(This complaint is to MCC, in addition to the joint complaint to the LGBCE by 8 local Community organisations.)

I complained to Manchester City Council that local residents / voters in Manchester were not notified about the supposed ‘Consultations’ on ward boundary changes.  The ward boundaries matter, so why not?

It’s short and readable (click to open, below).

Basically, as an active local resident, in regular contact with MCC Councillors and Officers, and receiving MCC’s e-bulletin, I wanted to understand how on earth such an important consultation could pass without any of us locally being informed about it.

This page contains 2 rounds of complaint and answers from Manchester City Council.  The responses should concern all of us greatly.

My first complaint / query

Addressed to: Lucy Knight, Complaints Manager, Manchester City Council

Dear Lucy Knight

There was a consultation on ward boundary changes that took place between August and December 2016, which was led by the LGBCE. Manchester City Council were asked to make sure that residents were consulted and were asked for information on all groups and individuals needing to be contacted.

We heard nothing at all about this, from council staff or councillors and we have discovered through FOI that neither of the groups I work closely with (Platt Claremont Residents Association and Upping It! in Rusholme and Moss Side) were included on the list given by the council.

This is really shocking for us – both of our groups are very well known by officers and councillors in Moss Side and Rusholme wards, we regularly receive information from our Ward Support Officers and we have meetings of the residents group quarterly to which councillors from both wards are invited and usually at least one attends from each. We have won awards from Manchester, we get invited to most events involving local community groups, we meet with neighbourhood delivery officers. So why were we given no information at all about this boundary consultation?

Our councillors were at meetings that discussed the new proposals yet we were kept in the dark. We have asked many other residents groups in our area, Friends of Platt Fields and Whitworth Park, the Rusholme Traders Association and none of them knew anything either.

This is the essence of our complaint – we really need to know what happened here, why we were ignored.

Yours anxiously,
Anne xxxxxxx

The Head of Electoral Services at Manchester City Council replied (below).  Three points are interesting to me:

  1. The acknowledgement that the Council’s “standard list” of community groups to notify was “refreshed prior to being supplied to the LGBCE”.
  2. The passing of responsibility to the LGBCE.  This is familiar in all MCC communications, even though it is MCC that provided the “comprehensive mailing list” and MCC that proposed the ward boundary changes.
  3. That while MCC “partially” upholds the complaint, it only acknowledges the omission of 4 groups, not the omission of every single Residents’ Association across the Manchester City Council area.

The full text of the MCC reply is below (open to view; bold added).

MCC's response from Head of Electoral Services

Dear Ms xxxxxxx

Complaint Re LGBCE Electoral Review of Manchester, Ref: SOL/ANRCQ2

I write in response to your complaint sent on 25 June 2017 and your further email sent on 21 July 2017.  Following my email of 10 July 2017, please find our response following consideration of the matters raised.

In your email you have stated that:

the groups you work closely with (Platt Claremont Residents Association and Upping It! in Rusholme and Moss Side) were not on the list the Council provided to the LGBCE.  You are shocked at this, as these groups are well known to officers and the council.  Two other groups in your area (Friends of Platt Fields and Whitworth Park and Rusholme Traders Association) were not aware of the ward
boundary consultation either.

I have now investigated the issues you have raised and would like to report as follows.

The LGBCE is an independent body who conduct electoral reviews of local government areas.  In Manchester, the Electoral Review was triggered by the LGBCE because of electoral inequality in the city and particularly the disproportionately large size of Cheetham Ward which was 30% above the
average Ward size.

The electoral review process is a statutory process with set phases.  In Manchester, it began in January 2016 and will conclude with the election of councillors to the new Ward boundaries in May 2018. During 2016/17, the LGBCE held two periods of public consultation on future warding patterns for the city, based on a city size of 96 councillors.  This followed a decision by the LGBCE on the Council size, which was the focus of the first part of the Review.

The Council provided the LGBCE with a list of organisations and groups across a number of different categories, for them to contact directly about the Review.  The Communications team at the Council hold a standard list of channels and groups which it uses to disseminate information from the Council city wide.  This was refreshed prior to being supplied to the LGBCE as part of the minimum information requirements.  The list included over 150 contacts providing access to community, business, housing, youth and young people, student and political party channels.

As part of the statutory process, responsibility for consultation sits with the LGBCE rather than with Manchester City Council.  As requested, the LGBCE’s own information and messages were publicised and promoted by the Council, through a number of different routes, in order to publicise the review and encourage participation.

The posters provided by the LGBCE were distributed to a number of libraries throughout the city including Moss Side Powerhouse Library, 140 Raby Street, Moss Side, M14 4SL and Fallowfield Library, Platt Lane,
Fallowfield, M14, 7FB.

The Council website has a section on Consultations where information about the Council’s consultations are posted and in some cases wider consultations which are the responsibility of other organisations. The LGBCE Manchester Electoral Review was included on these consultation pages.  The information was updated at appropriate times to include details about the LGBCE’s Warding Patterns consultation stage; the LGBCE’s consultation on draft recommendations and to indicate that the LGBCE Electoral Review for Manchester had concluded with the LGBCE’s publication of a final scheme. The content was initially created and on Manchester City Council’s website from 28 July 2016 and the content was viewed by just under 400 unique visitors.

The Council used its @ManCityCouncil twitter account to re-tweet the LGBCE’s messages regarding the Electoral Review of Manchester on four occasions.  Manchester City Council’s twitter account currently has 129,000 followers and it is estimated that at this time of the LGBCE consultation phases the twitter accounts would have had between 85,000 and 105,000 followers.

Information regarding the LGBCE’s Electoral Review of Manchester was taken to Full Council prior to the start of the Electoral Review and Manchester City Council’s draft submissions and response to the LGBCE were taken as reports for resolution to Full Council. Further information is as follows:

20 January 2016: Full Council
http://www.manchester.gov.uk/meetings/meeting/2361/council
Presentation on the LGBCE Boundary Review by Sir Tony Redmond, Lead Commissioner for the Manchester Review.

18 May 2016: Extraordinary meeting of Full Council, immediately following the AGM
http://www.manchester.gov.uk/meetings/meeting/2845/council
Draft Submission on Council Size for the Local Government Boundary Commission for England’s Electoral Review of Manchester City Council

21 September 2016: Full Council
http://www.manchester.gov.uk/meetings/meeting/2922/council
Draft Submission to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) on proposed Warding Patterns for Manchester

25 January 2017: Full Council
http://www.manchester.gov.uk/meetings/meeting/2648/council
Response to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) on its Electoral for Review Draft Recommendations on the new electoral arrangements for Manchester City Council.

The agendas and papers for all Council meetings are published in advance on the Council’s website and Council meetings are also web-cast live on the day.

Having considered the issues raised, I partially uphold your complaint.  This is because it is recognised that the four community organisations you have referred to were not included on this list, a situation for which I would like to apologise. However, given the city wide nature of the consultation it was inevitable that some community groups may not be included on the list. But the Council did take steps to disseminate the LGBCE’s consultation through a number of different recognised channels, which have a wide reach across the city.

Your complaint has now been considered at Stage One of the Council’s complaints procedure. If you feel your complaint has not been satisfactorily answered, you have the right to request it is reviewed at Stage Two.  Should you wish to do this, you should contact the Corporate Complaints Team at the following address:

Lucy Knight
Complaints Manager
Corporate Complaints Team
Chief Executive’s Department
PO Box 532
Manchester
M60 2LA
E-mail: complaints @ manchester.gov.uk

Your request for a review should be made within 20 working days of the date of this letter and should set out:

· The reasons why you remain dissatisfied
· How you expect the complaint to be resolved

Upon receipt of this information, the Corporate Complaints Team will determine whether:

· A Stage 2 review is likely to bring a different outcome
· Your desired outcomes are reasonable and achievable

In every case, your complaint, and the points above will be reviewed and you will be notified of the decision on whether a further investigation will be undertaken at the second stage.  If a Stage 2 investigation is progressed, you will receive a full response within a maximum of 15 working days.  If it is not, you will be advised further of your ongoing right of appeal.

Yours sincerely,

Emma Burnett
Head of Electoral Services

I replied to this, and made it more clearly a complaint, with requests.

I state that providing a “comprehensive mailing list” with all Residents’ Associations was a “minimum requirement” for the Boundary Review. But it was not done in Manchester.

Nor was the e-bulletin email used to publicise the consultation, despite MCC previously leading Mancunians to expect that it is a reliable source of information about things that matter. Despite MCC’s claims about tweets and Facebook, many of us are not on social media and therefore it does not replace direct email notification.

I therefore requested some apologies and action.  The full text is below (click to open; bold added).

Full text of my response and requests to MCC

Dear Lucy Knight

I have received a response to my initial complaint from Emma Burnett, and am writing again as I am very unhappy with the response I have been given and would like it to proceed to a stage 2 complaint.

As requested here is my response, set out in the 2 categories you suggest:

(A) ‘The reasons why you remain dissatisfied’

1. The groups on the Council’s list. I have obtained a list of the groups that were given to the LGBCE and there are NO RESIDENTS GROUPS AT ALL. Across Manchester City Council area there are very few community organisations at all and, apart from The Hideaway Youth Project, nothing at all in Moss Side. We know that apart from all the Moss Side and Rusholme councillors, we are well known by the Neighbourhood Development Officers, Britain in Bloom and the Community Guardians section. The officers in these organisations tell us that they have extensive lists of local groups. It is quite quite unacceptable that any of the local residents groups were “missed off this list” – all are well known, Upping It and Moss Side Community Allotments have both won awards from the City Council.

2. The letter sent out by LGBCE to the people you DID include on the list was NOT a request for them to disseminate the information; therefore your assumption that managers of housing groups, libraries, park Friends groups and community centres would act as umbrella groups through which the information cascades down to us is not true. They probably thought that the letter had gone out to everyone.

3. All the councillors were involved in meetings where discussions about the boundary changes took place; they cannot have not been aware of the principal changes proposed for Moss Side/Rusholme that the Curry Mile would be ‘shared’ (Left side and Right side) between 2 wards and 2 different parliamentary constituencies – yet the Rusholme Traders were not told about this that Moss Side Community Allotments would be moving into Whalley Range – yet Moss Side Community Allotments representatives were not told about this that Whitworth Park and Art Gallery would move into Ardwick – yet the Friends of Whitworth Park were not told about this.

All these organisations have representatives in Upping It, PCRA or other residents groups in the area, so information would have spread fast.

4. I have searched and searched your twitter feeds, for the dates we have been given as to when they were sent out and can find nothing.

5. I regularly get sent useful information that we should engage ourselves with, as emails, from I love Manchester and from our Neighbourhood Delivery team; and our officers meet them and our councillors a minimum of 4 times a year each. As a result I expect that anything important will come our way by email. However, NO EMAIL WAS SENT TO ME/US EVER ABOUT THIS CONSULTATION; AT NO RESIDENTS MEETING WAS THIS CONSULTATION BROUGHT UP BY COUNCILLORS; AT NO MEETING WITH NDT OFFICERS WAS THIS EVER DISCUSSED. It is completely reasonable therefore for me to assume that anything important will have been brought up at some stage at one of these.

6. The fact that the LGBCE requested a comprehensive list of residents and local associations as a minimum requirement before the consultation started, was so they could contact us all directly. It was supposed to be a direct invitation. An announcement on the MCC website where it may or may not be seen is no substitute for what would have happened, had you have provided the LGBCE with a list of residents associations, which is what should have happened.

7. The e-bulletin not used to disseminate information and ask residents to take part. Why on earth not? We have a legitimate expectation that key information on consultations will come directly to us via an e-bulletin, but this was not done.

In view of all the above, I have to reluctantly conclude that the omissions were deliberate. And that your rejection of my complaint is invalid.

How can MCC partially uphold a complaint when the LGBCE required a COMPREHENSIVE list? It’s either comprehensive or it isn’t. If it isn’t, it is a failure.

This goes far beyond just four groups being missed off. MCC appear to have failed to see how widespread this scandal is and what the serious implications of this are: a lack of trust in MCC; disempowered and angry residents; damage to the reputation of MCC as an open and transparent Council that values community engagement; and councillors who do not raise important issues with the residents groups in their wards.

(B) ‘How you expect the complaint to be resolved’

  1. I would like a written admission that MCC missed off ALL the residents associations and parks groups across the city -not just 4 in Moss Side,
  2. I would like a public apology to all the residents associations across Manchester and an admission that the consultation did not include a comprehensive list of residents associations and community groups. This is contrary to the Technical Guidance provided by the LGBCE to MCC at the start of the boundary review, which stated as a legal requirement: that a comprehensive list of community groups and residents associations must be provided to the LGBCE prior to the start of the consultation as part of the MINIMUM requirements (not an optional extra – my comments.)
  3. I would like to know the name of the person who compiled the list. Why did they not find out the residents association details which are so easy to get from councillors, NDT staff, Community Guardians, Be Proud and others.
  4. I would like a letter to be sent to the LGBCE and Speaker’s Committee asking for the Order to be withdrawn until the people of Manchester have had a proper consultation in line with the LGBCE guidelines.

MCC have failed to follow the procedure outlined in 2. and as a result the whole process is invalidated. Residents of Manchester cannot see this as an open and transparent process; worse, residents cannot take MCC seriously in its claim to value public engagement and democracy.

I hope you will read this in the spirit in which I have written it – hoping that we can find the way through this constructively that will again give me and my officers and fellow-residents confidence again in the Council’s commitment to working with residents.

Best wishes
Anne xxxxxxx

This time the complaint was escalated inside MCC, and the reply was from MCC’s Corporate Complaints Team. It says “The complaint has previously been considered by the City Solicitor’s Department and has now been submitted to the Chief Executive’s Department for review.”

As before, MCC begins by repeating and reworking the complaint, this time at great length.  It is a way of making the complaint appear to be a problem of my perception, rather than an observation of what happened.

The actual reply section is the most interesting perhaps of all they have written.

Here MCC acknowledge not just that the “comprehensive mailing list” was “refreshed“, but that the Residents Associations were actually removed by decision (highlighted in bold).  The rationale given is that if you can’t include all Residents’ Associations to give access to voters in a consultation, then it’s only fair to include none.

If this revelation appears surprising, then consider that my complaint coincides with a Freedom of Information Act request specifically about the changes made to the “comprehensive mailing list” by MCC.  So this complaint is an opportunity for MCC to give a justification.  Yet it is not for MCC to decide whether a “comprehensive” email list would be “unmanageably large” for the LGBCE.  By law, the list is required to be a “comprehensive mailing list“.

The same paragraph also justifies this deletion of Residents Associations by stating that “the Council had agreed to support the consultation through its own communications channels“.  Yet elsewhere MCC acknowledge that the e-bulletin was not used, and only 4 tweets were posted.

On the issue of the silence of our Councillors during the consultation periods, the reply merely states that “The Council’s corporate complaints procedure cannot consider whether the actions and decisions taken by elected Members were appropriate, as this is not the correct mechanism for political and democratic issues to be reviewed.

The response in my view seeks to justify what cannot be justified.  Is this what we want from our elected Council?

MCC's response from Corporate Complaints Team

The full text of the response from Manchester City Council Corporate Complaints Team, dated 7 September 2017 is available here as a pdf: manchester-city-council-response-boundary-review-complaint.  The first half of the response simply repeats my questions (or reformulates them!).  This is the 2nd half in full:

I have now investigated the issues you have raised and report as follows.

1. The Stage one response says that some community groups were not included on the list but you have a copy of the list of groups that were given to the LGBCE and say that no residents groups are recorded. You deem it to be unacceptable that well-known local resident groups were missed considering Upping It and Moss Side Community Allotments have both won awards from the Council.

In considering this element of your complaint, I have discussed it with colleagues in the Electoral Services Unit, Communications and the Neighbourhood Teams. During steering group meetings about this consultation, a list was drawn up of groups who could be deemed relevant, however it was clear that this list was both unmanageably large and incomplete. Residents groups proved a significant challenge as it is not feasible to include every resident group in the city and contact details can be unreliable. To have proceeded with a partial list could have given rise to unfair opportunity being given to some residents groups above others. Additionally, the Council had agreed to support the consultation through its own communications channels to achieve city wide reach. Given this, it was decided that the list would not contain resident groups. I consider that this was a reasonable approach to this situation in the circumstances, and I do not find fault in this.

2. You argue that the letter sent out by the LGBCE to the people included on the list was not a request for them to disseminate the information. You consider that the Council have assumed that managers of housing groups, libraries, park friends groups and community centres would act as umbrella groups through which the information cascades down to yourselves, which you state has not happened. You suggest that this is because of a misunderstanding on the parts of each of these groups that these letters had been more widely disseminated.

As noted in the Stage one response, responsibility for consultation sits with the LGBCE rather than with Manchester City Council. As requested, the LGBCE’s own information and messages were publicised and promoted by the Council through a number of different routes, in order to publicise the review and encourage participation. These messages, including the letters sent by LGBCE, were written by the LGBCE and as such, if you consider that the letters should have been worded differently to encourage further dissemination, you would need to raise this with the LGBCE.

3. You report that the Councillors involved in meetings where discussions about the boundary changes that took place did not disclose the principal changes proposed for Moss Side/ Rusholme:

(a) that the Curry Mile would be ‘shared’ (left side and right side) between two wards and two different parliamentary constituencies

(b) that Moss Side Community Allotments would be moving into Whalley Range

(c) that Whitworth Park and Art Gallery would move into Ardwick

As noted in the Stage one response, a number of reports had been considered by the Council, the membership of which includes all Councillors. You can find these reports on the Council’s website here http://www.manchester.gov.uk/meetings/meeting/2648/council.

The Council’s corporate complaints procedure cannot consider whether the actions and decisions taken by elected Members were appropriate, as this is not the correct mechanism for political and democratic issues to be reviewed.

4. You have searched Council twitter feeds for the dates as set out in the Stage one response but have found nothing. I have attached below the tweets that were referenced in the Stage one response. These were retweeted by the Council’s Twitter account.

The Council does not have direct access to statistics on retweets but based upon statistics for similar messages at that time, the Communications Team estimate that these retweets will have made approximately 10,000 – 12,000 impressions.

5. You usually receive emails about important matters but received nothing about this consultation. You also believe that the e-bulletin should have been used to disseminate information and ask residents to take part.

In considering this element of your complaint, I am mindful that the consultation was not the Council’s, rather, it was the LGBCE’s. The Council is asked to support a large number of consultations from many organisations throughout the year. It is neither feasible nor desirable to include details of all of these consultations in its emails and e-bulletins as this may lead recipients to treat our emails as spam. This being the case, I consider that promoting the consultation on the Council’s website, via posters and the Council’s social media accounts to be an appropriate way to disseminate information about the consultation.

6. You conclude that this was a deliberate omission and consider this is a scandal and highly damaging to community engagement and transparency.

I have seen no evidence that would lead me to conclude that the Council has acted inappropriately or dishonestly. Additionally I would note that on reviewing the LGBCE’s website regarding this consultation, I can see that a number of community groups from the area have provided submissions to the LGBCE, including groups you have named such as Upping It!, Friends of Whitworth Park and Platt Claremont Residents’ Association. This being the case, it is difficult to conclude that community groups have been denied an opportunity to share their views on the proposals.

With regard to your desired outcomes:

  1. You would like for the Council to provide a written admission that the Council missed off all the residents associations and parks groups across the city – not just four in Moss Side.
  2. You would like the Council to provide a public apology to all the residents associations across Manchester and an admission that the consultation did not include a comprehensive list of residents associations and community groups. This is contrary to the Technical Guidance provided by the LGBCE to the Council at the start of the boundary review, which stated as a legal requirement that a comprehensive list of community groups and residents associations must be provided to the LGBCE prior to the start of the consultation as part of the minimum requirements.
  3. You want the Council to provide the name of the person who compiled the list and to explain why they were not able to provide the residents’ association details which you consider are easily available from Councillors, NDT staff, Community Guardians, Be Proud and others.
  4. You request that the Council submit a letter to the LGBCE and Speaker’s Committee asking for the Order to be withdrawn until the people of Manchester have had a proper consultation in line with the LGBCE guidelines.

I have found no evidence that would lead me to suggest that there has been fault in the way the Council has supported this consultation and therefore cannot agree that these actions would be appropriate.

Conclusion
In summary I find that I am unable to find fault in the way the Council has supported the LGBCE’s consultation. I understand and appreciate that you disagree with the results of the consultation but I cannot agree that the Council has hindered that consultation. I should also add that whilst some parts of your complaint were upheld at Stage one, upon review, I cannot agree with that officer’s decision, and on balance, do not find fault with the way the Council has handled this issue in any element of your complaint.

Alison Nickson
Complaints Officer Corporate Complaints Team
7 September 2017

(The text is copied and pasted from the original reply, so formatting may differ, and bold has been added.  For the original, refer to the full pdf document.)

Where does this go?

We now know that the removal of all Residents Associations from the “comprehensive mailing list” was a decision by MCC.  The inclusion of Residents Associations is one of the explicit requirements set out by the LGBCE, in the Technical Guidance sent to MCC, as part of meeting the legal requirements.

If Manchester City Council could provide a list that is far from “comprehensive“, decide to delete all Residents Associations, and omit almost all other resident-led neighbourhood groups across the city, then what legitimacy does the ward Boundary Review process in England have? What legitimacy do the ward boundaries in Manchester have?

Those are now questions for Parliament.  The formal complaint to the LGBCE by the 8 community organisations in Moss Side and Rusholme has completed the required stages for it to go to Parliament.  The Draft Order for Manchester, containing the proposals are currently before Parliament until 3rd November.

Please write to your MP.  There’s a draft letter included at the end of the pages on Whitworth Park and the main complaint.