Saturday, 19 September 2015

Stakeholders and the Donkeys

Who could be more qualified to be a stakeholder than those employed in the business? According to the papers presented to Sheffield's Cabinet this week there are 'safeguards' now built into the leasing of the huge area of Sheffield's land to be given to RSPB/NT on a 25 year lease.

There will be a Stakeholder Forum and a Partner Forum. Well we know that Partners are the cronies in the various organisations that are already hand in glove so we don't expect the public's interest to come first there. Sheffield Moors Partnership operates first in the interests of those employed in the local constituent conservation groups. And as for stakeholders, this is a word that is used shamelessly to suggest that things must be all above board and accountability is in good hands. Yet when you look behind the word you find out that it means a group appointed by the managers who ensure there's nobody there who might frighten the horses. 'Yes men/women' all, or encouraged to show some gentle and mild dissent for form's sake that offers up no real challenge.  Devise some over diluted process  that can be presented on paper to look like a form of accountability and the local politicians will relax and go back to reading something less demanding. Their job to scrutinise? No, let the officers do it.

But a bit of close reading might raise some queries. The local Sheffield paper has front page headlines about this land disposal in its September 10th edition. This arose from a press release of course. It was sent to the paper by the usual suspects who are named towards the end of the article with quotes from them. Both have claimed in the past to be interested members of the public. Fair enough up to a point. But are they therefore also stakeholders with a stake in the enterprise? One of them has certainly appeared as a 'member of the public' in a public forum among 'genuine' consultees. The question is to what extent should somebody have a say in policy making that benefits their own job? It's a question of transparency again. We can all make a case of course for our own interest but our interest should be declared. Without this would this be allowable if the disposal was, shall we say, connected to financial services?

Knowing where the comment is coming from is vital. We learn whether its is truly independent. Such is the local press's use of press releases these days, often printed near verbatim which in the case of the conservation industry delights them. It's not even subtle, but probably doesn't need to be to persuade local councillors and those of similar critical faculties. Remember how much money is sunk into the publicity, spin and public relations departments of these groups nowadays; in fact it's been suggested that many are overweight in PR with a sideline in practical projects.

A famous quote comes to mind:
'The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society'*
Remember also that the EMP has a stakeholder group who have decided their names should not be divulged nor the minutes of their meetings. Thus the RSPB/NT makes its claim to take over more of Sheffield people's land and those in positions are supine enough to wave it through. Remember, too, that those responding to recent consultations who were quoted as in support of plans were anonymous! As were the 20 people who wrote to the council saying what a spiffing idea it was to give Houndkirk and Burbage to the fox-and-deer-shooting RSPB/NT consortium. None of those might possibly have been connected to the industry could they? Did anyone ask?

Are we led by donkeys?


*Edward Bernays (pioneer of Public Relations), writing in 1928.

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