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.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Not My Sunday Sermon 3, by Nigel Slack.

For today's evening offering I wanted to try and give some idea as to why I'm fundraising to be able to do what I do full time. In other words, a brief update on what I've been making happen since I started this campaign.

Over the last six weeks I have, essentially been doing my Public Interest work almost full time. In that six weeks I've been to 13 political meetings including Full Council meetings, Cabinet meetings, individual meetings with cabinet councillors, an interview with the 'Sheffield Star', two Hustings events for the PCC election, and attended Public meetings on Planning Issues and the City's Budget Conversation, amongst others.

So far I've published 19 articles to my Blog site, had an article published in Now Then Magazine, another, an interview with them is to be published on December 3rd, had an interview with Ellen Beardmore published in 'The Sheffield Star' newspaper and talked on BBC Radio Sheffield about the post of the PCC and the by-election.

I was also interviewed by Max Munday alongside Scott Lavery, from SPERI (Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute) of the University of Sheffield, on Sheffield Live TV, talking about the current so called 'devolution' deal on offer to the City Regions and how little it resembles the actual devolution ceded to Scotland through legislation.

During that short six weeks I've managed to to create some waves. My main achievement has been to drag the 'Devolution' issue into the light of public scrutiny. The secret discussions between Councils and the Government on what is being termed 'Devolution' has been brought out into the open. The fact that both Government and Councils are denying the public any knowledge of the terms of this deal or any say in the process has now been publicised.

In addition, I've managed to get a Cabinet Councillor to confirm that transparency and openness are the most important things in the planning process and the commitment of another Cabinet Councillor to regreening Meadowhead roundabout, previously desecrated by Highways Department 'improvements'. Finally I was able to act as a catalyst for the objections to the proposed demolition plans for the Devonshire Street shops that include 'Rare and Racy', a legendary local record & book store, along with other independent traders.

I think that's a good record for six weeks work. The trouble is, unless this campaign generates significantly more money than to date, this level of work is unsustainable. To give you some idea of the difference. To get the information I needed to 'out' the devolution deal I had to attend two Council meetings, a meeting of the Sheffield Executive Board and a meeting of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority (SCRCA) in Barnsley. I asked nine or ten different questions in those meetings and my experience of who answered those questions and how they were answered enabled me to understand that something was happening that was considered not for public consumption. My persistence, however, meant that by the time of the SCRCA meeting there was little choice but for them to admit to being in discussions with the Government and give a brief report on where the discussions had reached.

That amounts to some 10 or 12 hours over two weeks. All daytime meetings during normal working hours. A level of coverage that can only be achieved by someone working on a full time basis. Without this level of access and scrutiny the actions and decisions of City Council and of regional decision makers like the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority, The Sheffield Executive Board and the Police and Crime Panel will go largely under the radar. Some may believe that newspapers should be doing this job and they probably should but without bigger staffs and unless they can risk their editors wrath following the boring stuff as well as the sexy stuff, they will never be able to do it effectively. This is bad news for the public and bad news for the city.

That is a fairly simplistic explanation of why it is so important that someone like me does something like this as a professional. Because that is the only way to develop the knowledge and the instincts for effective scrutiny. I therefore appeal to each and every person who reads this to contribute to my campaign. Without support I cannot continue at the full time and professional level that this city's public deserve, if at all. A small donation from many people will enable me to continue and to keep our community leaders as honest as possible and their decision making as transparent as possible. In the end, if you don't contribute who will?

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