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.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Sheffield City Council Cabinet Meeting of 15th October 2014, by Nigel Slack.

Cabinet meeting had a few interesting nuggets this time round, so this is quite a long report. First I'll deal with my 'part' in the meeting. After the usual preamble and agreeing the minutes of the last meeting we headed in to public questions. This is generally more relaxed than in the Full Council meetings and I took the opportunity to advertise the Sheffield for Democracy PCC Hustings event on Tuesday 21st October at the United Reform Church in the city centre.

Here's the audio of my comments.

This was followed by my first question. The question was inspired by the article in the Guardian on Tuesday about the MIPIM (Le marché international des professionnels de l’immobilier) conference that is normally held in Cannes, South of France, but has an inaugural UK version in London this week. The Guardian article suggests the conference is THE place to be if you are a council wanting to sell off the family silver, or housing estates, that type of thing.

To quote from the article.

"For the past 25 years, this conference – Mipim for short – has been held in Cannes. It’s a jaunt so lavish as to be almost comic – where big money developers invite town hall executives for secret discussions aboard private yachts, and whose regulars boast that they get through more champagne than all the liggers at the film festival. Suitably oiled-up, local officials open talks with multinational developers to sell council housing estates and other sites. All this networking is so lucrative for the builders that they even fly over council staff. Last year, Australia’s Lend Lease paid for Southwark’s boss, Peter John, to attend Cannes. This is the same Lend Lease to which Southwark sold the giant Heygate estate at a knock-down price: 1,100 council flats in inner London to be demolished and replaced with 2,500 units, of which only 79 will be for “social rent”."

I therefore asked whether this was the same conference that Cllr Leigh Bramall (Business ,skills and development) had attended last year and whether Sheffield attendees had any restrictions placed on them about selling off the city's family silver? Leigh Bramall and Julie Dore (Leader) both responded, Cllr Bramall indicating that it was the same conference, explaining that he and the Chief Executive, John Mothersole, roughed it in cheap bedsits whilst there and that they only attend these events to attract investment in the city for projects like the retail quarter. Cllr Dore added emphasis to the question of restriction making it very clear that any decisions on anything that came out of such conferences would be made in Sheffield by the council.

Question 1 audio below.

My second question was based on the report on Grounds Maintenance being approved at this meeting. The report itself recommends keeping ground maintenance in house but changing some of the structural management elements. The part of the report that got me interested was comment on the weighting of the decision making process. The key outcome weightings determine what are considered the most important aspects of the decision. In this case it fell out as follows.

Customer First 30%
Value for Money 30%
Council considerations 20%
Employee consideration 20%

I asked whether the same weightings were applied to all council contract decisions whether currently outsourced or not and how this would affect the consideration of contracts for which the council no longer had the 'capacity' to bring in-house.

Cllr Ben Curran (Finance and Resources) responded that weightings were used in all decisions of this nature but that they were different depending on the service under review. Services that were mainly internal processes would not have the same level of 'customer first' weighting. Service quality, however, was always factored in and they did not always choose the cheapest option. He passed no comment on the second part of my question. I guess the follow up will be to get some breakdown of the types of contracts and the corresponding weightings, to see if they are reasonable in the eyes of the public.

Question 2 audio below.

After further questions from members of the public the meeting moved on to consider a number of reports brought for approval. Item 9. was the first on the subject of the Grounds Maintenance arrangements for the council. In brief the report recommended the retention in-house of this service with some structural changes to how it was managed. The outcome was straightforward with the recommendations approved. The interesting bit was in comments on the report where Cllr Julie Dore asked whether the 'Sheffield Standard' which they were applying to the quality of the maintenance carried out could be extended to those private landlords (like housing associations) who were supposed to maintain their own grounds. Although the response was not a complete yes, it suggested that discussions on this were already under-way with those landlords.

The report at item 11. on Independent Living Solutions, was essentially about the various aspects of the city's independent living strategy for older and vulnerable people in conjunction with the Clinical Commissioning Group. There was one element of concern for me in this, or more correctly in the language of the presentation to cabinet, where the council officer referred to the Health and Care economy. The problem is this suggests an approach where the considerations are about money first and people second. This may not be the case but that is certainly the perception. In such a context words are important and should be chosen with care to reflect the truth of a statement.

The final part of the meeting went on to look at budget reports and in the first report we, the public, got our first glimpse of the chilling future for the city's budget in 2015/16. The indications are that the Government grant to Sheffield for next year will drop by £45 Million or 29% and the projected shortfall in the city's budget would consequently be some £38M. Another serving of austerity that will be very difficult to swallow.

The audio of the comment is here.

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