Who killed Manchester’s chance of a steady-state economy?

Article published: Thursday, June 2nd 2011

Arwa Aburawa and Marc Hudson of Manchester Climate Fortnightly comment on the lack of progress in the steady-state economy report for Manchester.

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.

More: Environment, Local economy, Manchester, News, Opinion


  1. I’m not sure it’s fair to blame anyone other than the council. They have missed the deadline. You have noticed and written about it. Congratulations. Lets hope some one as brilliant and talented and committed as you Mark can now chase the council and make it happen.

    Personally I think that even if they wrote it – it would be nothing more than an exercise in shovelling money to an overpriced consultancy firm. A similar plan re the environment in manchester is seemingly dead in the water and they actually bothered to write that one or at least pay a consultancy firm to do so.

    Comment by Tim on June 2, 2011 at 6:32 pm
  2. Thanks for the sarcasm Tim.
    Maybe Manchester Climate Action could have followed up on its sabre-rattling? Or am I not allowed to point out the gap between THEIR rhetoric and their reality. The rules of the game seem to be we’re only ever allowed to criticise the Council. That’s just nauseating hypocrisy, and a whiny victim-mentality dead end, IMHO.
    Maybe Manchester’s heroic climate activists could have gotten together and written their OWN steady-state report, a la Call to Real Action? But that would have taken real work, boring, difficult and unglamorous. Therefore, never gonna happen.

    Comment by Marc Hudson on June 3, 2011 at 1:39 am
  3. […] 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 […]

    Pingback by Mule: Who Killed Manchester’s Chance For A Steady-State Economy? | Arwa's Freelance Site on June 3, 2011 at 11:02 am
  4. I agree to an extent Mark.


    The council are paid to do this – they should be held to account when they don’t.

    As for anyone else – who has the time and/or the talent?

    And if it does get written the council will only ignore it.

    If anyone wants to write any thing perhaps it should be a model of what might replace our broken (did it ever work?) local democracy.

    and then work towards it 😉

    Comment by Tim on June 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm
  5. Tim,
    Fact One – Manchester Climate Action identified that the Council would need to be kept honest, and volunteered to keep them honest

    Fact Two – the next six months showed that the Council did indeed need to be kept honest, as shown by the massaged minutes and the long grass into which the report was kicked

    Fact Three – Manchester Climate Action didn’t keep to its self-appointed task, in any way, shape or form

    So, why is is when two journalists point this out, you abuse one of the journalists and claim everything -everything – is the Council’s fault?

    Any rational observer would be unable to believe your complete lack of credibility and self-awareness… Do you really think that activists are beyond reproach? That they it’s okay for them to drop their standards and let their commitments slide but then act all righteous when the council(which we are apparently waiting to save us)does the same????

    Comment by Arwa Aburawa on June 3, 2011 at 12:27 pm
  6. Maybe the FOE (whose promotional picture was used by Manchester Labour Party to promote one of their own candidates) can support local communities to successfully reject totally environmentally and therefore economically unsuitable planning application. Which are ingeniously commonly referred to regeneration. Such as MMU’s plans for Hulme and the councils plans for Brunswick.

    Comment by Patrick Sudlow on June 4, 2011 at 7:31 pm
  7. It’s long been obvious to most people that councils haven’t the slightest interest in eco-issues except where they present the opportunity to hire more staff, impose more taxes and demand obedience to more rules.

    Let’s hope that the current economic climate means a steady state when it comes to these three activities instead of the financially punitive and authoritarian growth we have seen for the past two decades.

    Comment by simon on June 4, 2011 at 10:57 pm
  8. Your article points out that the council have missed the deadline.

    You are now holding the council to account.

    Well done, thats great.

    I would like more people who see that the council is getting things so totally wrong to write about it (esp for this site)!

    but its a bit rich to have a go at MCA when you
    haven’t chased it up yourself until now – you were a writer for McFLly, no?

    I don’t think for a second that activists shouldn;t be self critical/reflective and they are clearly not beyond reproach.

    i hope that you’re article provoke MCA / FoE into action!

    Comment by tim on June 5, 2011 at 9:15 pm
  9. Tim,
    I’m glad that you now think MCA is not above reproach. That’s a major change from your original comment, where everything was the Council’s fault.
    I assume you also accept that was MCA that *volunteered* to hold the council to account. And then didn’t lift a finge.
    I am staggered that you blame MCFly for not following this up. MCFly ran for 2 and half years on the work of two people, both who work full-time. It finished in November last year, for personal reasons. We asked people to get involved in keeping it afloat, and nobody came forward. Ok, that’s fine, but surely the work of trying to keep the council honest could have gone on? Why try to shift the blame for nothing being done onto MCFly?! Since you make this so personal (both with this latest attempt to turn it around on us, but also with the frankly embarrassing sarcasm in your first comment), it’s fair to ask – what have YOU done to keep the council honest on this particular issue in the last six months? I’m sure the people following this discussion will be all ears.

    Comment by Marc Hudson on June 6, 2011 at 2:11 pm
  10. Hi mark

    my first comment didn’t say that activists are beyond criticism only that on this one issue i think you and Arwa have got it wrong.

    the deadline has now passed you chased it. As i said, thats great (no sarcasm).

    just like you, Arwa and MCA etc i didn’t chase it.

    But unlike you and Arwa (and MCA?) i don’t think its that important on the scale of things and isn’t a priority for me.

    Comment by Tim on June 8, 2011 at 10:29 am
  11. Well, I think this conversation has jumped the shark.

    You admit that you didn’t lift a finger to do anything, but feel happy to bash the council. And to criticise the two people who (re)brought the story to light. Very classy.

    And you are trying to pretend the phrase in your first comment “Lets hope some one as brilliant and talented and committed as you” isn’t sarcsasm – classier still.

    You acknowledge that MCA did nothing, even after they were quoted in the Mule as saying that they WOULD. But you think we were wrong to mention that in our story. You don’t say why – we were just, well, wrong. (I don’t give a rats’ arse about your personal approbation, it’s just that this let-the-activists-off-the-hook-all-the-time is part of the reason the climate movement is in such disarray).

    And you say we didn’t chase it up. But we DID, Tim. As in, we wrote this story that you’ve found time to comment on repeatedly (time you could have spent chasing the council, but that’s “not a priority to you.”

    From your comments, each more content-free (exclusive of wrigglying and back-tracking) than the last, it seems you have nothing further to add. I certainly don’t.

    Comment by Marc Hudson on June 10, 2011 at 12:29 am
  12. Jeez, this doesn’t even read as someone with an axe to grind against campaign groups, it sounds like Trotsky with an ice-pick scratching at his brain!

    Never mind that other people might not have the same set of priorities or time commitment, or might be human and fallible.

    Never mind that you make assumptions coming direct from your burn-out/brain-scratching ‘ice pick’ irritation.

    Never mind you present those assumptions and half-arsed ‘understandings’ as a series of facts.

    Never mind that you present the complex argument: journalists good, council & campaigning groups bad. I’m convinced it’s that simple too.

    To quote you, “Any rational observer would be unable to believe your complete lack of credibility and self-awareness…”

    You just come across as bitter. Shame.

    Comment by sneeze on July 7, 2011 at 7:15 pm
  13. […] local authority in the UK to undertake such research. However, to all intents and purposes, it now looks like it’s been kicked into the long grass. Environmental protestors at the stakeholder conference […]

    Pingback by » A climate of exaggeration - MULE on October 25, 2011 at 4:20 pm
  14. […] Another goal of the plan is the “rapid transition to a low carbon economy”, rather surprisingly when you consider the council is shirking a commitment to publish a report on the implications of a steady-state economy for its own city. […]

    Pingback by Mule: Business As Usual- Greater Manchester’s Climate Change Plans | Arwa's Freelance Site on November 1, 2011 at 11:30 pm
  15. […] Marc Hudson (see contemporaneous reports here and here).  A report was promised, but was delayed (see here).  When the report was finally published in November 2011, its brevity was the inspiration for the […]

    Pingback by “Steady State Economy” report to be published today by #Manchester City Council | manchester climate monthly on June 13, 2012 at 11:52 am

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