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.

Friday, 29 June 2018

It's Our City & We Can Change It

28th June 2018. This may be a date you want to remember. It's the date that Sheffield community group 'It's Our City' decided that enough is enough.

The group held a news conference on this day and launched a major challenge to the way Sheffield is governed. Anne Barr, one of the group's steering group started the event talking about how sad she felt when, attending a recent rally in the city, she saw a banner reading “Sheffield – Where Democracy Goes to Die”.

She went on to comment that, as a group they were trying to make a city where people can;
- Think, talk & work together.
- Become active & informed citizens.
- Ask for more from elected representatives.

Although originally growing out of the Streets Ahead PFI issue they are also looking at the way decisions are made locally & are impacting on broader community concerns. From the redevelopment and selling off of community assets (heritage buildings & community hubs) to missed opportunities and funding by simply failing to listen to the communities.

Then to the reason for the gathering. Ruth Hubbard, another of the group's steering committee, announced that they were planning to bring forward a petition demanding a change to the way the city is governed.

Sheffield is currently governed by a 'Strong Leader' model and that means that decisions about how the city works is made by just 10 people. The Leader of the Council and the Cabinet (currently 9 members). Elected Councillors beyond this inner group therefore have little or no power, irrespective of their Party colours. There is, however, power available to citizens of the city to remedy this situation. In the Localism legislation brought in under the Coalition Government there is a mechanism where a Council's electorate can force a referendum on changing the Council's structure.

In Sheffield this would mean forcing the Council to adopt a form of Committee governance, rather than the strong leader structure. It's actually a simple process too. The Group will create a petition under this localism legislation and, provided enough people on the city's electoral roll sign the petition, the Council has no choice but to hold a referendum on the change.

I won't go into what that will affect at this stage, that will come out over time as the petition is launched and campaigning begins. The first obstacle is to collect more than 5% of the electorates signatures. This number is not exact as yet but is expected to be around 21,000. This is the next step for the group and they hope to launch the petition in the next few weeks.

It sounds a big number but the petition to try and save the Georgian shops on Devonshire Green gained over 20,000 in a few days, so it is eminently achievable. There would still be a referendum to be won but in Councils where this has been undertaken that has also proved a winner.

My hope is that the Council will, as has happened with other Councils, choose to engage with this issue and simply agree to a real conversation about the issue and deliver a choice in a referendum at the next elections in May 2019.

Click here for It's Our City Website
Click here for It's Our City News Page

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