Signatures

Last weekend we collected several hundred more signatures, notably at Stannington Gala, Beighton Festival, Dore Scout and Guide Gala, and Woodseats Community Festival. We are now getting close to 21.5k signatures….

We continue to collect more, beyond the minimum number required – to account for the (inevitable/unknown) rejection rate (though we work hard to ensure that ineligible signatures are minimised), and to keep informing voters across the city. Signers have been as friendly and interested as usual, and lots thank us for the job we are voluntarily doing for Sheffield communities and for better, more democratic governance in our city.

Please keep Sheffield People’s Petition live – and do continue to encourage people to sign and share!

Coming up this weekend……Tramlines!!!

Both Saturday and Sunday our volunteers will be circulating at both Hillsborough and city centre locations (Peace Gardens, Barkers Pool, Devonshire Green). It’s still possible for you to join in and give us a boost to keep talking to Sheffielders and get their signatures!

Submissions…..We are formally submitting signatures in batches, in line with the processes we agreed with SCC Democratic Services. Thanks to the volunteers helping with this. The final submission date (12 months since we started) is August 23rd. As we told councillors in the full Council debate (see below), we intend to knock the verification figure out of the park (and then Sheffield voters just just need to finish off the job in a city-wide vote). We also wrote to the Deputy Leader (copied to opposition leaders) about this: https://www.itsoursheffield.co.uk/ioc-letter-to-council-10th-july-2019-for-website-news/

Council debate….. by submitting the first batch of 7000+ online signatures of the Sheffield People’s Petition in early June we triggered a Full Council debate on 3rdJuly. In this, we called on the Council to pass a (cross party proposed) motion to change to a committee system, as this was the last timetabled opportunity for the Council to avoid costs associated with a referendum. Once valid signatures submitted meet the verification number (20,092), this council will no longer have a choice – a referendum will be statutorily required.

Various BBC radio clips, plus the full debate on the day, can be seen here: https://www.itsoursheffield.co.uk/news-3rd-july-2019/

Many councillors spoke in full support but contributions from the ruling group in Council were, at best, mixed. However, change to a committee system was never party political; we know that some local Labour constituency parties are for the change, and certainly several thousand Labour supporters have signed the petition too.

Some contributions in the debate harked back to the ‘old’ committee system, which has little relevance here in moving forward to a modern committee system. We had hoped that council members would have, at the very least, informed themselves over the last year of the latest thinking about local governance, but latterly we became concerned that this was very far from the case. Just prior to the debate, we took the liberty of emailing all councillors highlighting four relevant documents for their information, and also offered longer reading lists.
Sillett, J. (2014) ‘Changing to a committee system in a new era.’ LGIU Policy Briefing. Available at: https://www.lgiu.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Changing-to-a-committee-system-in-a-new-era.pdf [Accessed 10.6.18]
LGA/CfPS (2014) Rethinking Governance: practical steps for councils considering changes to their governance arrangements. London: LGA. Available at: https://www.cfps.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Rethinking-Governance.pdf [Accessed 12.6.18]
CfPS (2012) Musical Chairs: practical issues in changing to a committee system. London: CfPS. Available at: https://www.cfps.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Musical-Chairs.pdf [Accessed 10.6.18] [This is an earlier, though very practical document, to the one above]

Hammond, E. (2019) ‘Governance, culture and collaboration. The governance implications of moving to a “community paradigm” of local government.’ CfPS Discussion Paper, May 2019. Available at: https://www.cfps.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Governance-and-Culture-2019.pdf [Accessed 2.6.19] [This paper reflects mainstream, up-to-date thinking about governance.]

The kind of local governance we have in Sheffield is firmly in the hands of local communities/voters – some councillors seem not to fully grasp this. And, when put to a vote in other places, no local electorate has voted to retain the ‘strong leader’. The points made in the debate about strong leader vs committee systems were all well and good, but they were pretty basic, opening kind of comments. Collective knowledge/thinking in Council could, and should, be much, much further on than this by now.

Furthermore, there is good practice guidance, national expertise, and potential funding available, to support council governance change – this is significant and complex constitutional change, with all that implies. But Local Government Association (LGA) and Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) support can’t be forced on councils; they do have to invite it. Some might say we have seen this before in the council – they seem to have a difficulty in reaching out to those with expertise, in roles, and with resources, that could be of great assistance. For what it’s worth, the CfPS view is that it’s almost inconceivable that a referendum to change to a committee system will be lost.

Outcome….The outcome of the Council debate was rather strange. There was some confusion in the Chamber, which led to a recess being called; it seems this was needed so the ruling group could have a discussion. On return, various motions were proposed and voted on.

One was to change to a committee system and another called for an emergency council meeting later this month to debate the change – these Opposition motions fell.

The motion proposed by the Deputy Leader (Cllr Olivia Blake) was to refer the issue to herself, for discussion with others, including cross-party, and to return with a report to Council within six months!!! This motion passed, to some general confusion. In six months time – whether or not to have a referendum on a change of governance will be a question long settled, report or not, the petition will have been submitted and their legal obligations will need to be in motion.

Perhaps it’s best not to speculate. What we know, as of now, is that there remains a very final small window (14 days at time of writing if councillors are to have their usual August break) within which the council could still choose to vote for change to a committee system.

We welcomed that the Deputy Leader in these last few weeks has had a focused and more productive discussion with us. However, overall (including in a motion in June 2018, proposed by opposition parties, to change to a committee system) the current leadership/Cabinet has rejected the change that Sheffielders are signing for. It’s a sobering reflection that, even with the legal force of our community rights enshrined in the Localism Act, it appears very difficult for this particular council to listen and shift – what chance all those without legal back up then?

A final comment is worthwhile: Change to a committee system is not something that can be ‘sorted out’ by a few people behind closed doors. All the national expertise and guidance insists the process of change must involve a full range of stakeholders (normally including backbench and opposition councillors, senior council officers, a range of external stakeholders, communities and so on) from the first stage. The development of design principles for a new committee system (before the technical design task) is not the prerogative of a small one-party group behind closed doors. There is no off-the-shelf solution, and the committee system will, and should, be tailored to the aspirations of our city. This council now needs to ‘dig deep’ and grasp its proper stewardship role (beyond narrow party interests), call in the national expertise/support waiting on the sidelines, and develop an inclusive and productive process that will lead to a design framework for a new, sustainable, modern committee system.