshment area (better signage particularly to reach the remote refreshment area – and ‘Marketplace’ would have been useful). Once that was sorted the next hour, before the official start was very useful. There were many stalls to interact with and a good opportunity to network generally.
The formal event started well (and only 5 minutes late). Andy Burnham delivered his opening remarks and made plenty of right noises, including a recognition that the 2050 target for zero carbon was too late, and instead stated his intention to make Manchester the first Zero Carbon City Region with a target date for 2038. He was followed by Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Centre – excellent as always. He came over less doom and gloom than he used to (despite the dire situation) but pulled no punches over the need to make all the necessary cuts over just the next few years; as he put it ‘Winning slowly is as bad as losing outright’.
Next up was Alex Ganotis, Stockport Council Leader and GM Lead on the Green City. He started ok, clearly stating that environmental actions should not be separate from other policy areas, but ran a good ten minutes over his al1oted time, degenerating into death by Powerpoint. There was a video message from Clare Perry, the Tory Environment Minister which was mercifully short. followed by 2 more keynote speeches, from reps from the Environment Agency and Business (Marks and Spencer).
At this point (11.50 instead of the programmed 11.35) we split into two groups Green and Orange. The Orange Group I was in, went to lunch, a fairly basic but adequate baked potato based meal, which for most attenders had to be eaten standing up. From there we were ushered to the six ‘Thematic Feedback rooms’ where we were asked to provide written feedback on long lists of ideas which had emerged from the ‘listening’ event (confession: I didn’t attend a single listening event); there were many good ideas there with which I could only agree. This was the only part of the day where there was any opportunity for the vast majority of attenders to contribute, and given the amount of material, 40 minutes was not enough to do it justice. We were then transferred to the auditorium for no less than 8 five minute slots (entitled ‘Local Successes and Provocations’). At the end of this, the Green Group (who had been through the same process in a different order) rejoined us.
The afternoon session then began, at 14.27 instead of the intended 14.00. First item ‘Andy Burnham – Welcome back, reflects on what he has heard’ (I’m more interested in what he’s going to do than what he has heard). At least he didn’t say much at this point (beyond teasing us with the anticipated arrival of a ‘special guest’ later on), moving on quickly to the next 2 key speakers (from BBC North and United Utilities). When in doubt have a key speaker, though to be fair Alice Webb of the BBC delivered the best speech of the day apart from Kevin.
The following session was ‘Panel and Audience QA Session’. Hooray I thought, they’re going to give us a chance to be involved. And indeed at exactly 3.24 pm – 36 minutes before the whole event was due to finish – a call went out for anyone in the audience to ask a question. A couple of people got in before the session ended and we moved on to ‘Pledge Session and Online Participation’…
My heartbeat increased – would we all be asked to reveal our pledges?! Andy Burnam’s heartbeat also increased as he prepared to announce the appearance of the special guest – who could it be we thought, David Attenborough maybe? – nope it was…. wait for it….(anyone opposed to the imposition of a fenced and floodlight football pitch on the green space of Turn Moss, or to the building of a huge tower in front of historic Manchester Town Hall, should look away now) ….. Gary Neville!. We were then presented with four white men – Burnham, Ganotis, Neville and an actor from Cold Feet (whose name I forget) talking to each other with little if any interaction with the audience. At this point we were already way past the scheduled finishing time.
This pledge session built to a climax where a group of business people got on stage to proudly announce their support for a pledge to ban single use plastic drinking straws and generally slap each other on the back. Dear reader, I couldn’t take any more and I left (I had been sat down with no loo break or refreshments for over 3 hours). By that time I reckon at least a third of the initial audience had already gone. To be fair, the drinking straw pledge made the national news, but I don’t think it’s what Kevin Anderson had in mind in terms of priorities. So sadly I missed Andy’s 15 minutes of closing remarks.
The above description probably comes across as pretty negative, but there were good aspects to the day as well, particularly what seems to be a genuine recognition across some businesses and politicians at least that we need to do better; also some opportunity to network and learn of good initiatives around the city region. I did glean a number of useful bits of information. Also I’m prepared to give Andy Burnham the benefit of the doubt about his sincerity to make major changes…
There were far too many speeches from the platform and far too few opportunities for the audience to participate. In the whole day there was only time for 6 questions from the audience.
There was only forty minutes in the whole day allowed for the vast majority of participants to actually contribute anything.
For an one day event to overrun by over 40 minutes is inexcusable (in my opinion). In mitigation it does take time to move hundreds of people around, but the time needed for that was probably underestimated.
To have an audience sat motionless for over three hours continuously is also unacceptable (in my opinion).
The audience was fairly gender balanced, but overwhelmingly white. There were some non-white faces but they mainly belonged to the people serving the food and sweeping the floors. I would say it mainly consisted of two groups – green campaigners and other worthies, and business people with a conscience (or an optimistic sense of opportunity). So whatever the selection process was, it didn’t result in a representative sample of the population.
The building was too hot, particularly in the ‘thematic’ rooms and in the auditorium in the afternoon.
To summarise the day, although Kevin Anderson called on us to stop doing things the 19th and 20th century way, most of the day was very much old thinking based, with just a nod at 21st century in the form of celebrity culture.
Above all, the measure of success isn’t the event itself but what comes after it. We were promised a follow up summit within the year, but the real test will be the plan, the process, the milestones and the accountability, not just now but over the coming years.