Cllr Ian Manning Threatens to Blackmail Tesco Over Contribution to Chesterton High Street Improvements


Friday, July 4th, 2014. 12:27am

I observed Cambridge’s North Area Committee on Thursday the 3rd of July 2014. One of the items on the agenda was the consideration of various environmental improvement schemes for the area. One proposal was to improve the area in-front of the Tesco mini-supermarket on High-Street Chesterton.

This is one of my local shops and I’ve used it regularly over the last six or so years.

I tweeted to say:

I have transcribed what occurred:

Cllr Ian G Manning (Liberal Democrat, East Chesterton): Chair, it’s just a suggestion. I actually support the proposal but it’s a suggestion that we take this forward as an LHI bid, get the money from county then go to Tesco and make them pay for the rest of it.

Well no but Tesco you know if we went to them and said we’ve got I’m pretty sure that together we can get this through the LHI process and then in advance of the LHI process go to Tesco and say you cough up the other five, ten, grand…

Cllr Kevin Price (Labour, King’s Hedges):
Or I won’t shop with you again.

Cllr Ian G Manning (Liberal Democrat, East Chesterton):
Or none of us will shop with you again.

I’m sure they wouldn’t like the adverse publicity that two ward councillors from both, two, political groups could drum up if they didn’t drum up, if they were so minded to make us lose ten thousand of county money.

That would then give us money for the other schemes; that’s all I am saying.

I was shocked by Cllr Manning’s comments I thought they were totally inappropriate.

I think the suggestion from Cllr Price, echoed by Cllr Manning about not using the shop again was probably a joke; however the threat of generating adverse publicity sounded to me like a genuine blackmail threat.

I have made a video of the full Chesterton High Street Pavement and Curb debate available.

The proposal is to flatten out the camber of the road and pavement to make the area more level. The £15,000 scheme was being promoted by East Chesterton Councillor Gerri Bird.

Cllrs decided not to fund the project, deciding to “defer” it, apparently with a view to seeking alternative funding sources.

The County Council’s Improving highways webpage includes links to forms for “local communities” to apply for funding to improve highways, the funding is conditional on “local communities” coming up with 10% of the funds. This is the Local Highways Improvements (LHI) scheme Cllr Ian Manning was referring to.

Cllr Manning’s comments shows up a problem with the county council’s policy on funding Local Highways Improvements – it allows wealthy businesses such as Tesco, and other groups which are in a position to use their existing wealth to obtain public spending in areas of interest to them.

8 comments/updates on “Cllr Ian Manning Threatens to Blackmail Tesco Over Contribution to Chesterton High Street Improvements

  1. Cllr Ian Manning

    Richard, your misunderstanding of the term blackmail aside, you’ve spectacularly missed the point.

    Tesco, as the officer mentioned, are responsible for part of the highway directly outside their shop. The County Council are responsible for the rest of the highway.

    Therefore, the bulk of the funding for improvement should come from the County Council (LHI) with the match funding coming from Tesco themselves.

    This is quite outside the moral point that, given Tesco will benefit from any improvement, they should contribute some funds.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      Now it appears Cllr Manning is suggesting that local community contribution for a highways improvement scheme doesn’t need to be spent on the highway but can be spent on an adjacent privately owned area. There’s no mention of such an approach in the council’s published information.

      Like a typical politician Cllr Manning has not commented on his use of a threat of an adverse publicity campaign against Tesco should they not contribute but has made some tangential statements.

      I think my use of the word “blackmail” is in line with the meaning in common usage as described in the Wikipedia article on the word.

  2. Cllr Ian Manning

    The scheme in question would have to cover the whole of the highway, and this isn’t about ownership, but who is responsible for maintenance (I don’t actually know about the ownership, but I’d assume it is all County owned).

    Unlike you, I would go by an authoritative source for a definition, not wikipedia, eg http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/blackmail?q=blackmail “The action, treated as a criminal offence, of demanding money from someone in return for not revealing compromising information which one has about them:”.

    “Like a typical Richard Taylor”, you’ve made an attempt at a cheap point about politicians, which I could easily counter by saying that’s something typical of lobbyists when politicians disagree with them.

    However, I make no excuse for expecting that a massive global supermarket chain contribute a modest about of money to a public real enhancement that will benefit their profits. I’m sorry you seem to disagree with this.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    I think Wikipedia is an excellent source of information, as long as, like with all information it is used judiciously. Cllr Manning has cited a definition of blackmail relating to a criminal offence; the term is also an English word which existed prior to the offence and continues to be used other than in relation to the offence.

    Its definitions on Dictionary.com include: “any payment extorted by intimidation, as by threats of injurious revelations or accusations” and “to extort money from (a person) by the use of threats”. Which appear to me to cover exactly what Cllr Manning proposed.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    The scheme in question would have to cover the whole of the highway,

    Highway improvement schemes do not have to extend from one highway boundary to another; many schemes relate to a specific element of the highway eg. a curb to be dropped.

    I think what Cllr Manning may have intended to say is that any scheme outside Tesco on High Street Chesterton would ideally cover the area from the shopfront to however far into the road is required irrespective of ownership, so the landowners involved would need to be co-operative. If that’s what is meant then I agree this would be sensible.

    I think public funds should only be spent on the highway though; and while the work could be done in one-go I think the landowners should pay for the improvements to their own property.

    However, I make no excuse for expecting that a massive global supermarket chain contribute a modest about of money to a public real enhancement that will benefit their profits. I’m sorry you seem to disagree with this.

    I have not disagreed with that; and I don’t disagree with that.

    What I would like to see councillors doing more of is simply giving permission for changes to be made and setting out the standards required (eg. using approved contractors, and meeting certain specifications). This already occurs in the case of someone wanting to drop a curb in-front of their own house; people can simply apply to the council to do this and gain permission.

    In this case councillors could just give permission for work to make the area more level and then if Tesco, and others, want to do it they can.

    I suspect many individuals and business would love the opportunity to improve the public areas outside their properties.

    Given the impact the gradient in the area has on Tesco’s deliveries I would have thought they would be keen to improve it. I actually think it would be reasonable to make some contribution from public funds should people wish to make an improvement in the area.

    I think councillors focus too much on spending money and don’t consider their wider powers and influence which they can deploy without borrowing yet more money to finance public spending in excess of tax-receipts.

    As to the scale of the issue though I’m sure those living in hillier parts of the country would find it astonishing that Cambridge residents, who are used to the flat, find the amount of undulation in this area problem worthy of spending such significant amounts of public money on.

    There are many pavements in Cambridge; and many many more around the country where if you pull up alongside them and open your door the door would hit the pavement; I don’t think it’s remotely reasonable that we should consider this a problem that needs to be fixed.

    I know in this location often people park well away from the curb; in many cases I think this is just poor and inconsiderate parking but if an element of it is due to the camber and gradient then perhaps addressing it would be worthwhile.

    The important thing I think is that we have a transparent democracy. Cllr Gerri Bird proposed the project but decided, along with all other councillors present at the North Area Committee not to support it with £15,000 of city council money as was an option before them; instead opting to seek other funding sources.

  5. Tanned Gent

    Tesco should contribute to the litter picking around their stores too, if only for their own benefit in not appearing to be situated in a bloody landfill.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      Many businesses, including Tesco stores, do pick up litter outside their premises.

      Planning conditions and street litter control notices are two tools councillors have at their disposal to require businesses to tackle litter around their premises. Prosecutions and fines can follow breaches of either.

      Those dropping the litter are primarily at fault, and they too can be dealt with by council officers, PCSOs (who can issue council fixed penalty notices) and Police Constables.

      Where those dropping the litter are members of institutions such as schools and colleges it can be appropriate for action to be taken by the institutions too.

      I don’t think we need any new laws; we need to elect good councillors who are prepared to use the powers already at the disposal, of our elected represenatives.

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