“New” “economic” “narrative” – at what cost, for what point? Economy Scrutiny Committee grills #Manchester leaders

It went exactly as we thought it would. But then, “Manchester City Council spaffs money against the wall on the production of more meaningless glossy powerpoints full of buzzwords, while calling it ‘new’ and ‘transformative’ and a ‘narrative'” is about as hard to get right as “Moon still there” and “Boris Government in U-turn shocker.”
Yesterday morning the Economy Scrutiny Committee met. It’s one of six scrutiny committees made up of Labour councillors, which are there to scrutinise a Labour executive.  There were a number of agenda items (including an important one about Northwards Housing) but life is short, so let’s keep the background simple.
  • COVID-19 has caused enormous physical and mental hardship. The full economic horror is yet to hit, but you can see it from here.
  • Local authorities like Manchester are positioning themselves to come “out” of the crisis by trying to get central government in London to give a damn about the provinces.
  • They are telling everyone (and themselves) a lot of soothing stories about “new economic narratives.”
  • There was a report and an oral presentation about this at yesterday’s ESC
  • On Monday, to celebrate a bank holiday we (with Steady State Manchester and Green New Deal podcast) produced a briefing paper which was a critique of the report and its claims. We, sent it to all the councillors on the committee. We also asked permission to speak at the committee (it’s all online) but were not given that permission.
  • We predicted that the oral reports on the day would be vacuous.
You can watch the presentation and the questions here. We live tweeted the whole thing at @ClimateEmergMcr.
Long story short, it was every bit (more?) embarrassing and vacuous as we predicted – “proud international city,” “young diverse city,” “resurgent city centre,” “pivot points,” “our manchester strategy” etc etc “prosperity,” “great base to work from”… “help you craft your narrative”
ALL the buzz words were ritually namechecked. Lots of incantations.

What was interesting is this
a) several of the councillors did in fact ask okay-to-very-good questions (thanks, take a bow, you know who you are)
b) there were several (hilarious) allusions to our briefing paper and organisation(s) without us ever being named (e.g. this). It turns out we’re Voldemort, “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” Perhaps there was a fear of more apoplexy in some people in the high-risk gerontographic fora  stroke if the three words “Climate Emergency Manchester” are ever uttered together.
The main points were –
expanded airports are definitely part of “zero carbon by 2038” oh yes.

how is this “narrative” different from all the other begging documents that will be flooding into HMG departments (especially Treasury) in the coming weeks and months?

(to this good question there was, of course, no good answer)
One question that didn’t get asked was how this palaver had been organised, and how much it all cost.  So, natch, with the meeting still going, we submitted the following Freedom of Information Act request to informationcompliance@manchester.gov.uk
Dear Sir/Madam,
with regard to the report and presentation about a “new economic narrative” at Economy Scrutiny Committee on 3 September 2020.
1. Please provide the documentation about how this contract was created – adverts, tender documents, or was it just dished out without any advert etc excluding outfits like CLES.
2. Was any consideration given to doing this “in house” -to save money, or was it simply considered that the council no longer has the capacity to do this kind of thinking
3. How much money was dished out to the two consultancies to produce this wonderful world-leading work?
Please consider this a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
What do we learn?
  • Scrutiny can be done well, if you have councillors willing to brave the (potential/actual) wrath of those currently in power.
  • There is no “new” narrative, just the same (expensively) warmed over bromides from (some people’s) glory days of the 1990s.
  • There is an urgent need for real scrutiny and (yeah, look, you knew this was coming) everyone should sign the petition for a seventh scrutiny committee devoted to climate change. We cannot get the signatures without a bigger team helping us.  We are forming that team now. If you want to be involved (and don’t worry, it’s not like we are asking for a 24/7, 2 month commitment), email us on contact@climateemergencymanchester.net

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