This post offers an overview the Manchester Ward Boundary Review, with evidence of the failure of the LGBCE and of Manchester City Council to notify residents / voters to enable them to respond, as is required by law.

It explains the basis for the formal complaint made by 8 community groups in Moss Side and Rusholme.  It includes evidence and documents obtained from Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) requests.

Note: updates since 7th September, including the admission by Manchester City Council, are on the Library page.

1. A failure of notification and consultation

In early 2016, the Local Government Boundary Commission England (LGBCE) began a Ward Boundary Review for Manchester.  This process was completed in April 2017. It was necessary because some wards had experienced rapid growth, yet the numbers in each ward need to be roughly equal.  So the Boundary Review process involves proposing changes to the boundaries for some wards.

Before the consultation started, Manchester City Council was asked to provide a “comprehensive mailing list of community groups, partners and usual stakeholders” so that these groups could be directly contacted by the LGBCE, and invited to participate in the consultation.  The requirement explicitly includes “residents associations”.

Evidence 1: Minimum information required from MCC

The “Technical Guidance” document below is given to a local authority at the start of a review. Documents obtained from the LGBCE under the Freedom of Information request show that it was given to Manchester City Council.

LGBCE Technical Guidance document 2014
www.lgbce.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/10410/technical-guidance-2014.pdf

Page 29 & 30 list the “minimum information requirements” that a local authority must provide to the LGBCE prior to the start of the review. Section 6.2 states that this is required under law.

One key requirement is a:

comprehensive mailing list of community groups, partners and usual stakeholders, including parish and town councils, residents associations, community groups etc…in order that we can inform all relevant bodies about the review and encourage them to participate or publicise further.”

In reviewing boundary changes proposed by Local Authorities and others, the LGBCE document states that by law, they are required to “have regard to” 3 things:

– “the need to secure equality of representation;

– “the need to reflect the identities and interests of local communities; and

– “the need to secure effective and convenient local government.”

(para 3.5, citing Schedule 2 to the 2009 Act)

The LGBCE emphasises the need to make changes to the boundaries that reflect community identities and interests, and that to achieve this requires public input and comment through open consultation.

Evidence 2: the LGBCE's claims to Involve local people

LGBCE Technical Guidance document
www.lgbce.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/10410/technical-guidance-2014.pdf

The Technical Guidance document sets out how the Boundary Review will be carried out.  These are extracts from the document, with the paragraph numbers:

1.10 “Our approach, therefore, is one of evidence-gathering through consultation with local people and organisations, and the analysis of all the evidence we receive from them.”

2.3 “We balance our consideration of electoral equality with the need to reflect local community identities and interests”

2.14 “We see our task as establishing and maintaining the conditions for a fair and representative at local level”

2.15 “We are also sensitive to the fact that political groups may seek to obtain an electoral advantage in contributing to a review. Our task is to ensure that our recommendations are based on evidence, and that the representation of all those participating in a review are treated equally and without bias. Consistent with this is our determination that reviews will be conducted with transparency and the involvement of local people.”

2.16 “We will provide opportunities for local people and organisations to contribute to reviews.”

2.17 “We aim to build as many of our recommendations as possible on locally-generated proposals and, to that end, we will gather as much information and undertake consultation as is appropriate to the purposes and the context of any review. We will publicise the review and we ask that the local authorities, political parties, parish and town councils, community groups, residents associations and other main stakeholders help us engage with local people in the electoral review process.

4.37 “We understand that people have strongly held views about their communities and the impact that new warding arrangements may have on them. It is important to us that we hear all those views.”

However, while Manchester City Council’s “comprehensive mailing list” included 142 groups, most on the list are paid professionals rather than local people. It is a list of Chief Execs, managers and council staff.

  • There is not a single residents association on the list, nor community guardian nor “Friends of (park) group.”
  • There are only 5-6 resident-led neighbourhood groups listed, for the whole of Manchester.

In Moss Side, the only community group on the list was a professionally-managed youth group.  This is despite the fact that Moss Side has the highest number of active residents associations of any Manchester Ward.

By providing that list of professionals, MCC contradicted all its talk of participation and consultation.  MCC’s list excluded from this consultation the residents/voters who are actually affected by the boundary changes, and who it is a requirement to notify.

Evidence 3: Manchester City Council's "comprehensive mailing list"

This is the document Manchester City Council supplied as the “comprehensive mailing list“.  Those on the list received direct invitation from the LGBCE to participate in the consultation.

Pdf document to download: ManchesterCityCouncil-BoundaryReview-ComprehensiveMailingList

This list was obtained from both MCC and the LGBCE using Freedom of Information requests. It consists mostly of housing associations, employees of Manchester City Council, charities, minority support groups, leaders of youth groups and managers of community centres.

These are all valid, but the words “resident” and “resident association” are completely missing from the list.  Where are the the groups of local residents whose interest is in the overall wellbeing of their immediate neighbourhood, who have the knowledge and concerns to make effective contribution to the consultation?

For the whole of the Manchester City Council area, we see 5 or less groups who fulfil a similar function to residents associations (eg, civic forums.)

We know from a Freedom of Information request that there was initially a longer comprehensive list, but that it was cut down.

A further request has therefore been made to the council for us to see that list under the Freedom of Information.

Evidence 4: MCC minutes from ward boundary review steering group

From the minutes of MCC council officer meetings, it is evident that there was initially a longer “comprehensive mailing list”, but that the list that was cut down.

The following minutes have been obtained using a Freedom of Information request. The reducing of an original MCC list is described in section 5.3 of the meeting on 22nd March.

Pdf document to download: MCC minutes.

A further Freedom of Information request has been submitted to ascertain which groups were removed from the original list.

2. A failure of publicity

Manchester City Council were asked by the LGBCE to use all the usual methods to publicise in order to let the general public know about the consultation.

Evidence 5: LGBCE requests to Sir Howard Bernstein

Here are links to two letters sent to Sir Howard Bernstein by the LGBCE, asking him to help publicise the ward boundary review, and suggesting how this should be done:

www.lgbce.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/29042/CEX-Letter-PDF.pdf

www.lgbce.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/31300/Manchester-Draft-CEX-letter-2016-11-29.pdf

The first letter includes the following specific request to Sir Howard Bernstein:

“Publicising the review

I would be grateful if you could bring the consultation to the attention of elected members. Furthermore, a copy of the Commission’s press release and posters advertising this stage of the review are being sent to your Council. It would be much appreciated if you could publicise the consultation by arranging for copies to be placed on display at local information points, and by taking such other steps as you consider appropriate to bring the review to the attention of the public and other interested parties. In particular, we would appreciate it if you could promote the consultation online, via social media and any other channels you would normally use to engage residents.”

Clearly, the LGBCE cannot create community links in an area, so it has to ensure existing channels are used.

The e-bulletin was the most significant and damaging example of a failure to do so.  The e-bulletin provides direct notification, that could have helped to remedy the failure of direct notification elsewhere. (You could check your own inboxes to verify this, if you were signed up to receive the MCC news e-bulletin from January 2016 until January 2017.)

Detail: the failure to use the e-bulletin
  • Over the years MCC has encouraged a legitimate expectation in organisations across Manchester that this is THE primary source of local governance information.  Most community organisations are signed up to it, as part of being informed about what is happening in Manchester and what MCC are doing.
  • The e-bulletin is used to notify Manchester of consultations. Yet during the Boundary Review consul-tation periods, the e-bulletin was used for everything but the LGBCE consultation (examples on p15 of Stage 1-2 complaint).
  • It is the reason why individuals and organisations could be fully confident of being informed of anything significant and relevant to governance in Manchester, yet remain unaware of the Boundary Review.

Moreover, of all MCC’s communication channels, this was the easiest for the LGBCE to monitor from London to verify that the notification and publicity were carried out, and to review whether they were “sufficient”. The apparent lack of intention by MCC to use this primary channel to inform the electorate of the Boundary Review should have raised serious alarm at the LGBCE and alerted officers to a potentially wider failure.

The other forms of publicity appeared to fail equally.

Detail: the failure of all other publicity in Manchester

Twitter: It seems unnecessary to say, but the 4 forwarded tweets that the LGBCE claim were posted by MCC do not make a consultation.  MCC produces pages of tweets per day, 31,700 tweets since they set up. All tweets are transitory, lost within minutes as they are covered by other tweets. People follow hundreds of Twitter accounts, not just MCC.  (Moreover, our own repeat searches do not produce more than the one reply-tweet cited in the original complaint (p16).)

Posters: Even when asked, MCC can only say they sent posters to 23 libraries. There appears to be no evidence of display, and no record of the other 77 posters.

Websites: As stated in the original complaint, web pages are only useful to inform those who are already looking for the relevant information, searching with the correct words. We can only repeat what we quoted in the complaint (p17), that even after the second consultation, on 27th March 2017, a Google search for “moss side ward boundary changes” produced changes back to 1997, but nothing on these proposals.

Press release: As the LGBCE’s briefing to the LGBCE Commission meeting acknowledged (in response to the original complaint) in Manchester the “Press releases sent to the local media went unpublished.”

It would appear that there was no attempt by MCC, or by our councillors, to bring the consultation to attention of residents and voters, and there was no strategy by the LGBCE to address the failure to meet their minimum requirments.

The FoIA replies show that there were council meetings on the ward boundary review that our councillors attended. Yet for almost a year, our councillors said nothing, until active residents found out from elsewhere and raised it with them.

3. A failure to “cascade”

In their response to our complaint, the LGBCE Review Officer briefed the Commission that their notifications “should have led to a cascade”.

However, the numbers of responses (below) showed clearly in the first consultation that a “cascade” was simply not happening.   Moreover, the letter the LGBCE sent to those on the “comprehensive mailing list” did not even ask the recipient to cascade it. The letter made it quite clear that they were seeking evidence, not asking the recipient to help them to publicise the consultation.

Evidence: the LGBCE invitations to respond

In order to discuss our Stage 1-2 complaint, the LGBCE Review Manager informed the Commission that:

“While the Council’s list of stakeholders might have been more comprehensive, there was a wide distribution that should have led to a cascade, including to community groups and residents’ associations.” (Appendix C §14 in the reply)

“Should have led…”? As we have argued, the LGBCE legally has to ensure notification, not just hope for it.

It is therefore interesting to read the 2 letters sent by the LGBCE to those on MCC’s the “comprehensive mailing list”. The letters lack any formal request for the recipients to “cascade” the information or even help with the notification process.

It is actually clear that the LGBCE author assumes the letters are to local people, rather than just the professionals on the MCC list.  It is therefore a problem of the MCC list, and the failure of the LGBCE to check that list.

The first letter LGBCE-letter-1 includes the statements:

  • “We are asking local people and organisations for their views as to the best pattern of wards for the city which meet the requirements set out above.
  • “We encourage as many people and organisations as possible to get involved with the consultation and we encourage local organisations and parish councils to engage their local networks and communities in the review.”

The second letter LGBCE-letter-2 similarly includes the statement:

  • We encourage everyone who has a view on the draft recommendations to contact us whether you support them or whether you wish to propose alternative arrangements.

4. A tiny response to the consultations

This consultation which the LGBCE describes with pride, produced responses from just 6 local organisations and 7 residents.  That is the total received from the 32 wards across Manchester, and from the 370,000 registered voters.  The second consultation round prompted just 13 individual responses.

Evidence 6: Manchester-wide submissions to the 2 consultations

All submissions to the LGBCE are publically available to read here:

www.lgbce.org.uk/current-reviews/north-west/greater-manchester/manchester

The submissions listed for the whole of Manchester for the first consultation (‘Warding arrangements’) are:

Local Authority

  • Manchester City Council

Political Group

  • Manchester City Council Liberal Democrat Group
  • Manchester Green Party

Local Organisations

  • Community on Solid Ground
  • Manley Park Methodist Church
  • Northenden Neighbourhood Forum
  • Range Road Residents’ Group
  • Whalley Range Forum
  • Whalley Range Youth Opportunities Association

Local Residents

  • 7 local residents

That is just 6 local organisations from the 32 wards.  It is just 7 residents from an electorate of 370,000 registered voters across Manchester.

The second consultation (‘Consultation on draft recommendations’) prompted just 13 responses from individuals across Manchester.

Under the second consultation you can also see listed the 6 “late submissions” from community groups in Moss Side and Rusholme, sent in haste when we discovered the Boundary Review had taken place.

Of those 6 local organisations responding to the first, 5 are in Whalley Range; the same area which had community groups on MCC’s “comprehensive mailing list”.  So those early responses showed that the notification of resident-led community groups produced a good rate of response – unique across Manchester.

Under the first consultation, only one councillor publicly voiced an opinion: John Leech, Lib Dem.

The LGBCE has acknowledged the failures of Manchester City Council, and is fully aware that its final recommendations are “almost entirely based on the proposals of Manchester City Council”.  Yet they nevertheless claim to have followed their own required procedures.  Hence the Stage 3 complaint focusses specifically on their own failure of process.

Evidence: LGBCE's account of failure, but of fulfilling its obligation

The briefing to the LGBCE Commission, by their Reviews Manager in response to the Stage 1-2 complaint, indicates they are well aware of the failures of Manchester City Council, and acknowledge that the final recommendations are “almost entirely based on the proposals of Manchester City Council.  Yet for their own purposes, it seems they simply have to show that they followed their own required procedures, whatever the consequences for Manchester.

The following are consecutive paragraphs from that LGBCE briefing (an annex to the LGBCE response).

11. Although the Commission asked the Council to publicise the review, it did not publish it on its ‘e-bulletin’ email, and only re-tweeted the Commission’s tweets instead of writing its own. Press releases sent to the local media went unpublished. Additionally, the complainants suggest that few or none of the 100 posters sent to the Council were displayed. The Council responded that the posters were sent to 23 libraries across the city, though it is not known whether or not the libraries displayed the posters.

12. The Commission’s draft and final recommendations were almost entirely based on the proposals of Manchester City Council, as so few other submissions were received. Only 16 submissions were received in response to the initial consultation, and 14 in response to our draft recommendations.

13. By writing to Manchester City Council and all the local organisations for whom it had details, and by issuing press releases at each stage of the review as well as publishing information on its online platforms and through targeted social media, the Commission has fulfilled its statutory obligation to publish recommendations and to encourage representations about them. Guidance to the Council outlined the Commission’s own communications strategy and specifically set out our expectations of the Council in this regard.

In terms of responses from councillors, in other UK cities, councillors wrote to the LGBCE to object or support ward boundary proposals, and their letters are placed online where all can see them. It appears open and transparent.

In Manchester by contrast, with major changes taking place to local governance, only 1 of the 96 MCC councillors had anything to say publicly to the LGBCE on the matter.

The Platt Claremont Residents Association therefore submitted Freedom Of Information Requests to MCC, requesting “copies of all MCC meeting notes relating to the Boundary Review…” (15th June, 2017), but the reply has not produced any mention of councillors and their responses.

5. Consequences for Manchester and Moss Side

The consequence of MCC’s actions, and the LGBCE’s failure, are that the LGBCE has now laid before Parliament, recommendations for Manchester that were produced by a single-party local authority, without the opportunity for public review and comment by the electorate.  Given all the claims about open government and consultation, that should never happen, but it has, here in Manchester.

But beyond showing the hypocrisy of MCC on consultation, and the failure of the LGBCE, do the boundary changes actually matter?

Yes they do.  Page 3 of Manchester City Council’s own proposal states that they are the building blocks for future delivery:  “The devolution journey underway in Greater Manchester is reshaping the local political landscape and the configuration of public services in the city….  The warding patterns proposed in this submission will form critical building blocks for the future delivery.

We all know they matter.  Ward boundaries can determine who wins elections.  They determine the identity and average wealth of a ward.  They impact on property values.

And contrary to the explanation given by MCC, these changes were not just about equalising the voters in each ward.  One example will do.

In Moss Side, MCC’s proposals strip the ward of our three most valuable assets: Whitworth Park, Whitworth Gallery, and the prized Bowes St. / Princess Rd. development area (including the Moss Side Community Allotments).

Nobody lives in the Whitworth Park or the Gallery, so they have no impact on population.  So there is no justification for taking these beautiful assets out of the control of Moss Siders.

The boundaries determine practical democracy and administration. They will determine whether the people who walk across Whitworth Park every day to the buses, shops and city centre have some direct democratic say in its future, and whether they can feel proud that it is part of Moss Side.

They will equally determine whether the residents and businesses on each side of the Curry Mile can just deal with 1 set of Councillors as now, or have to get agreement with 2 as MCC propose.

All this is why the LGBCE informed every local authority that ward boundaries must reflect natural boundaries, reflect community identities, and secure effective and convenient local government (LGBCE Technical Guidance, above).

This won’t go away.  For many of us, it has been a moment to wake up, and stop assuming that Manchester City Council is working in the interest of the residents. And for all the talk from MCC on consultation, when something really mattered like this, the residents / voters didn’t even hear about it.

6. The complaint – where are we now?

Note: updates since 7th September, including the admission by Manchester City Council, and the 2nd response from the LGBCE, are on the Library page.

In summary, formal complaints have been submitted to the LGBCE and MCC by 8 groups across Moss Side and Rusholme.

Evidence: the 8 local groups making the complaint

Platt Claremont Residents Association
Rusholme & Fallowfield Civic Society
Rusholme Community Traders Association
Upping It
Friends of Whitworth Park
Cranswick Square Residents Association
Roberts Avenue & Playfair Street Residents Association
Moss Side Community Allotments

The complaint is strong. We have demonstrated that the required notification and consultation procedure was not followed, and that the failures of MCC were clear early on, but not addressed by the LGBCE.

The LGBCE have been unable to answer the critique of their process. As the clips above show (the LGBCE’s account of failure), the LGBCE are left claiming that they did their bit, whatever the outcome for Manchester.

What the LGBCE cannot show is (a) that the notification and consultation can reasonably be considered to be satisfactory, or (b) that the notification met the statutory requirements, or (c) that it achieved anything close to what they state in their Technical Guidance.

Evidence: the complaint documents

The key documents are:

The Stage 1-2 complaint – 30 pages, link above.
Stage-1-2-complaint-to-LGBCE-by-8-community-organisations-in-Moss-Side-and-Rusholme

The response from the LGBCE: 16 pages
LGBCE-Response-Manchester-Complaint-Stages-1-2

The Stage 3 complaint: 3 pages
Complaint-to-LGBCE-by-8-community-organisations-in-Moss-Side-and-Rusholme.

This last 3-page Stage 3 complaint quotes from the LGBCE response, and makes the case strongly for the inadequacy of the LGBCE notification and consultation process.  It is where we are now.

The Stage 1-2 complaint includes more detail on the consequences.  Note: after a summary letter, Annex A lists the LGBCE requirements that it has failed to meet.  It is Annex B on page 12 that sets out the evidence for the failure and some of the consequences.

(For precision, please note that our Stage 1-2 complaint states that our searches could only find 1 tweet about the boundary review consultation by MCC. MCC have since stated that they sent a total of 4 tweets about it during the 2 consultation periods.  That doesn’t change the point, as we stated in the Stage 3 complaint.)

Stage 3 is the required final stage with the LGBCE, before taking the complaint to Parliament.

Lucy Powell MP and Afzal Khan MP intially supported the Stage 1-2 complaint, but have not yet responded to our request that they support out final complaints.

7. What now?

The LGBCE has laid the draft Order before Parliament. This means that it “sits” for 40 days and if no MP “prays against it” (objects to it) during that time, then it is passed and it becomes effective at the next elections in 2018.

“Draft orders can be prayed against in either House. In such an event, a debate on the order may take place. If a debate on a draft order is lost, the order will not be made.” (LGBCE Technical Guidance para 8.3.)

The 40 days are days when Parliament sits, so as there was no sitting over the summer, nor during the party conferences, the 40 days take us to the end of October.

So to move forward, those LGBCE recommendations must now be “prayed against” by MPs.

So please, for the sake of restoring faith in Manchester democracy:

Email your MP and/or a Lord

It’s simple to do.  Ask them to “pray against the LGBCE order for Manchester“.  There’s some suggested text for your email below.  You could attach the Stage 3 Complaint. It’s simple, just do it!

Suggestion for your email - to copy and paste

Dear Xxxxx Xxxxx MP

As one of your constituents, I am writing to ask you to pray against the LGBCE’s draft Order laid before Parliament for ward boundary changes to Manchester.

As you know, it was required by law that every local authority, including Manchester City Council, provide the LGBCE with a “comprehensive mailing list” of stakeholders.  Specifically it had to include residents associations, so that residents/voters could be informed of the boundary review by the LGBCE, and invited to participate.

The list of 142 contacts that Manchester City Council provided, contained not one single residents’ association across the whole city. In addition, despite the LGBCE’s explicit request to use all the usual channels of communication, MCC did not include it once in their emailed e-bulletin newsletter.

The LGBCE and MCC have tried to claim that 4 tweets, a Facebook page and the unpublished press releases are a substitute for the direct notification that is required by law. They are not.

In responding to the formal complaint by 8 community organisations in Moss Side and Rusholme, the LGBCE has described the failure to notify residents as “regrettable”, and stated that its Commissioners “subsequent to the review of Manchester, had already taken steps to improve practice”.  (6th September 2017, Stage Three Complaint: Electoral Review of Manchester: visible at www.WeAreMossSide.org.uk/manchester-boundary-review-library/.)

But what about Manchester? The proposals now need to be reversed, not just learnt from.

The LGBCE has now laid before Parliament, recommendations for Manchester that were produced by a single-party local authority, without the opportunity for public review and comment by residents / voters.  Given all Manchester City Council’s claims about open government and consultation, that should never happen, but it has.

I therefore ask you to pray against the LGBCE’s draft Order, so that this failure does not cause lasting damage to Manchester and to the reputation of Manchester. The voters of Manchester must now be consulted, as required by law.

I await your response.

Yours sincerely

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