Monday, 19 July 2010

We have moved!

MCFly has got a new web site-


Marc Hudson
(MCFly editor)

Friday, 18 June 2010

Steering Group meets at long long last

OK, so that may not be quite the most exciting news headline you'll ever read, but this stuff does matter*. Please read on!

On the evening of Thursday 17 June, the "Steering Group" (SG) for the Manchester Climate Change Action Plan finally met. MCFly has been reporting on this group since it was first mooted, back in the back end of 2009. Essentially, its purpose is to be a group. That steers. The Action Plan. You know, the Action Plan that you've heard so much about from the Council; on their website, on their twitter feed, in the pages of Manchester Pravd.. People, on their facebook group, on the big screen in Piccadilly Gardens, on the blog of Richard Leese and the blog of the Executive Member for the Environment, via your Council Tax bill, via the Manchester Evening News and via interviews by officers and members when they pop up on BBC radio and Northwest Tonight and on Granada tonight. You know, that Action Plan.

But anyhow, about this group; It has a chair- Steve Connor, of the ethically inclined communications outfit "Creative Concern". That's the same Creative Concern who were heavily involved in the unsuccessful "Yes" campaign for the Transport Innovation Fund referendum of 2008. Mr. Connor has a blog called "headstretcher".

At the moment there is no Vice Chair (but that could change.) The SG was to be a twelve member body, but when the original nine met they decided to give themselves the option of expanding to 15, since they are keen to "plug gaps, grab talent and increase the diversity of the group." This expansion may go some way to help redress a pretty pale and male set up as it stands (Steve Connor is joined by Phil Korbel, Dave Coleman, Richard Paver, Paul Andrews, Nigel Murphy, Nigel Rose and two other... men.) The SG is not to be panel of experts, bur rather a stakeholder group. MCFly will report on these as they are announced.

The original plan was for the Steering Group to meet four times a year, but after discussion, it will meet "6 to 8 weekly in the first instance" with two more meetings before the November 30th "Stakeholder conference". The next meeting will be in late July, and IS open to the public (if you ask nicely).

They'll be preparing a report for that Stakeholder conference,and have as their immediate priority "to do a push on getting more organisations to endorse the plan and start preparing their own plans. That includes McFly readers of course!" Given the truly appallingly low take-up rate by organisations invited to endorse the Action Plan so far (46 out of 1067), that seems like a very good place to start. Watch this space.

MCFly says:
MCFly's gift to Steve Connor would be a lawn-mower. Or a scythe. Or perhaps a flamethrower. Anything that will help him hack away at the sky-high grass that has grown under everyone's feet since November 2009, when the action plan was launched with a certain hullaballo and self-satisfaction. We're more than half way to the first "stakeholder conference" (Tuesday November 30th. Book yer annual leave now) and there's been virtually no work on telling the public about what's going on. The website for the Plan doesn't allow people to make comments on it (positive or negative) and does not explain how businesses and organisations can "endorse" it. There's been no effort to maintain and nurture the incipient networks established in the hurly burly of writing last year's Action Plan. The second half of 2010 had better be substantially less crap than the first. Just sayin'.

*Sort of: MCFly is with John Maynard Keynes on this - "in the long run, we're all dead." It's just, he didn't mean gnawing on the bones of a beloved pet cat while wondering why we didn't ever pull our finger out on carbon dioxide mitigation in the 2010s...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Manchester's Food and Sustainability Question time.

Thurs June 10, Manchester. Eighty people tonight heard five speakers debate “Food and Sustainability” at the University of Manchester. The event, hosted by the now venerable EMERGE, covered packaging, carbon footprints, vegetarianism and supermarkets.

After brief opening remarks by Lucy Danger (including a shout out to the brilliant FareShare project), chair Mark Shayler (Eco3, previously Environment Manager Asda), gave a brief spiel (about embedded water etc) and introduced the five panelists; Stefan Stainsby (WRAP's Love Food Hate Waste Campaign)
Julie Bagnoli (Business Link & Isinglass Restaurant), Pat Foreman (Foods North West), Chris Shearlock (The Co-operative Group) and Debbie Ellen (Independent Researcher & Community Grower).
The first question was perhaps the best of the evening (that's not to say that things went downhill – for the most part they didn't).
What was the biggest threat to Manchester/Northwest in the coming decade(s)?
Chris Shearlock spoke of two- one being outbid for the “nice things” (exotic fruits etc) by the emerging economies,and also biodiversity loss (Plan B). He worried that the biodiversity crunch would come sooner than the climate crunch.
Debbie Ellen saw four interlinked problems 1) skills shortage (with lots of farmers being over 55, and only 5% under 35), 2) access to affordable land, 3) erratic weather and 4) lack of training in vegetarian and vegan cooking in the catering trade. She also gave a shout out to the Manchester Climate Change Action Plan (subject of the latest MCFly youtube video)
Pat Foreman endorsed the previous points and chipped in with concerns on the ability to innovate. Julie Bagnoli pointed to the tiny availability of locally grown food.
The next set of questions were, IMHO, a bit of a diversion- around packaging. It's emotive and obvious, but as Chris Shearlock pointed out, not the biggest 'carbon' part of the problem, and needs to be weighed against increased spoilage if food is under-packaged.
The chair kept things moving along fairly nicely, giving both audience and panel chances to expand and interact. Shearlock came across as very well-briefed (as you'd expect of the point-man for Britain's biggest farmer!), and adamant that life cycle analysis was crucial for looking at whether food flown in from Kenya was 'lower carbon' than locally produced. He defended Fairtrade while acknowledging it wasn't always the lowest carbon option (pointing out its other advantages, of a secure price for Majority World growers).
On whether vegetarianism/veganism was the most important action an individual could take, Shearlock and Ellen and Bagnoli said yes. Foreman, in keeping with her general “let the market decide/let's all be practisch” approach suggested it wasn't but rather thinking about what was bought and when, while Stefan Stainsby, as befits his WRAP role pointed to not wasting food while proclaiming he didn't want a nanny state.

MCFly ducked out slightly early (along with a few others who'd presumably found the two hour duration a bit punishing), so can't say if there were any final surprises.

How could the event have been improved? More vegetarian food during the mingler! Name badges and the various forms of soft coercive mingling that help English people overcome their reserve. Perhaps a tighter focus on some of the really pressing issues facing us. A few fun memes like “Permanent Global Summertime”. But nothing fundamental, nothing structural. This was no Dire Mountain.
Other impending food related events-
Create your own Abundance - June 12 2010
Feeding Manchester 4 - June 25, 2010

Monday, 7 June 2010

Green Monday (tell me now how do you feel?)

Last night around 100 business people (and one spy) met for the first Green Monday event to be held in the North west. Held at Old Trafford Football ground, the event succeeded in providing food for thought (three short speeches and Q and A), space for info exchange (themed discussion tables) and scope for networking (wine, beer and the usual flurry of business cards being exchanged). Putting aside the (inevitable) failure to deal with the scale of the challenge facing this species, it was... a pretty good event, and hopefully the first of a regular series.

After brief comments intros, Paul Turner, Head of Sustainable Development at Lloyds Banking Group kicked things off with a succinct talk that pointed out that the Environmental Sustainability agenda covered many bases- pricing power, access to markets, access to capital, risk management, employee retention – but was still seen as an item only in the 'cost' column of the ledger by some. He added that only 30% of business schools have environmental issues in their core curriculum, and worried publicly about the risk of 'environmental sustainability' being seen as something to be cut during a recession.
He seeded an image that was then picked up by other speakers and questioners, when he cited Wayne Gretzky (Canadian ice hockey legend) opining that the reason for his success was that he “skated to where the puck is going to be”

He was followed by Chris Matthews, Head of Environment and Sustainability atUnited Utilities, who looked at the most important current issue facing his business (water scarcity), the most innovative project UU have on the go at the moment - gas-to-grid (energy from your sewage) and the “emerging trend”, which he felt was the focus on biodiversity. The final speaker was Chris Lewis, Head of Environment at AstraZeneca. He covered a lot of ground, including the observation that AZ, while externalising their supply chain, were retaining 'ownership' of the carbon footprint that the supply chain created.
Questions from the floor covered biomimicry, the moment when the speakers realised how serious the situation was, what they want from the Coalition Government, the impact that the lack of a 'global deal' would have on their future plans and the possibility of growth on a finite planet.

On the global deal question- both the Chrises felt that the lack of a deal meant little to them- their businesses were forging ahead because it was the right thing to do, it saved them money and it was a key feature for their ability to attract and retain talent. Paul Turner of Lloyds demurred slightly, saying the lack of a deal (at Copenhagen, Cancun etc etc) mattered insofar as it provides non-progressive countries and companies with an excuse to do nothing, putting first movers at a disadvantage. He pointed out that South Korea had used its stimulus package from early 2009 to 'go green', with 81% of its government pump-priming in clean tech.

On the possibility of growth, Turner was also interesting. MCFly was expecting the usual ducking and weaving. Instead Turner quoted John F Kennedy (“GDP measures everything but that what matters”) and gave a shout out to the New Economics Foundation and Nicholas Sarkozy's calls for environmental/social sustainability to be included in measures of economic well-being. He made a useful distinction between progress and grwoth.

This Q and A was then followed by roughly an hour sat in tables on various themes (decarbonising supply chains, employee engagement etc), and followed in turn by complementary wine and beer (which had nothing to do with MCFly's willingness to schlepp out to Old Trafford).

“Green Mondays” have been running in the Big Smoke for sometime now. With Greater Manchester hoping to be a hub for environmental business, then these sorts of events will be happening more frequently.

Verdict: Within the logic of “industrial ecology/ecological modernisationMedia4change have put on a thought-provoking and interesting event. If MCFly gets along to another, it'll be in suit and tie to blend in better.

Footnote to the Man United guy who refused to even give MCFly so much a business card- I said Manchester CLIMATE Fortnightly, not Manchester CITY Fortnightly. Assuming that was what was hacking you off?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Happy Birthday to MCFly!!

The next issue is number 50. We've been publishing for two years now, not missing a deadline (tho' we've shaved one or two of the blighters!)

We're having a minor knees up at the Sandbar, Grosvenor St, on Weds 9th June, from 8pm or so.

You are all - new readers and old - very welcome to join us.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Another Talking Shop Bites the Dust?

And so the organisation formerly known as the North West Regional Assembly - '4NW' - has been read its last rites by the Coalition, and will grace the headlines no more. Which is sort of the point isnt it? It didnt grace the headlines and so you might be forgiven for thinking that its demise was a welcome part of the bonfire of the quangos.

The evidence for the prosecution would include the fact that we the tax-payer funded the organisation to little effect. But it's when you put it in the context of the governace of the North West that things get a little more equiviocal. Once the idea of a devolved region was scuppered (by the disastrous referendum on that subject for the North East), 4NW ended up as a secretariat for the NW Leaders Council - pretty much the only place where all the leaders of the local councils of the region got together. Again - so what?

The most powerful public body in the NW is the North West Development Agency - which as well as giving out many hundreds of millions in grants, is also the distributing agency for a pretty huge wad of EU money too. The NWDA also authored the Regional Economic Strategy which guides its investment decisions. It answers to a Board made up of a mixture Council and business leaders with a few other worthies thrown in but it is not democratically accountable. The Chair of that Board is pretty influential. The previous incumbent of that post, Brian Gray, was the former head honcho of Baxi the heating people, and the new one is Robert Hough. He used to be Deputy Chair of the massive Peel Holdings (think Trafford Centre, Salford Quays/Media City and all the land along the Ship Canal) and his NWDA predecessor went straight from that post to chair the Peel company that runs Media City - Peel Media. Can you see a name that is starting to pop up here a bit? Peel will also benefit massively from a huge NWDA project around the 'Mersey Gateway', and over a £100M of public money went into Media City.

So - on one side an unelected Board running a very powerful public body from which - rightly or wrongly - Peel Holdings benefits considerably. On the other - the democratically constituted 4NW who, up until the recent announcement, were for the first time co-authoring the next regional economic policy. The Chair of the Leaders Board, one Sir Richard Leese, has made it plain that they won't go without a fight. It should also be noted that the reclusive boss of Peel Holdings is a prominent Conservative.

Speaking of Sir Richard brings us to the other way that the wings of the NWDA are currently being clipped - by the creation of Greater Manchester as a 'City Region.' This brings considerable devolved powers and possibly control of funds from both Whitehall and the NWDA. The city region is governed by another council of leaders - this time the council leaders of the ten districts that make up the former county of Greater Manchester. All laudably accountable.

The Coaltion has made the decentralising of powers from Whitehall a central plank of its vision, and the word on the street is that they quite like the City Region concept. The policy nugget that could radicalise this picture is the Coalition's promise to allow referendums [or, for the benefit of pedants 'referenda'] on whether the country's ten biggest cities should have elected mayors. A Manc Boris anyone? It is by no means clear whether such a move would apply to the city of Manchester or the city region - but one could well imagine the concept being popular. A boost to public interest in local government would certainly be welcome... it is the list of ambitious former celebrities eying up a big chair in the Town Hall that scares this correspondent, as would any link between such an incumbent and, er, prominent NW business interests. Whatever happens - it's not going to be dull.

And the relevance of all this to the teeming throng of McFly readers is this... The NWDA, as well as being unaccountable, is all about Gross Value Added (that's pure business growth to you and me) whatever bells and whistles they put on it. Whilst this also features very large amongst the policy drivers of Sir Richard and his elected colleagues, we can be confident that it is tempered by real notions of social justice and, increasingly, sustainable development. Watch this space..

Friday, 28 May 2010

MCFly youtube video launched

The MCFly Youtube video about Manchester City Council is up.

It's not very polished, let's just leave it at that. But it fulfills (half) a promise that I made in MCFly #49 to have two videos up by the end of the week.

It was fun to make, and future videos will (fingers crossed) be marginally-to-significantly less rubbish.

Comments welcome, but ESPECIALLY, offers of help to improve things.