Mule: Who Killed Manchester’s Chance For A Steady-State Economy?

Me and Marc Hudson wrote the following article for Manchester’s MULE on the lack of progress that Manchester City Council is making on its report looking into the possibilities of a steady state economy (limited growth with ecological consideration).   

Late last year, a senior official of Manchester City Council promised a report on the implications of a steady-state economy for Greater Manchester. Six months on, that report is in a steady-state itself; a state of non-existence. And despite hailing it as an important step towards the kind of new thinking Manchester needs for the 21st century, Manchester’s climate change activists appear to have fundamentally fumbled the ball.

On Wednesday November 17 2010 the “Economy, Employment and Skills Oversight and Scrutiny Committee” of Manchester City Council held one of its regular meetings. Towards the close of proceedings Richard Sharland, the council’s Head of Environmental Strategy, offered to produce a report on the implications of a steady-state economy for Greater Manchester. A steady-state economy is an economy which is stable (rather than constantly growing) and takes into consideration ecological limits and concerns. Sharland was at pains to warn the committee that this report would not take place “in the next two weeks”. While one Labour councillor was heard to mutter that two years would be fine with him, there was an agreement by the representatives of Manchester’s people that the report was necessary and to be welcomed.

Two separate accounts of the meeting by Manchester MULE and Manchester Climate Fortnightly, both published later that day – and unchallenged by the council for accuracy – mentioned the verbal commitment to a report on the implications of a steady-state for Greater Manchester. Curiously, however, the official minutes of the meeting were far more lukewarm, merely mentioning a “summary of the research on a steady state economy.” The Oversight and Scrutiny Committee has met on a further six occasions since November, and there has been no mention of the steady state economy report or even the ‘summary report’ mentioned in the minutes.

When we contacted Richard Sharland he was unavailable for comment. However, there was a meeting on May 25 with members of the Oversight and Scrutiny Committee to schedule items for the coming months which did include a commitment to “look at the research about ‘steady state’ economics and how this links with green jobs”. Even so, the committee failed to schedule the item, adding that the loss of certain staff members due to redundancies had halted the progress of the report.

In its original coverage, Manchester Mule quoted Dave Cullen from Manchester Climate Action, as saying, “It is encouraging to see parts of the council agreeing to look at one of the root cause of climate change – the absurdity of chasing infinite economic growth on a planet of finite resources. But the council has a history of making promises, missing deadlines and letting issues slip. We need to make sure this fundamental issue gets properly examined.” We tried to contact both Friends of the Earth and Manchester Climate Action, but neither was able to provide us with a comment about the six months of inaction.

So who killed Manchester’s chance of a steady-state economy which seeks to balance our economic aspirations with ecological limits? Well, this case is a bit like Agatha Christie’s Murder On the Orient Express – everyone was (at least a little) guilty. The report hasn’t (yet) been written. The Liberal Democrats failed to ensure the minutes of the meeting reflected reality, or ever asked about the report again. Labour remained and remains obsessed with the short-term, misunderstanding the nature of the challenges our species faces. And Manchester’s citizen journalists and eco-warriors? Well, they talk a good game, but when it mattered, they failed to find the time, motivation or organisation to follow up on an issue they themselves had identified as vital.

If you think the council should keep to its promise to look at the implications of a steady state economy for Greater Manchester, and do it sooner rather than later, why not contact the chair of Economy, Employment and Skills Oversight and Scrutiny Committee Joanne Green. Her council email is cllr.j.green@manchester.gov.uk or her phone number at the Town Hall is 0161 234 3235. You might also like to ask the local environmental groups like Manchester Climate Action and Friends of the Earth whether they are putting their weight behind this issue.

Originally published at ManchesterMULE.

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