An open letter to Richard Leese: Are you okay, hun?

A so-called academic alerted me to your blogpost, and said “‘seems like his writing directly to you :-)”  Others have commented on how brittle and defensive it is.  Richard, I’m worried about you.  This is the kind of fact-free spittle-flecked delusional ranting that we expect of the President of the United States, not the long-long-term leader of Manchester  City Council.  I’m like, are you okay?

I don’t know if you have the cognitive and affective tools to make use of this post, but I am going to try to explain to you what you have been unable to say, and why a real understanding of Manchester’s (dismal) history of climate policy failure matters for doing things (MUCH) better in the future. Because the future matters, even though you may not be part of it for all that much longer.

Below, in italics, is the entirety of your latest blog.  (By the way, the title “How green is my city” is telling.  Do you think it is your city, Richard?  What are the 550,000 people who live here-   fodder for your ego? Something else? Btw, the answer to your question is “nowhere near as much as the Council wants everyone to believe.”)

In the paragraphs in between I will try to jog your memory, and point out the, ah, gaps in what you say.  Not for your benefit so much – I fear that you might need more help than I can provide – but, well, so other people can see what is going on (many already do, by the way, which may be discombobulating you.)

A couple of weeks ago I posted on Twitter about the greenhouse gas reduction target for the city set in 2009 to be achieved by 2020, 41%, and that the City Council, with a 2.1% share of the city’s emissions, had far exceeded that target by the end of 2018/9.

But Richard, your tweet  was in response to my response  to a tweet about the lack of city council mentions of climate change since the July 10th climate declaration.  You weren’t being, you know, proactive, as a forthcoming report on your twitter activity will show.


As for the city council reduction target….

Richard, have you forgotten austerity?  All those libraries closed? All those shuttered child-care centres,  all those poor people in Manchester made that much poorer?  They haven’t forgotten, Richard. And many of them also know that the Council had 10 thousand staff and lots of buildings in 2010, before the Coalition started swinging the axe.  The Council now has 6 thousand staff, offers fewer services, has fewer buildings. OF COURSE its emissions are down, (and independently of t’National Grid being partially decarbonised).  You do understand that, right?  Or do you not have the mental acuity anymore? I worry.  Surely it can’t be that you do know it, but hope people don’t notice. That would mean you were trying to trick people, and that you thought they were really stupid.  No, no, I refuse to believe that.

Just to be clear, I was not denying the Council’s role in providing broader leadership on climate change, but was making an obvious point to all those who point the finger at the Council, and at the same time throwing out a challenge, that if the rest of the City was doing as well as we are we would be in a lot better place.

Richard, you’ve been leader of Manchester City Council since 1996. It only got a climate policy – thanks to activist pressure – in 2009.  I am not sure you should be talking about providing broader leadership.  Also, have you forgotten that you  launched the ‘carbon literacy’ programme in October 2012 at the Arndale Centre but despite repeated, er ‘prompts’   only did the training yourself in mid-2017.   Perhaps you kept forgetting to do it?

Can you not recall telling a scrutiny committee in August 2014 that there was a monthly environmental dashboard and how this This was simply not true, and the following month a ‘clarification’ had to be read out.  In response to a FOIA in 2016, it was finally revealed that no dashboard would ever be produced.

I don’t want to overwhelm you though, with examples since you seem not to remember your actual behaviour, versus what you want (need?) to believe.

It’s worth looking again how that target was set and what has been done since to achieve it. Like now, in 2008 lots of individuals and organisations were berating the Council for alleged inaction. Our response was to invite all our critics in and to work with us to write and deliver our climate change strategy and action plan.

There were actually two goals for the Climate Change Action Plan, as I am sure (well, I hope!) you know.  Do you not remember though, that in 2008 it was Manchester Climate Fortnightly (which I co-edited) doing most of the berating for real (not ‘alleged’ inaction).  Can’t you think back to how the second Executive Member for the Environment, your cherished friend Neil Swannick, produced a ‘Principles Document’ on climate change in early 2008, which said there would be a stakeholder engagement process by the end of the year?

Is it beyond your ability to remember that in early 2009 a laughable and expensive desk-study, prepared by a London-based consultancy, emerged.  It was called ‘Call to Action’. In outrage and disgust, a bunch of activists created a ‘Call to Real Action’ in a bare six weeks, with no money. There were dozens of us, and we produced a 60 page report chock-full of good ideas, most of them still un-implemented.

Richard, the first time we met was in late April 2009, at the first meeting of the Environmental Advisory Panel (an idea I had suggested to the then Executive Member for the Environment, Richard Cowell). I gave you a copy of C2RA, saying “er, I am not sure if you have seen this?”

You said to me “But that’s what we are here tonight to talk about.” And sure enough, your officers had marked up copies, with lots of highlighting.

Richard, it’s only ten years ago. How can this be so difficult for you? Have you forgotten my role on the EAP, explaining how the official plan could be put together in the few short months before you needed to fly off to Copenhagen with a completed climate plan? Have you forgotten how the plan also called for the creation of a low carbon culture, with the council leading that? I’ve put the text in a box, to jog your memory.

goal two

Have you achieved this, Richard? Have you?

So, moving on.

Most accepted the invitation and the result was the ground-breaking Manchester : A Certain Future and later the establishment of the Manchester Climate Change Agency, the Partnership organisation tasked with delivery.

Yes, I accepted the invitation to be involved in the EAP for several years. You agreed it needed an overhaul and tasked your officers with doing that with me (I still have the emails). They didn’t, the EAP was then abolished and recreated without me. But who cares about me?  What matters is this

The MACF was supposed to have elected members.

Do you recall doing anything when those elections never happened? I don’t recall you doing anything.

Do you recall how the MACF was supposed to hold annual day-long stakeholder conferences but only managed one, in 2010.  In 2011 nothing. In 2012 a half-day atrocity. In 2013 another half-day atrocity that Arwa Aburawa and I were banned from.(though it seems we dodged a bullet).

Do you recall doing anything when the stakeholder conferences were then abandoned? I don’t recall you doing anything.

And that plan you mention. The Council committed to getting a 1000 endorsing organisations, which would then write their own implementation plans. Your officers sent out 1 email, got 220ish endorsers. No plans, no further action.

Some chose to remain carping from the sidelines and some of those are still carping from the sidelines adding nothing but venomous hot air to the task ahead.

Oh dear, poor Richard.  Do you not recall how I and loads of other people produced a 30-page document in 2014 and brought it to Executive, listing 9 actions (deliberately chosen for their cheapness and impact)  the city council could take?


There was an accompanying video (sorry about the production values – I am amateur AF).

How we proposed an environmental scrutiny committee?  How we looked at the findings of the Environmental Sustainability Sub-group and how officers were not producing a good enough implementation plan (ask your current Environment Exec about it – she was particularly vociferous, for a while). To quote

“In March 2014 MCC at both Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee (NSC) and Economy Scrutiny Committee (ESC) agreed to implement its recommendations. But both attempts to create an implementation plan have been rejected by Economy Scrutiny as unsatisfactory. Rather than wait for a third attempt, a group of Manchester citizens has decided to write a plan and circulate it. This is done in a spirit of constructive criticism, imperative because of the enormous challenges of the linked crises in environment (including climate) and economy facing the city.”

We then produced a 21 page implementation plan. It was viciously attacked and ignored in the scrutiny committee.   As for ‘venomous’, um, (1)

For its part the Council is taking the climate emergency extremely seriously but also knows that all though we are on a very steep slope there are no overnight solutions.

Richard, now I am getting really worried.  Are you not able to tell the difference between what you want to be true, what you wish others would believe, and the actual facts? Your blog’s timing suggests that you have seen the ‘Dead Tortoise Society’ report. That showed that on half the 23 elements of the climate emergency declaration there has been no action.  Richard, that report is based entirely on Freedom of Information Act requests – the words of your own officers. Also,  not a new penny has been assigned or sought for climate action.
Richard, do you see people see you?

As for “overnight solutions” – do you see how setting up a strawman is a failed debating trick that is clearly coming from a position of weakness?  Richard, you’ve had 23 years as leader to come up with solutions. It’s ten years since the climate plan. There’s no overnight about it.

Our zero carbon city still needs more homes and more jobs and the most sustainable way of providing for those is through dense development on brownfield sites close to public transport nodes. The alternative is concreting over greenfield sites for what would be very car dependant development.  As our outline city centre transport strategy sets out we are aiming to reduce the number of car journeys into the city, but at the same time we recognise many people will remain dependent on the car for a large number of reasons. So we need those cars to be cleaner, ideally electric, but they will still need somewhere to park. Parked cars are zero emissions, they’re only a problem when they move.

“Parked cars are zero emissions.”  It saddens me to say it, but really think you should seek a professional assessment.  (How) can you possibly believe this is a persuasive argument for the 10,000 people who have signed the petition?

Finally, what we are interested in is practical, deliverable solutions that have support across all our communities to tackle a fundamental issue. We are open to working with anybody who wants to join us in that task.

So am I, Richard, So. Am. I. That’s what I have been doing for over ten years.  I look forward to working with you – and your successor –  quite soon.

Finally, some reflections on legacies and reputations. A real king of spin, Shane Warne, on quitting Test cricket, said ‘it’s better that people ask “why are you retiring?” than ‘”why don’t you retire?”’  Already one of your deputies will have a lot more time on their hands, come May.  Perhaps, rather than waiting for younger colleagues to stage an intervention, you might think about getting out while the going is good, with at least a little dignity left?  Speaking as a friend.

But perhaps you are worried about what people will say about you?  I mean, you have clearly known about climate change and the need for local authority action since 1994 (at the latest), when you attended the ‘Global Forum’.  You became leader in 1996. Admittedly the first years were dominated by the aftermath of the IRA bomb. But Manchester only got its first climate policy in 2009, and has not implemented it, choosing instead to take the credit for national level factors.  Ten wasted years, without that low carbon culture getting implemented.  Do you worry that this record will be seen as one of harming children?




(1) Have you seen how some of your older whiter maler Labour colleagues (you know who I mean), treat the Liberal Democrats?  Oh, Richard, you’ve not become one of those thin-skinned old people who can dish it out but can’t  take it?  By venom, I think you actually mean constant informed constructive criticism by people who refused to become tame meat-puppets, who were willing to conflate access for influence.


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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