When Newcastle submitted and won its CCAF1 bid, newcycling felt elated too. For the first time the campaign group had a proper work programme that could be monitored. In the coming months and years we could now compare progress against time, cost and quality. It gave us something concrete to work with. How wrong we were. We had not reckoned with the council’s ability to create realities.
The joy was great in 2013. The bid document included a fantastic baseline. Appendix 11 was entirely devoted to charting a 2+8 year plan. Projects were clearly listed and the overall programme was plain and good: 2 kilometres of high quality cycleways stretching out from the city centre into the North, South and West. Yes, the programme was ambitious. We are now three years into the original 2-year programme and much has changed, however not exactly what was expected or planned. No length of cycleway of a quality or coherence worth mentioning has been built. Instead something else has changed. It is the baseline – is was shifted. Council have remade reality to suit their latest position. The CCAF1 programme’s lights have gone out. In details it looks like this:
Costs become obscured, hidden or entangled in other budget or project headings. The timeline has been scrapped by not reporting progress against the original Gantt chart, in fact the original CCAF1 Gantt chart has been written out of reality. Design quality is lacking – although recently council has started to react by saying they follow the LCDS (small mercies, words…). Volunteer campaigners of newcycling has spent quite some time trying to reconcile the project management items of time, cost and quality. To no avail. We had to give up in the end. Never a great position for a campaigner. It became clear to me, that we had to rethink the entire standpoint. Upshot of all this is the finding that Newcastle council simply does not want to be traceable or transparent. They are afraid of getting checked and balanced. They can elude accountability that way. There is a culture of sweeping things under the carpet, rather than confidently addressing hitches and glitches head on (see figure below). Over time, this is rather detrimental to council working collaborative with community too. A council with no story to tell, no plan, allows that opposition voices are given time and space to emerge and get legitimacy. By any stretch of the imagination, nailing the proverbial jelly to the wall is not something that could faithfully be called a positive type of engagement. Compare baseline cost and timeline, to the latest status quo (November 2016) and please tell me when you managed to make loose ends meet.
This happens under the tight grips of a Labour council as watch guard of the council officers. LibDems often stand by and only jump opportunistically when cracks appear – a very destructive way of dealing with things. Where is politics in all this when these Trumpland style reality shifts happen? Good management and leadership, scrutiny and evaluation, could be useful. If you want to call it post-truth, fantasy dreamland, or 1984, all these depictions hold some accurate description towards what has happened to us here on a small scale in Newcastle: this cycleway building programme has been robbed by new reality rangers. Even the CCAF1 programme board (chaired by politicians) appeared to have been worn out by the jelly nailing and got lost and ensnared in the shifting story lines. The CCAF1 programme, under their watch, fell to pieces.
Being a dreamer filled with hope I am however not too naive to think that Moving Goalposts were anything new. It’s not a new-fangled thing. It’s been around forever and a day, of course. But it certainly is not a passive thing, it’s a technique. When we, campaigners, originally thought we were on a new path because we now had something that we could tackle wholly rationally (ie monitoring the council programme) and something that we could engage the council on now using a common language and a currency of substance, our hopes have now been crushed (again). What truthfully was council’s intention?
For all of us here in Newcastle it is now time to, once more, go back to the drawing board. Much work to get a real exchange going is still outstanding. This is soul destroying. Newcastle campaigners will still have to address an irrational shape-shifting system. Ever-precarious baselines do not make for coherent decent collaboration. If your storyline is lacking as it has no memory, community will never be able to follow with ease. Dislike and dissent results. Opposition voices can also become legitimised as council’s direction is blowing in the wind.
Here is the thing. There are risks to withholding transparency. If however a coherent tale were told (a programme persisted with and reported on), collaboration would be much easier, a lot less confrontational and much much more positive and productive. Council, this is entirely your call.