About This Blog

The public should know all we can about the business of the decision makers that affect our lives, our wallets and our democracy. This is a record of my efforts to try and improve the levels of transparency and accountability within Sheffield City Council and others. To shine a light on how decisions are made and where the money goes. If I can also help others to find their own voice and influence along the way, then that is a bonus.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

1st October 2014 - Full Council Meeting, by Nigel Slack.

First off, an apology, due to a recording malfunction the quality of the audio I recorded at this meeting is not suitable for inclusion in the blog, so it's back to the written word only for this report. I will however try to keep it succinct and as soon as they are available I will include the official minutes at the end. So after the usual welcomes and housekeeping information, minutes of last meeting were accepted and the meeting moved on to public questions and petitions.

There were two petitions of particular interest. The first was a repeat of a petition on the Council's contracts with G4S and concerns over their human rights record. Cllr Ben Curran (Finance and Resources) admitted a mistake had been made the last time this came up and that the Council have 2 contracts with G4S, one for cash collection services and one for keyholder services, though they are both of low value. He informed the petitioners that the contracts were to be retendered by the early part of 2015 and the motion he has put forward later in the meeting should address their concerns about human rights.

The second was with respect to Scooter parking in the city, a mode of transport becoming ever more popular again. The petitioner, Jonathan Marsden, asked for improved levels of scooter parking areas and an exemption for scooters to be allowed to park on pavements. In response Cllr Leigh Bramall (Business, Skills and Development) commented that parking was the most problematic of issues with as many against as for any parking policy they as council might agree. He offered to continue to review the problems for scooters but that parking on pavement was unlikely to be a solution because of the problems this causes to the visually impaired.

Then came public questions. There were questions about the city pension fund and it's investment in fossil fuel funds and a number of questions about winter gritting in the Bradfield area of the city.

My questions were next and my first was concerning the fate of Smithy Wood ancient woodland to the North of the city. This woodland is subject to two decision processes within the council, a planning application is under consideration which would destroy the majority of the woodland in favour of a motorway service facility and an application to the licensing panel to have the woodland declared a village green thereby protecting it has been referred for a full inquiry to the council. On this second application, the chair of that committee commented that it was in the 'interests of natural justice' to hold an inquiry and in 'everyone's interest it be orgabised as quickly as possible'. I therefore asked if the council would ensure that the village green inquiry was held before the planning decision was made.

Cllr Leigh Bramall (Business,skills and development) responded to the effect that, planning decisions had to be taken in adherence to certain timescales to prevent applicants claiming 'non-determination'. However, even if the application is passed the 'village green' application still has to be processed before the planning permission becomes active.

My remaining questions, essentially two but probably really two and a half were about the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). I asked about the potential for this agreement to seriously curtail the ability of governemnt both national and local to pass legislation or by laws that 'might' affect a corporations profits. I commented on the involvement of the LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) in the roadshow event for TTIP that took place that morning and asked whether, as a balance, the council would host an event that looked at the potential threats of the TTIP rather than the emphasis being placed on the positive aspects for business? I then attempted to comment on that mornings roadshow event and to ask whether any local public money had been used to support the event?

I say tried as I was interrupted by the Lord Mayor, Cllr Peter Rippon, telling me I was making a statement and to get to my question. This would seem to be an annual ritual, I was challenged in the same way last year by Cllr Vicky Priestley during her tenure as Lord Mayor. I soldiered on to ask my question though without some important contextual information. I also asked a supplementary question regarding a comment made by David Henig (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills) a civil servant "it's not Governments job to protect the people from corporations". I asked whether council had any comment on this?

Cllr Julie Dore (Leader) responded to all my questions in one go, fair enough, Answerring the last first she commented that "it is certainly the job of government to protect people from corporations" particularly she thought where they impact on peoples quality of life. She also supports some of the initiatives put forward by Ed Miliband around corporations that exploit there customers or the people they are supposed to be delivering services to, like the energy companies. Cllr Dore then commented on the global aspect of the economy and how private companie seemed to be taking over everything as seen lately with the NHS, however she also acknowledged that this put the 'left' in a delicate situation since despite their inclination to keep public services public, she has to accept that where we are is where we are. We have to accept that we need businesses to continue to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

She continued to comment on the role of the LEP and how city involvement enabled them to steer the LEP's investment in local business initiatives. On the issue of TTIP, she agrees with the national party's attempts to get an exemption for the NHS and other public services. On the roadshow, she commented that the role of the LEP in developing the local economy obliged them to advertise the roadshow but they did not put any money into it. So, in essence,as the event was invited to Sheffield by Nabarro Nathanson and not the LEP, the City would not hold an event to balance the roadshow.

To contact, email nrslack@aol.com

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