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, 1 February 2018

Sheffield City Region Combined Authority Meeting 29th January 2018

The agenda for the meeting was all business and this suggested to me a timescale within the half hour. Not unusual for this increasingly pointless bit of theatre.

Before the meeting however, I was seated in the waiting area chatting with Nigel Brewster, Vice Chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership (the business end of the City Region) and a partner in the Brewster Pratap Recruitment Consultancy.

We were both bemoaning the pretence of the 'public' meeting and he expressed a concern that it made the Sheffield City Region political membership look like they either don't care or that all the decisions had already been made and this was nothing more than the public facing, so called, engagement. I agreed with this comment and that the meeting behind closed doors that takes place before the 'public' meeting was where any disagreements would be aired. For me this means that the Combined Authority are not serious about public engagement and indeed are trying to work around the 'problem' of people wanting to know what is going on.

I highlighted the fact that despite the turmoil around the devolution project in general and then the collapse of Carillion, neither of these items had made it to the agenda. Having to put questions to the meeting seven days in advance means that unexpected issues cannot be brought up for some seven weeks or more. Hardly a responsive or flexible public engagement strategy.

We were then called into the 'public' meeting. The chair was taken, for the first time officially, by Cllr Chris Read Leader of Rotherham elected last meeting to replace Barnsley's Cllr Steve Houghton. All the nine leaders appeared to be in place and the meeting began, once a missing Secretariat minute taker was back from his comfort break.

Items 1 to 6 on the agenda went past a brisk pace, they generally do being about voting rights, declarations of interest and exclusion of press & public items. Item 7 held a minor positive for active citizenry. In his brief time in the pre meeting mingling Nigel Brewster had clearly brought some of my comments to the attention of Cllr Julie Dore (Sheffield Leader) and, during this item on questions by members, she butted in before it was glossed over to ask a question, on my behalf about the impact of Carillion's collapse on the City Region. There was a bit of a stumble but, interestingly one of the Officers was able to respond that, fortunately, there were no outstanding contracts with Carillion within the City Region's remit. My thanks to both Nigel Brewster and Julie Dore for this helpful approach.

Beyond that the rest of the items on the agenda galloped by with a handful of approvals to previously prepared reports and the meeting closed after just 15 minutes.

Again the meeting came across as a piece of theatre and the lack of discussion or comment about the content of the reports being presented reinforces the appearance of a bureaucratic machine rather than a collaborative public authority. The unexpected response to the question at item 7 was illuminating, suggesting they can deal with questions at little or no notice if they wish to.

Next meeting is the 12th March 2018.

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