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, 24 October 2016

A Week of Revelations? - an Active Citizen's View

I've just had something of a week for revelations, though of a prosaic nature rather than evangelical.

Monday the 17th October started the week in an unexpected manner. A visit to the SheffEx Conference at the Royal Victoria Hotel, the first, if Tony Carrol's hopes are met, of a forthcoming series of such events. The invite came through late last week but the running order had two interesting items for me. An update on the proposals for the Sheffield Retail Quarter (SRQ) and one on the inward investment from China.

Before that however were some other speakers. First up was Yuri Matischen, MD and part owner of Sheffield Sharks basketball team. This provided my first revelation, sports, leisure & tourism contribute £2.2Bn to Sheffield City Region economy and employ 44,000 people. That's something not talked about enough and they hope to put together a strategy to grow that with events that we can 'own' locally and that cannot be lost to competition from other cities or regions.

Next came Professor Vanessa Toulmin, head of Sheffield University's Public Engagement team. Less revelatory to some of us but still worth a comment, Sheffield's international reputation stands on four things; the 'Made in Sheffield' brand (much counterfeited in the past), Music, Beers & Arts. These also contribute to the idea of Sheffield as a 'Magnet City'. Developing and promoting these reputations and products should therefore increase the economy and inward investment.

Then we had David Slater, who made his fortune off building (what an emeritus professor of Urban Policy & Planning called) student warehousing in the St Vincent's district. He is now keen to see redevelopment of the Don Valley & Attercliffe, whilst changing it's designation to Sheffield East to avoid bad associations with sex industry and decay. This idea has since surfaced again in the Sheffield Star. I'm not sure that thousands of new family homes in one of the worst polluted districts in the city is an ideal solution to our housing problem but David Slater clearly sees money in it.

Later in the event, Chris Dymond of Sheffield Digital provided another revelation. Although I knew we had a thriving games & digital economy in the city he revealed that there were more than 14,000 jobs in this sector, providing 18% of the city's jobs, with high average salaries. On the down side however he also commented that each digital job was worth 5 traditional jobs to the economy and that in the next 20 years automation would take over some 20% of current jobs. This is something many of the Political Parties are failing to address in either their economic or education policies.

Bracketing Sheffield Digital were two contributions from Simon Green, Executive Director of the 'Place' portfolio, responsible for seven of the Councils directorates for business strategy, growth and regeneration. He addressed two issues, the Sheffield Retail Quarter (SRQ) and secondly the newly agreed Chinese inward investment to the city.

On the SRQ the big reveal was that Council, as the owners of the land and a now active development partner has listened, not only to it's own advisors but to the mood of the public (as expressed very well by the likes of Rupert Wood and the Alternative SRQ group, Nick Roscoe of Hallamshire Historic Buildings and others) by adapting the plans originally put forward, away from a single major shopping mall type project, to what is now termed a “retail led, mixed use scheme”.

It also appears that they will be respecting traditional street patterns and despite delays still maintain a healthy relationship with the key Major retailer in the City Centre, John Lewis. Changing shopping patterns have been a big reason for this change of mind, recognising the impact of internet shopping and the revelation (to them at least) that local independent shops are a major draw for increasing the spend in a city. Sheffield looking to be the first of the new, not the last of the old retail schemes.

Simon then talked about the inward investment expected from China. There was less to say here as the deal is very new but is basically contextualised by the changing face of inward investment from 'traditional' sources in USA and EU to newer Asiatic economies and investors. It may also be a way of private Chinese capital ameliorating their exposure to the weaknesses and risks of the Chinese economy. The initial information is that there will be £220M to be invested in 5 physical projects within the City & Region, both public and private. The first may well be announced within a matter of months. He highlighted that issues around the complexity of the British planning processes and finding projects that can be delivered in a timely manner are outstanding.

Further revelations were to appear later in the week, at the Sheffield City Council Cabinet Meeting on Wednesday. Regular readers will know that I am not averse to asking the occasional question at these meetings. Generally these questions are aimed at improving transparency in the way decisions are made or, sometimes, as a means of improving the lot for the City and Citizen.

Although I asked five questions at the meeting, only one would qualify as generating any revelation but a second revelation came after the meeting.

My first question was the revelatory moment: “It appears from a SY Police budget report that the force is utilising covert technology to capture data from the public's mobile phones without their consent.

"South Yorkshire Police report. A 2015/16 budget item called “IMSI Covert Communications” was earmarked £144,000. A separate line in the same budget – again called “CCDC” (covert communications data capture) – was allocated an identical amount: £144,000. South Yorkshire police confirmed that ‘CCDC’ and ‘IMSI Covert Communications’ are the same budget item." Quotation from Bristol Cable report.

Were Council aware of this system and it's use? Were the Council's representatives on the Police & Crime Panel aware of this system and it's use?”

The question was answered by Cllr Jackie Drayton (Cabinet Member for Children, Young People & Families) one of four Sheffield Councillors on the Police & Crime Panel. She admitted to not being aware of this matter, having recently being appointed to the PCP. She has promised to look into it and let me know. I find it quite disturbing that this technology can be implemented without, apparently, any knowledge within the City Council.

It illustrates, once again, the problems encountered by regularly changing committee members, caused mostly by the City's continued use of elections by thirds. Rather than all out elections. The latter would allow committee members to serve for four straight years gaining greater experience, rather than chopping and changing every year, leading to poor levels of quality scrutiny from our elected members.

The second revelation came after the meeting in a conversation with a Cabinet member who revealed the Council have decided to propose banning 'Fracking' on all Council owned land. This is not a total solution but, with the Council owning large tracts of land in the City (All parks, estates etc) this will go some way to hampering the companies that might wish to exploit this filthy and dangerous source of carbon based fuel.

A week of contrasts, good news and yet some concerning revelations. It is weeks like this that make me continue trying to make Sheffield decision making more transparent and simply better.


  1. Nice collection of information!

  2. Thanks Nigel. Very informative.

  3. Great to know they have moved in 21st century re shopping centre. This should make Sheffield's retail more resilient. Next problem is dealing with all the cars. Most of the cars in car park are workers not visitors. We need better public transport and cheaper. Attercliffe could be improved by doing similar scheme to Liverpool with old houses. Knocking two into one in some places and putting in good insulation, using apprentices or setting up cooperatives. Need good hard look at solving pollution before build lot new houses. First improve the buildings that are there. Bring in Greenery where possible. Green turf all the factory buildings which will cut flooding down a little but will help absorb pollution too. The way to get rid of sex shop reputation is move sex shops out not change name. Attercliffe is a very old community with fantastic history. Lets repair and restore the old buildings and celebrate its history. As the area improves the sex shops will go anyway.