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, 20 July 2018

Cabinet Meeting 18th July 2018 - Public Q&A's

Sheffield City Council's Cabinet Meeting of the 18th July was somewhat more informative than many recent meetings and, as a result, I felt the responses to my questions are worth noting.

So here are the questions I asked and a condensed version of the answers I received.

Questions to Cabinet 18th July 2018

Q1 I've heard from a number of sources within Council that a procurement process has begun for the Webcasting of Council meetings and that a tender invitation will be sent out shortly. Is this the case?
If so, what are the details of the specification in the tender for a webcasting service?
Which meetings? Guarantees of independence from political interference? Indexing of agenda items and identification of participants? Archiving arrangements? Etc.

A1 Response from Cllr Olivia Blake (Cabinet Member for Finance) Commented that recent tests for recording meetings had shown the audio system was at the end of it's useful life. It has previously been agreed that any such service should be affordable within current budgets. Tenders were sent out asking for options to do this. Tenders have been received and are going through assessment process.

My Comment
This is generally good news, probably. I have been pressing for webcasting of Council meetings for six years or more and, despite a commitment from the Leader of Council, Julie Dore over two years ago it has been painfully slow progress. It is a shame the outline specs for the tender documents were not discussed more transparently, perhaps with those of us pressing for the service, hopefully the options that arise will be shared before decisions are made.

Q2 The changes to the public realm on Charter Row, at the back of the Debenhams store and the side of the new HSBC building, offered an opportunity to much improve that relatively sterile part of the city centre. Unfortunately, for some strange reason, the seating on the Debenhams side of the street faces the back wall of Debenhams rather than across the open space towards the new green spaces being created at the side of the HSBC building.
Why is this? Was this always the plan or a mistake?
Passing recently it is clear that most of the new planting in that area is dying due to lack of watering. Who is responsible for this space and the maintenance of the planting?

A2 Response from Cllr Mazher Iqbal (Cabinet Member for Business and Investment) He agreed the design might appear a bit odd at this stage but that further development in that area would make the layout make more sense. (I am promised an overview of the future look of the area at my next meeting with Cllr Iqbal). On concerns over the planting, the contractors have responded and will now be watering the planting once a week during this arid spell of weather.

Q3 In the last year or so I have heard the phrase Due Diligence on several occasions. It has been used in regard to many decisions made by Council, from the potential selling of the Central Library, the disposal of Mount Pleasant (where it was used a great deal) to the recently collapsed 'ofo' deal.
What has never been made clear is what Due Diligence actually means.
Can Council explain what the phrase means?
What steps are included in assessing due diligence?
What information is accessed and assessed?
Where is the information sourced?
Who/which department assesses the information?
What technical or other qualifications are expected of people in this decision making position?

Response by Cllr Julie Dore (Leader of the Council) Commenting that I was probably well aware what the term meant, she however explained that it is a generic term and about ensuring checks and balances are maintained for contracts etc. Such checks will always include financial and legal checks but can also include broader issues about ability to deliver on the contract or service. Normally the checks were carried out by qualified Council staff but they will use outside experts as necessary. Cllr Dore then asked if I had any particular decisions in mind?

I responded no but generally I felt it would be useful (& improve transparency) if reports to Cabinet etc. included information about the types of checks carried out not just the words 'due diligence'

She agreed to take that on board (I may need to follow that up with the Council's Chief Exec, John Mothersole)

Q4 Over the last couple of years the proposed fate of the Central Library has changed more than once. Sale to an outside investor, new building in the Heart of the City and now a revamp of the current location. What is the current situation with respect to the Central library and building?

A4 Response from Cllr Mary Lea (Cabinet Member for Culture, Parks and Leisure) Commenting that the Council were committed to the Central library building and to the Graves Art Gallery, she said there were to be a series of public events in the near future to look at what a new central library service might look like and where it might be situated. This might include the current location or a new building still within the city centre.

Generally a series of positive responses with actual outcomes on the horizon. Webcasting to become a reality? Improved openness about plans for the redevelopment around Charter Square. potential for more information in decision documents about what 'Due Diligence' means & public consultation (before the fact) on the future of the Central library sevrice.

It's good to get confirmation that what I do as an Active Citizen works.

To support my work click on the button below.

No comments:

Post a Comment