Confirmation of petition ’Verification Number’

We have received confirmation of the ‘Verification Number’ from the Democratic Services department at Sheffield City Council. The ‘Verification Number’ (defined in the legislation) is the number of signatures needed on the petition to force the Council to hold a referendum on making our Council more democratic.

To quote the council: “The minimum number of signatures (equivalent to 5% of the City’s local government electorate) is 20,956”.

EVENT – How do we do this? Come and help shape Sheffield’s future this Saturday 7th July

You may be aware that last week we threw down the gauntlet and announced our intention to end the Strong Leader model of governance in Sheffield City Council. Under the Localism Act 2011 – we have the power!

While many are eager to sign already, we estimate around 22,000 signatures of registered voters are required to trigger a referendum, so how are we going to get them?

How are we going to get the message out to disengaged communities? How are we going to win the final referendum? A daunting but exciting challenge!

It’s Our City! is a community-led organisation and so this event is being held to encourage your participation. We need an action plan, we need to find out our communities knowledge and talents and we need your ideas.

No matter how little you can offer, all efforts are welcomed, or just come and find out some more and meet the gang.

Meet at the area in Endcliffe Park that holds the Folk Forest during Tramlines. i.e. from the park entrance at the roundabout, take the path that would lead to the right side of the river and we’ll be in a little sunny glade. Kids of all ages welcome.

Please check out the event page for more details here

Community group to mount challenge to change how Sheffield Council makes key decisions – The Star 28/06/2018

 

Committed campaigners will launch a petition in the hope of changing the way decisions are made by Sheffield Council.

Members of It’s Our City – which they define as a ‘community-led network of Sheffield residents’ – are hoping to gather the required number of signatures to trigger a referendum on the model of governance at Sheffield Town Hall. 

The full article can be found here

PRESS RELEASE 28TH JUNE 2018

SHEFFIELD COMMUNITIES GIVE NOTICE:  NO MORE ‘STRONG LEADER’

Today, It’s Our City! heralds the end of Sheffield City Council’s undemocratic, ‘strong leader’ model.  It’s Our City!, with communities in Sheffield, under the community rights enshrined in the Localism Act 2011, announce their intention to petition Sheffield City Council to adopt a reformed Committee style of governance.  When 5% of voters in Sheffield have signed the petition, this will result in a city-wide referendum on making the Council more democratic, accountable and efficient.

All over Sheffield, citizens, communities and organisations are disappointed with their Council and fed up by the way their city is being run. Sheffield’s local election results in May 2018 saw significant losses for the ruling Labour administration, as well as a lack of enthusiasm for Labour incumbents, who got a turnout of only an average of 27% in the wards they held on to, compared to 37% in opposition-winning wards.  Some of our councillors are listening – It’s Our City! was very pleased that, at the first full Council Meeting of the year on 6th June, some opposition councillors showed their support for one of It’s Our City!’s pledges and proposed an investigation into making the Council more democratic.  Unfortunately, the weakened ruling Labour administration cut off any debate on this important subject, by changing the motion to be discussed, to one that said they think there are no problems with the current system.

It’s Our City! say now is the time for communities to step in and make the difference they want to see.  The Localism Act 2011 empowers citizens to effect change.  The campaign to get signatures from 5% of the verified electorate starts here – It’s Our City! are confident that people across Sheffield will enthusiastically sign a petition for change and will subsequently vote in droves to end the ‘strong leader’ model of governance in Sheffield and commence the process of revitalising our local democracy.

 

Background

The current model of governance in Sheffield is what is known as a ‘strong leader’ model.  It consists of a Leader plus her self-selected Cabinet of nine councillors who make all key decisions to run the city. Critics of the ‘strong leader’ model believe that, in reality, it means the vast majority of voters vote for elected representatives who do not have a voice.  88% of our councillors are excluded from the Cabinet, so have little or no say in the running of our council, and all of Sheffield’s Labour councillors are ordered how to vote by the Leader, under threat of suspension, so preventing them from representing their wards properly.  The ‘strong leader’ system is also criticised for leaving power in the hands of too few; members of the cabinet are obligated to the leader who appoints them; of too many decisions made behind closed doors; a lack of proper representation for voters across and in Sheffield’s case, an increasingly authoritarian Council that has lost the trust of its voters.

Since the Localism Act of 2011 councils do not have to run under a ‘strong leader’.  Some, like Reading, Sutton, Nottinghamshire, Kent, Norfolk, and Brighton and Hove have chosen to return to Committee-type structures, with many more examining the potential for change.  They have done this in the interest of more democracy, more transparency and a desire to work more collaboratively across different political parties and with local communities. Committee governance arrangements give all councillors responsibility instead of cutting them out of the equation.

In some areas where such petitions have been proposed, enlightened councils have decided to move to new committee-based systems before the petitions have been presented.  Following successful petitions of 5% of the local electorate, two areas – Fylde Borough Council and West Dorset District Council – were compelled to hold referenda.  In both areas, residents voted with strong majorities to approve the change to new revitalised committee structures with more open governance.  However, this referendum, where local voters are mobilising for changing the Council of a city as large as Sheffield, will be an historic event.

 

The Benefits for Sheffield

More than ever, working together has become vital.  As a city hit by de-industrialisation, recessions and austerity, people in Sheffield instinctively know this, but see their Council sticking to the old model of tribal party politics and an increasingly isolated and authoritarian approach which is the opposite of what is needed.  Many of the councils that have changed, using a variety of updated governance arrangements also involve residents and other organisations more extensively in their decision making processes.  Indeed, many argue, a different and more open local political culture is exactly what is needed to address the difficulties of austerity and cuts to council budgets.

Through holding public meetings, and talking to voters – of all hues – across the city during the local election campaign this year, It’s Our City! has found that communities in Sheffield want to see a transformation of the relationship between the Council and the people they serve.  People are shocked to realise the extent to which their local councillors are unable to represent residents properly, are appalled at the tribalism of local party politics and see an increasingly top-down and authoritarian authority who need to be reminded who serves who.  The so-called ‘strong leader’ simply offends Sheffield’s sense of fairness, community, collaboration and diversity – it is a poor ‘fit’.

 

A Case in Point

It’s Our City!’s discussions with communities across Sheffield has revealed widespread dissatisfaction with the failures of our Council, but many of these failures never see the light of day.  However, the StreetsAhead PFI contract is a rare example where the Council’s failures have been revealed for all Sheffielders to see.  Sheffield City Council has been at the centre of a storm due to its bad management of the £2.2 billion, 25 year PFI contract with AMEY Hallam Highways Ltd.  While the city of Sheffield is suffering under austerity, the street tree saga has seen Sheffield City council decide to waste hundreds of thousands of pounds on disregarded reports and surveys, court action, and a ‘strong leader’ “happy for the proceedings to go ahead” when seeking imprisonment of local residents wishing to halt the felling of thousands of healthy street trees.

Many believe the Council is protecting corporate profits rather than resident’s health, environment and heritage.  It’s Our City! see this as just one example of the democratic deficit in the city – an intransigent Council seemingly at war with local, peacefully-protesting residents, a refusal to engage in dialogue, a fixation with the secrecy of the contract, a lack of accountability and open decision-making and a Council that seeks to lay blame anywhere except itself.

 

A Pro-Sheffield Campaign

Campaigners are keen to emphasise the non-party nature of their campaign and say there is nothing inherent in Labour that means the city must suffer a ruling administration that struggles with transparency, openness and working collaboratively.  There are many examples of progressive, dynamic Labour-led councils where the whole city is united and forging ahead by everyone working together. Many of It’s Our City! supporters are Labour members, supporters and sympathisers – they too want to see the end of the ‘strong leader’ model and their elected representatives able to properly represent them,  without sanctions from the ‘strong leader’.

Ruth Hubbard, the co-chair of It’s Our City says:

It is very disappointing that our ruling Council administration appears so consistently not to hear the extensive disillusionment in the ‘strong leader’ governance of our city.  We know there is a groundswell of support for a governance system that values the role and responsibilities of all elected members, which ensures that they all have a voice and meaningful role.  Communities in Sheffield want to be properly heard and represented.  It is now time for us to step in; we have the power – and the responsibility – to do so.  It’s Our City! will present the required petition, and people in Sheffield will vote for a change to governance arrangements – the end of the ‘strong leader’.  This is a vital first move, necessary in asserting that this is OUR city, and that we want better for it and from our Council.

         

PRESS RELEASE- 13th June 2018

 

SHEFFIELD COUNCIL SAYS ‘NO’ TO DEMOCRACY
Communities say ‘It’s Our City!’

In the year where we acknowledge and celebrate 100 years of women getting the vote, Sheffield turns back the clock on local democracy. In one extraordinary week Sheffield City Council blocked motions to explore changes to a more inclusive and transparent style of democracy and attempted to lock up four peaceful protestors. The ruling Labour administration seems to have one message for its residents: shut up, we’re not interested.
It’s a sad fact that most people in Sheffield vote for local Councillors who do not have a voice. This is because the Labour council is run by its ‘strong leader’ – Councillor Julie Dore and her ‘Cabinet of ten’. All Labour Councillors are told how to vote or be threatened with suspension.

There is another way

At the first full meeting of the new council year, Wednesday 6th June, a motion was brought by the Liberal Democrats and seconded by the Greens that resolved to explore a ‘Committee-type’ system instead of a Cabinet system. This would give a meaningful role to all councillors, communities would be better represented and councillors would be more accountable to those communities.
Committee systems elsewhere have proven that it is possible, “even in difficult times, to be responsive and work with local people”.
The ruling Labour administration said no. As usual, their ‘slash and burn’ practice towards any proposal coming from anywhere other than themselves meant that all of the motion, bar the first clause, was deleted and replaced.

Locking up its own taxpayers

This malfunction in democracy followed hot on the heels of the previous day’s court fiasco where Sheffield City Council sought to imprison four peaceful tree protestors – its own citizens. This of course was done with council taxpayers’ money; it seems that the excuse of austerity obviously does not apply to locking up people for protecting healthy and beneficial street trees.
The UK right to peaceful protest was hard-won and has a particular and proud history in Sheffield. Yet the current Labour Council/Cabinet is seeking to crush these rights, to the dismay of many of its own members and supporters. Council Leader, Julie Dore, even tried to palm off her decision to pursue the case onto senior Council Officers. Cllr Lewis Dagnall (Cllr Lodge’s replacement) went around citing the irrelevant ‘separation of powers’, saying prosecuting protestors is nothing to do with him or the Labour administration. No, the buck stops with SCC. Not only do they not want to protect and practice democracy, they don’t understand the basics!

Communities send a message

The local elections a month ago showed that support is draining from the Labour Party in Sheffield.
Their performance has been on a downward course since at least 2015, their working majority has
reduced from 34 to 22. Shockingly, the average turnout in wards ‘won’ by Labour was 27.2%, way
below the turnout in Opposition winning wards of 37.4% and a national average of 35-40%!
Enthusiasm for this council is waning as the wool falls from people’s eyes. But what is the council’s
response? More of the same – not listening, not engaging, not responding to community concerns
and not capitalising on its best assets…by working with communities.

Countdown

There are only twelve local ward seats to go before this ruling administration is no longer in control
of Sheffield.
It’s Our City! a city-wide, grassroots, non-party political community network showed that, change for
the city, or any city, is possible. Their focussed strategy of pledges, drawn up in community
discussions, and supporting candidates in six pivotal wards is believed to have been a significant
contributor to the fact that five out of six wards It’s Our City! supported were successful, three of
which attained top five positions in the most popular councillor results and making the sixth ward a
serious contender for change in 2019.

Ruth Hubbard, a member of It’s Our City! asserts:

“The local elections sent a clear message – The community genie is out of the bottle, our
elected representatives serve us, not the other way round. It is genuinely about us,
communities in Sheffield making common cause, for and with each other, who are going to
make this happen.
Our ruling councillors are not fit to be guardians of democracy in Sheffield, and last week
proved this. There is nothing inherent in Labour to say we should have a failing council –
many Labour cities are not like this and manage to thrive. Our communities know something
is dysfunctional in SCC.
The ruling administration may yet undertake the transformation needed…alternatively, it’s
twelve more wards to go.”