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, 19 January 2018

Sheffield City Council Cabinet Meeting 17th January 2018

Cabinet Meetings are an opportunity to see the real power brokers in the city, the Council Cabinet making decisions. It is also an opportunity for members of the public to ask questions of those same decision makers.


This particular meeting was a bit of a sparse affair, with three Cabinet Members and the City's Chief Executive missing. Cllr Julie Dore (Leader), Cllr Jackie Drayton (Cabinet Member for Children, Young People & Families), Cllr Bryan Lodge (Cabinet Member for Environment and Streetscene). There was no explanation for their absences, there rarely is.

That did mean that my questions 4 & 5 would not get an answer as they would normally be referred to Cllr Lodge. I did have a vague hope that Cllr Olivia Blake (Cabinet Member for Finance) who was chairing the meeting in her role as Deputy Leader may have some comment on the financial enquiries in question 5 but it was not to be.

Below are the questions I asked at this meeting and the responses I received, with some editorial comment from me along the way.


Question 1

Why did the city miss the opportunity to bid for money to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the women's suffrage movement?

We were one of 16 candidates invited to apply for a share of a £1.2M pot but chose not to apply, was any consideration given to this opportunity or any discussion had with heritage groups in the city to assist in a possible bid?

I supported this question with copies of correspondence between Louise Haigh MP (Sheffield Heeley) and the Government Equalities Office.

The question was answered by Cllr Mary Lea (Cabinet Member for Culture, Parks and Leisure). She commented that the Council had been unable to find any evidence of a letter inviting them to bid for the grant pot but they would continue to look. She agreed it was unfortunate that the opportunity was missed. Pointed out that there was a plaques to the Suffragette movement on Marlborough Road and a new one was to be placed this year on Chapel Walk. She also commented on all the things the city did to celebrate Sheffield women, including the recent 'Women of Steel' statue. There was also comment on the exhibition about protest in the Millennium Gallery organised by the Museums Trust. (anyone might think she had seen my Q7)

Finally she mentioned the smaller grants now available to community groups and encouraged any groups interested to bid for funds to celebrate the centenary


Question 2

Living just off London Road I have completed the survey into the possibility of selective licensing for the area. Has Council given any thought to a city wide licensing scheme for private landlords?

It would seem this would have the benefit of ensuring all landlords are working to the same minimum standards and would not impinge on the businesses of decent landlords. It would also have the benefit that costs of licenses could be reduced, making more landlords able to afford any needed improvements whilst not unfairly impacting on those who already meet eh minimum standards?

This was answered by Cllr Jayne Dunn (Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety) who responded that the limits on selective licensing were set by central government at 20% of geography or of the city's private rental stock. Council therefore concentrated on identifying the most at risk areas of the city to tackle with these powers. (this might be a matter for the local renters campaign Acorn to take up at a national level as well as locally, though I may follow up to see whether any work arounds are available)


Question 3

When I first planned this question it was to ask whether the Council had made any contingencies for the potential collapse of Carrilion. Circumstances have overtaken that and now my question is what exposure does the city have in respect of this major outsourcing company collapsing?

What impact will this have on the Tram / Train project? The Lower Don Valley flood defence project? And the 250 jobs at the Carillion Call Centre in the City?

In addition is the Council aware of how many local companies may be impacted as part of the 30,000 small businesses owed money by the company?

This was answered first by Cllr Olivia Blake. She was able to clarify that all Carrilion contracts with the city were complete, including the flood defence work. She had no knowledge how the Call Centre might be affected but that they were keeping an eye out for any local businesses that may be impacted by the collapse.

Cllr Jack Scott (Cabinet Member for Transport and Sustainability) answered the part about the Tram/Train project. He stated that the Council's part of this project was complete and the remaining Carillion contract was with Network Rail. Work appeared to be continuing and Network Rail and the Department for Transport were in negotiations over the impact of the collapse.


Questions 4 & 5

As I stated before these would have been referred to Cllr Bryan Lodge who was absent. I will therefore update on these if I ever get the promised written response.


Before moving on to the final two questions I would like to proffer an observation. It was at this point in the meeting that the Councillors present moved into professional politician mode. They appeared to shrug off their humanity in favour of party unity. No doubt they justify this as supporting the greater good but to me it appears cynical and dehumanising to the Councillors involved. The fact is they supported a rapacious multinational conglomerate over the people of the city who, particularly as Cabinet Members, they are charged with representing.


Question 6

It was disturbing to see a Cabinet member sharing a propaganda video from AMEY PLC entitled “The Protestors Have No Respect For Democracy”.

This from a company that denies public oversight of the contract they are being paid £2.2Bn to implement over 25 years, though apparently we'll now be paying the bill for 45 years, and who have consistently flouted industry good practice and H&S protocols in doing so. This professionally produced and extremely selective view of the trees issue, apparently made with the connivance of the Council, makes unsubstantiated allegations about the conduct of protestors, neither of which incidents resulted in arrests and appear to use SCC evidence footage. There is also a claim that masked people in headlamps are out on the streets causing concern. Are we sure these aren't AMEY subcontractors stalking the streets for unprotected trees at 4am?

Can Council confirm whether footage taken by Council under the Council's internal evidence protocol were used in this video?

If so, who authorised that use?

This was answered by Cllr Jack Scott, being the Cabinet Member that shared the video on Twitter. His response fell into three repetitions. It is not propaganda just another point of view, it is entirely truthful, it has been quite rightly been shared by lots of Councillors. (well the video, as it's original upload on YouTube shows, has been seen just over 700 times, liked once & disliked 31 times. I cannot find anyone else from Council having shared it, certainly not his Cabinet colleagues, his own tweet has been shared only 5 times and liked only twice. There are 50 comments on the tweet, mostly from STAG members taking Cllr Scott to task. Interestingly, the title of the video has now been changed to 'A Residents' View')

Cllr Olivia Blake answered the last point, stating that no SCC evidence material had been used in the video. (Interestingly Council's head of Highways, Paul Billington was in attendance for the Public Questions leaving immediately afterwards. Wonder if he was there to ensure Councillors stuck to the script?)


Question 7

Recent events and the fact that this week included Martin Luther King Day, reminded me of a quote from that great advocate of peaceful protest; “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” MLK I Have a Dream, 1963 The silence from this Council over the violence and unlawful behaviour of security staff employed by it's Streets Ahead contractor is shameful and for women Councillors to remain silent in the face of violence to women is unbelievably so.

I have always tried to work for positive outcomes for this city and have been grateful for the Council's support on various issues, even though we may disagree how to achieve the best results. I have included photos to show the casual abuse of which I speak and ask that you speak out. Any comment?

This was answered by Cllr Olivia Blake who delivered what was clearly a pre-prepared legal statement about reporting incidents of violence to the Police and so on and so forth. (No comment or apparent understanding of why this sort of response is both distasteful or morally dubious. This despite having photographic evidence of the casual abuse being inflicted on peaceful protestors, including women, every day the contractor is on the streets.)


So, a curate's egg of a Public Questions session. Good in parts with some clear answers. In other parts it was rotten to the core as Councillors ditched their humanity to present a united front. There is something broken about this approach and whilst the good needs support the bad needs challenge.


3 comments:

  1. The pot was around £7m in all of which Sheffield could have had up to £1.2m. It would have been good to reacquaint people especially the women of the city with the great female activists who changed the Nation and the world especially as so few women are registering to vote these days, but also because we need to stop thinking of Sheffield as a cultural and political backwater.

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  2. Thanks for this informative report Nigel. " Councillors ditched their humanity to present a united front." Please can you make clear you are not referring to the Green Councillors here!

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    1. I am referring only to Cabinet Councillors

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