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, 4 January 2018

SCC Full Council Meeting 3rd January 2018

New Year has passed but the 3rd of January brought the first Full Council meeting of 2018 for Sheffield City Council.

As usual I had some questions to ask and, as this meeting also saw the presentation of the Annual Report by the Director of Public Health, Greg Fell, my main questions were about some of the issues that raised. I also had time to drop in a question on the Streets Ahead contract. The questions are detailed below and the answers follow each one.

Questions to Full Council 3rd January 2018

Q1   Having read the Director of Public Health's annual report I would like to register a couple of requests and one concern to Council.

One, I applaud the general move towards a preventative consideration in respect to mental health issues and, as part of that, I would draw additional attention to the 10 ways to improve mental wellbeing on page 65, particularly number 9. I would ask that Council pay keen attention to this comment and ask for advice on how to achieve this aim in cases where policy and neighbourhood needs are in conflict. I obviously refer to the Streets Ahead issues in parts of the city where the response of the Council and it's contractor is almost entirely without humanity and is having impacts on local people's mental health, including that of local children.

Two, as part of the proposed review of mental health services, I ask that Council and CCG look at a broader range of therapies being available to those facing mental health challenges. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is currently used as a one size fits all talking therapy solution to most cases presenting at GP surgeries. This therapy is useful for some people some of the time but is not a panacea. More person based therapies are needed to ensure people presenting with mental health issues are provided with the right care for them. The use of CBT is largely down to simplicity and cost (maximum 6 sessions in one round of treatment) for GPs and providers, this is a short term issue (50% efficacy) set against the long term costs of unsuitable therapy for both the individuals concerned and the health services.

Finally one concern, across the whole range of public health issues we are faced with the inevitability that, much of a person's health is connected to their occupation or lack of one. Having been at the DPH presentation to the Sheffield City Partnership Board and having since had the opportunity to chat in more detail with the Director I have, I'm afraid, added extra problems for him to contend with. The issues around public health and the advance of automation and digitisation in the workplace. We already have a seeming gap of 20% of the working age population who are neither employed nor registered unemployed. Latest predictions are that this will accelerate and progress to 85% of current jobs being lost in the next couple of decades. Forecasts and policies currently being produced by city institutions fail to tackle this issue at this time. Whilst in politics you tend to look little further than the next election but I believe it is important to start the planning for this issue now or the DPH will be faced with a tidal wave of physical & mental health issues created by people cast onto a scrap heap and failed by the limited impact available from economic growth and skills policies. Will Council therefore undertake to consult on this issue and look at developing a joined up policy across all the relevant communities and institutions?

This question was answered by Councillor Cate McDonald, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care. She commented that this was a largely philosophical question and felt the first two points I made did not need an answer as such but assured me she took my comments on board. In actuality I was hoping for at least some comment as to the Council's willingness to tackle these real issues.

On the third point, my concern over a lack of interest in the potential repercussions of predicted automation on jobs and therefore people's health, Cllr McDonald essentially chose not to believe the issue was imminent. She did not agree that if a job can be automated it will be and that if automation was impacting on the economy now we would expect to see productivity rising rather than stalled. This of course ignores the fact that low productivity is already being commented upon as the result of the downward pressure on wages making people less likely to be able to put in the effort needed to increase personal productivity. I guess I shall have to follow this matter up as well and provide some of the evidence to back it up, though it would be better if I could be confident they would bother to read the evidence with an open mind.

Q2   With the New Year, The Streets Ahead contract has moved from the initial 'Investment' phase into the 'Maintenance' phase. It would seem an appropriate time to assess the contracts success so far. As a Council that values transparency and accountability I'm sure you will be keen to provide the public with enough information to ensure we can be confident in the future of the contract. Therefore;

When & where will Council publish the full list of 'Key Performance Indicators' for the contract and details of the contractor's performance against those KPIs?

This question was answered by Councillor Bryan Lodge, Cabinet Member for Environment and Streetscene. Cllr Lodge started by arguing semantics, we were not moving in to a maintenance phase but a Lifecycle Investment phase and we had just finished the Core Investment phase. Having distracted in this way he also told me that the success of the last five years would not be measured by KPIs but by Milestones. The performance against these milestiones is currently being gathered and will be checked by an independent assessor. As part of his answer Cllr Lodge also seems to have moved the goal posts yet again. In September I asked about the streets still awaiting resurfacing under this core investment part of the contract. Cllr Lodge indicated that about 100 miles was still in need of resurfacing to meet the 70% 'milestone'. In this meeting he suggested that the expected resurfacing would be within the target of 60 to 70% of roads resurfaced. A very different target. Other KPIs are supposed to be reported on the Council's website and Cllr Lodge has promised a link. A member of the public who was in the gallery for the meeting, David Glass, has been kind enough to share his recording of this last question, thank you David. Link to Video

So, the first meeting of the year is past but many more still to come. Will transparency and accountability improve? Will webcasting ever arrive? (more tests were being carried out during yesterday's meeting) Only time will tell.


  1. As a trained Counsellor, admittedly a long time ago I do not understand this use of cognitive behavioural therapy as it is only useful in a very narrow band of conditions and even there I have my doubts. Many people suffering from neurosis will get better without any drastic intervention. Research found that in case of neurosis basically someone friendly to talk to is all that's needed. In the case of more severe depression then psychiatric assistance is needed. It is said that Cognitive Behavioural therapy is useful in Obsessive Compulsive Disorders. Having had a relative with temporary psychosis who some well meaning counselling service tried to treat with CBT the result there was an even more distressed person.

    Re increased mechanization and lack of jobs it is already happening. I went down to pound shop on Angel Street and all tills are automatic. The shop is run by a security guard and a shelf stacker. According to research elsewhere these automated shops have had huge rise in shoplifting.

    But I think healthwise it is always about whether you feel you matter and present Council attitudes don't help. True consultations where people can actually change decisions made would go along way to helping people have a feeling of self worth.

  2. Is there any quality control for the Streets Ahead contract?
    Julie Dore suggested on Toby Foster show that people should cobtact the council about problems they see so Amey can be held to account. Surely there should be a quality management procedure in pkace rather than leaving it to the public to report?