Dear Kate

This is a follow up to the short teams meeting with you and Gillian Duckworth recently.  It’s always helpful to know in advance if there are particular items you would like to cover or hear from us on, but you said there were not – we are mindful of the best use of your time (and ours).  By default, I think we expected to be brought up to date and much more on board with early council thinking, strategy and processes for change. 

On asking, we did learn that Gillian might be some sort of lead, that the council is talking to some external people (‘experts’), and that there is some notion of a councillor group (but possibly not OSMC).  (On this latter, I was told a couple of days later that this will be chairs and deputy chairs of the proposed transition committees – perhaps this was not known at the time we spoke?)  We asked when community and stakeholder agendas were going to be engaged with, including at design stage – the response was not clear.  There was also some talk of ‘moving on’.  In addition, I pointed you in the direction of the news item we posted in the aftermath of the referendum result: https://www.itsoursheffield.co.uk/what-happens-now-ten-things-to-look-for-after-sheffields-referendum/

So, this felt a rather strange meeting to us in the context of the resounding referendum win, though we appreciate it was very short and rushed.  Perhaps we can be clear in response:

  1. We would like to hear about the central and powerful role that Sheffield communities and stakeholders will now be playing in helping shape the democratic future of city governance, in polity-building, towards the rewrite of our council constitution under the new model, and as full and collaborative participants.  (The process of change is certainly not, nor reducible to, a technocratic – or party political brokering – exercise.) 

    With citizens and communities having initiated, researched, led, developed, networked, informed, delivered and resoundingly won the referendum, this claim to working on at least an equal footing, and with demonstrable impact, is a very moderate one.

    It’s Our City! are just one among many who might take part.  Sheffield also has considerable relevant community expertise – including some national and international leaders in their field).

  2. Given the history and anti-change stance of some who continue in positions of power there is obviously a serious problem of credibility and legitimacy in the political leadership of (governance model) change.  It is clearly challenging for those who refused to listen, engage and respond over a long period, who spread misinformation, and who consistently attempted to deflect or marginalise citizen governance agendas (the Big City Conversation and, to some extent, the introduction of the LACs are two examples) to now present themselves as realistic or believable agents of change.  (And we are also mindful of how some senior officers have been caught up or seen to be implicated in some difficult history.)  However, we acknowledge that it is certainly possible for the council to demonstrate it is able to ‘move on’, in how it now seeks to proceed i.e. in the actions that it takes.    

    In this light, and as coordinators of the campaign for change (the biggest of its kind anywhere), we are surprised to have not yet heard directly from the new Leader and/or Deputy Leader of the Council about – and to visibly begin to demonstrate – a new and different approach.   This is also, in part, why we continue to emphasise an independent-led and supported process (with stakeholders on at least an equal footing) as one very clear and recognisable way in which the political leadership can visibly acknowledge and positively respond to its longstanding position obstructing change.  

  3. We are pleased to hear you are talking to Ed Hammond at the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (CfGS) as this was rejected previously by the ruling group who stated they “wanted to keep control of the process”.  Whilst we know that CfGS do not really integrate an understanding of the importance of, or citizen aspirations for, democratic local governance (that we know is vital to Sheffield citizens and communities), they certainly are the key local authority-oriented support body.  And, in the work they do they place an emphasis at the outset on the importance of thinking about and engaging with questions of values, meanings and purposes from a full range of stakeholders.  We look forward to this early emphasis and the development of shared thinking involved, particularly as communities and stakeholders have not yet been listened to on the issues and substance relating to local governance change.

In the aftermath of the referendum result, the council as a whole has a short window of opportunity to make change, to proceed differently, and to design and develop a modern committee system that demonstrably responds to and integrates citizen and community agendas (alongside others).  ‘Business as usual’ is clearly not an option and we are glad the council and its political leadership has an opportunity to demonstrate through its actions that it understands the need to proceed differently  and that it can ‘move on’.   We – and many others – remain willing to contribute to shaping the strategy and to a meaningful process of change.  We confirm we are happy to pass on as many relevant contacts as might be supportive, or provide expert input, for different purposes.

We know you were rushing at the end of our short meeting but your parting offer of “another quick update before the summer” does not really respect, nor measure up to, the work and achievement of Sheffield citizens and communities in our change of governance referendum.  We propose an initial, substantive (‘de-brief’) reflection and discussion following the referendum, to include representatives of the political leadership of all the political parties, with appropriate senior council officers, and with at least a handful of core community stakeholders involved in the campaign for change.  (Of course we recognise that you may also be having a range of other discussions too.)    We are happy to draw up a draft suggested agenda for this as appropriate, and we suggest we aim for early July for a meeting?

Thank you and best wishes

Ruth Hubbard and Woll Newall

(on behalf of the It’s Our City! Coordinating Group)

Cc Gillian Duckworth (Head of Legal and Governance), Ed Hammond (CfGS), Cllrs Terry Fox and Julie Grocutt (Leader and Deputy Leader), Cllr Douglas Johnson (Leader, Greens), Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed (Leader, Lib Dems), Cllr Lewis Chinchen (Conservative),  It’s Our City! network and website