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.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

SCRMCA Meeting 30th July 2018

For those unaware of the change of status, Sheffield City Region Combined Authority has now added an M to it's acronym for the Mayor, and will now be known as Sheffield City Region Mayoral Combined Authority. A hell of a mouthful therefore locally is often known simply as the Sheffield City Region or SCR.

Regular readers will know that I attend these meetings as often as I can. Initially this was to understand the devolution deal we have had foisted upon us and trying to improve transparency and accountability in this decision making body that spends many Millions on our behalf.

At the meeting on Monday 30th July, I asked three questions of the Mayor. Since his election in May, he is now Chair of the Combined Authority and runs the meetings. In an interesting departure, Mayor Jarvis approached me before the meeting started to let me know that he would be inviting me to ask the questions myself. Previously this was not the case and Chairs simply responded to the questions.

This approach always bothered me as it does not allow for the nuance of a spoken question, frustration, anger, encouragement etc. to impact on the response from the Mayor or Chair. This has led to misunderstandings in the past and I view this as a positive start to a more responsive approach to public engagement. Indeed pubic engagement was the subject of my first two questions and the responses were equally encouraging of a more proactive mood in the CA.

Question 1 asked;

As an often solo member of the public at the current meetings of the CA in this location, (Advanced Manufacturing Park at Waverley/Catcliffe) would it be too early to suppose that the approval of capital works at the CA's Broad Street West offices is a prelude to the CA meetings being consolidated in that location?

The Mayor's response was that transparency & accountability were integral to his approach for the CA and the Mayor's Office and that, after the changes being made at Broad St West, the meetings of the CA will indeed be moved to that building.

Question 2 asked;

Noting that the inclusion in these plans for webcasting facilities at Broad Street West is, hopefully, a major positive for public engagement with the authority, what other steps is the Mayor considering for improving public understanding and engagement with the ongoing, if stalled, devolution process?

The wording was quite careful in this response, indicating that the plan was to webcast meetings from Broad St West but that this would not be the only change to public engagement as he was keen this should be a hallmark of the CA and the Mayor's role. In his response to the question he also emphasised that his office would use all the means available to improve public engagement, including social media. (In an afterword at the end of the meeting he also commented that this did not mean meetings cannot be held in other parts of the Region and that having webcasting facilities in place in other locations would facilitate this and further improve public engagement)

This is all very encouraging to hear and I will continue to move for more responsive public involvement within the meetings. The need to submit questions 7 days in advance can be detrimental to accountability, particularly if matters arise during that run up to the meeting that deserve an urgent response. This may well be an issue for future questions.

Finally in Question 3 I asked;

With the Government continuing to vacillate over whether or not to engage with a 'Yorkshire Devolution' process, how will this impact on the Mayor's discussions about the completion of the Sheffield City region 'deal'?

The response to this was much more 'politic' in content, simply suggesting that he is continuing to make representation to all Leaders in the Region and further afield to fulfil the devolution agenda and press for a wider 'Yorkshire' solution. (I don't blame the Mayor for being careful with this response, he has two apparently uncompromising Councils to deal with already, he will not be wanting to create any more 'issues')

So, all in all, a useful public question session. The meeting itself, for me, still seems a very theatrical affair, where decisions already discussed are rubber stamped, rather than seeing anything of the cut and thrust of the debate around them. All the reports were approved without issue and barely any comments or questions from the other elected leaders around the table.

I look forward to the Mayor's commitment to a more open approach having a positive impact as time goes on.

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