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.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Full Council Meeting on 5th November 2014, by Nigel Slack.

The meeting kicked off as usual but this time the public gallery was full. There was a significant contingent of the GMB Union members currently striking against the Green Company, who run the recycling centres in the city as sub-contractors for Veolia, the outsourcing company. In addition there was a petition to be presented about the outsourcing of the Learning Disability Service and with over 5,000 signatures this triggers a debate in council.

Soon enough public petitions and questions came around and there were lots of petitions this time. Subjects were; Devonshire Street shops demolition, Tesco Express planning application in Stannington, Re-instatement of free city centre shuttle bus service, Misuse of Totley Scout Hut, and School crossing patrol at St Anne's Park School.

The meeting then moved on to Public Questions. Again lots of questions from a full public gallery, inevitably meaning I would be towards the end. As a regular there it seems to me that this means the 'new' people get to ask their questions first. This is fine in general terms but sometimes leads to boredom in the cheap seats and those of us at the end of the process are less likely to be able to preface or contextualise our questions, which leads to uncertainty in answers and the liklihood of additional questions being needed at a later date.

Questions were on the subjects of; Protocols of child protection, Employment and economic development, Gritting of Blindside Lane, Questions grouped by the GMB Union members on the strike at Sheffield's waste recycling centres and the management by 'Green Company' on a sub-contract from Veolia, The privatisation of the 'Supported Living Service', Arbourthorne TARA concerns, The Sheffield Federation of TARA's and council recognition, and the roadworks for the new Sainsbury's store in Hillsborough and consequent problems for local traders.

Finally it came around to my questions. My first was aimed at Julie Dore (Leader) and concerned the recent News that Greater Manchester Combined Authority had signed a so called devolution deal with the Treasury to give them certain extra spending responsibilities in exchange for accepting an elected City Region Mayor.

"How does the council think of Manchester jumping ship on the other Northern cities?
Do the council agree with the approach that gives business leaders a chance to vote on these devolution proposals but no vote for the public that will pay for them?
Which experts and business leaders from Sheffield will be attending?
Do the two remaining councils involved see the trap that Manchester is being led into?
Does the council agree with the potential imposition of a directly elected Mayor that we rejected in 2012?
Will the council accept administering the hateful welfare to work programme?"

To my surprise the response was from Leigh Bramall (Business, Skills & Economic Development) who outlined the benefits of serious devolution and the fact that the Manchester deal was lacking these benefits. He also commented negatively on the idea of an elected mayor. There was however no comment on the Northern Futures meeting the next day or on who from Sheffield would be attending.

Full Audio below.

My second question was on some planning matters. Trying to avoid asking for comment on specific proposals in order not to step on legal procedural toes.

"The planning system is currently mired in controversy and poor public relations and two particular proposals are causing the bulk of the problems. I will refrain from mentioning them or asking direct questions about them, for fear of being told they can't be answered without jeopardising the planning process. So, in general; When a planning application on the council's website indicates a determination deadline date, what does that mean?"


"Where a planning guideline indicates a ratio of different usage types within an area, ie between A1 and A3 uses, will the recommendation by officers and the decision of the planning committee on this aspect of the proposal be based on, the current guidelines, guidelines proposed but rejected by the council on some previous occasion or a developers feeling as to the likely future guidelines yet to be tabled or put to a council decision making process?"

Cllr Bramall's response was exactly what I hoped to elicit with this question. To the first part he responded that transparency and open procedure was all important in planning matters. This gives me the confirmation I need to press for greater information in the early stages of applications and a more balanced availability of Officers to 'objectors' as well as 'developers'. Something to pursue at my personal meeting with Cllr Bramall.

Full Audio below.

My final question was about the appalling turnout of voters at the PCC by-election and an unedifying, almost snide argument witnessed on Twitter between a cabinet councillor and a councillor of the Green Party, about the ethics of voting or not voting as an elected representative.

"The PCC election was neither a particularly legitimate expression of democracy with less than 15% turnout and a winner with less than 8% of the electorate voting for them, nor a value for money exercise costing approximately £11.50 per vote cast. In addition Doncaster reported that of their electorate only 3.5% voted at the ballot box, the remaining 11.5% being postal votes. What was the ratio of postal to ballot box votes in Sheffield?"


"With 86% of the electorate not voting, no party was in a position to take the moral high ground about who did or did not publicly support voting. The supporters of all parties stayed away from the ballot box and it seems unlikely they listened to any of the politicians pro or anti voting in this particular election. Can the council please urge all politicians to act more responsibly over such issues?"

Cllr Julie Dore responded to this question and apologised for not having the election figures to hand that I asked for but she would get them from the Returning Officer. On the second part of the question she was unable to offer direct comment as lack of context meant it was unclear but she did illustrate her own opinion on the responsibilities of elected officials to engage with the ballot box.

For me the question remains whether the act of not voting is still a means of engaging with the process?

Full Audio below.

At this point I had to leave and poor Martin Brighton was still asking his question the meeting already having been running for two hours and with an important debate on road safety about to start which was triggered by a large petition. This again illustrates the need to look seriously and urgently at webcasting council meetings. Then those unable to attend at all, or those who found it necessary to leave before the end can still see and comment on the democracy, or lack of it, in action in our council meetings.

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