It’s Our City! Coordinating Group are delighted to announce that the final total of Sheffield People’s Petition signatures delivered to Sheffield City Council by 24th August is:
We estimate that we have had almost 20,000 conversations with Sheffielders in all their diversity, and across every ward in the city. The signatures on our legally binding petition are testament to the commitment we have to each other – all of us who live in Sheffield – and to more democratic governance under a modern committee system.
Thank you to all those who have asked questions, who have signed, who have got more informed, who have shared the petition, and who have encouraged neighbours, friends, family, workmates and others to sign – exercising our community rights is, and always has been, about all of us, making common cause across our differences. It’s a huge congratulations to all of us, in submitting the biggest ever petition of its kind in the country. We have received many messages of ‘well done Sheffield!’ from groups around the country, and who are watching us!
We would also like to thank the local politicians and political groupings from all parties, who have been in support or called for more democratic governance under a modern committee system. Many have recognised and respected the value and importance of an independent community network as an integral part of our local democracy.
The Council Response
Our Council has had a full year to respond positively to communities, their own CLPs, opposition parties and other stakeholders, and to decide to change their governance model themselves. It’s Our City! has repeatedly informed them that the petition is legally binding under the Localism Act and that it would be too late once the petition was delivered in August. We were so concerned at the lack of response, It’s Our City! triggered a full debate at Council in early July. However, the ruling group voted against change and, in effect, voted for the referendum route.
At that stage there were barely six weeks in which a change of mind was possible and this was known by everyone in full Council; this was subsequently reiterated in writing by It’s Our City! Since then a brief approach to our Co-Chair was made, but this was unclear and did not address the imminence of petition submission. Subsequently, the Leader appears to have been unavailable despite further efforts to make contact via our Co-Chair. It’s Our City! is not therefore in talks with the Leader; however, we understand there may now be a request via the Leader’s Office to meet with It’s Our City! in early September. We are unclear on the purpose of any talks we might have at the current moment, given we have now entered the legally mandated verification period for the change of governance petition.
The current political fallout within the Labour group is an internal matter. Many of the different versions of events will be designed to play to different labour factions and to attempt to assign blame. Ultimately this is a distraction from the real story. It reflects some of the reasons why so many Sheffielders have signed Sheffield People’s Petition. It puts on display the year-long refusal to respond positively and engage with the aspirations of Sheffield communities – even where the exercise of our community rights has legal force.
Democratic governance that Sheffielders deserve – the next steps
It’s Our City! cannot ‘negotiate’ away the demands of 26,419 citizens in a legally binding exercise of our community rights.
Sheffield City Council has simply left it too late, and there is no room for manoeuvre; it will now be Sheffield communities and voters who take charge of the way decisions are made in our city.
Sheffield needs an immediate cross-party commission and stakeholder involvement – plus, crucially, outside expert help – to prepare the system for change. There are resources, and national expertise available, via the Local Government Association (LGA) and Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) that we have been urging SCC to embrace – we know they are keen to help.
Almost 20,000 conversations across the city have begun to voice and explore a communities design brief for improved democratic governance in Sheffield:
- All elected councillors must play – and be seen to play – a meaningful role in open, transparent decision-making, with some influence
- Effective participation and partnerships – including listening to, and the use of experience/expertise – must be built into a modern committee system.
- Party politicking for the sake of it must reduce; cross-party working – for the good of Sheffielders – must improve, and be seen to improve. There should be a much greater emphasis on competence, and on agreements and consensus.
- A modern committee system must build in an attention to inequalities in our city; good governance can assist.
These are a starting point and begin to articulate an agenda against which Sheffield communities will hold our Council to account in the design and operation of a new, more democratic modern committee model of governance.
It’s Our City! Coordinating Group, 25th August 2019