Sheffield People’s Petition
What is it?
Our latest campaign, starting on the 25th of August 2018, is to petition Sheffield Council to force them to hold a referendum on making it more democratic.
It’s called the ‘Strong leader’ model. Under this model, nearly all major council decisions are made by either the Council leader or one of the 8* other cabinet members – in effect excluding the remaining 75 councillors from the process.
The strong leader model was imposed on all large local authorities in the early 2000s. Since the Localism Act of 2011, however, councils do not have to run under this model.
*this used to be 9 until recently, so in some of our older materials we talk about 10 cabinet members or 1 leader + 9 cabinet members.
A committee-based system, which is more democratic, and where all our councillors would have a meaningful say in making decisions. Some people might remember that the current system was brought in to make councils less bureaucratic and more streamlined and do away the with lengthy process of arriving to decisions. We are not arguing for a return to the old system – we want to see a new model that takes the best bits of both worlds peppered with a hefty dose of public engagement.
Few people in Sheffield know how the city is run at the moment. You would have thought that when you elect your local councillor, they have the necessary tools to represent you and your community in the council.
This is not quite the case.
Since the decisions ultimately lie with the leader and the cabinet, your local councillor (unless they happen to be a cabinet member) has virtually no power to work on your behalf. Even most Labour councillors, who are not in the cabinet, have little input and are told how to vote by the leader.
Healthy democracy relies on public engagement, especially on the local level. The strong leader model makes it very difficult to approach the council and work with it for the benefit of our neighbourhoods. If we are unable to have a constructive relationship with the government where we live, how can we ever change the way the politics is nationally?
Another argument for a committee system is the workload – each cabinet member is responsible for one portfolio. These are: Finance; Environment and Transport; Children and Families; Education and Skills; Business and Investment; Culture, Parks and Leisure; Health and Social Care and finally Neighbourhoods and Community Safety. This means that the cabinet members are overloaded with responsibilities while most of the councillors are under-utilised.
The Localism Act 2011 gives power to communities to petition their council to adopt a reformed Committee style of governance. If 5% of voters in Sheffield sign our petition, this will force a city-wide referendum asking whether to change the system or keep it as it is.
However, we would like the new system on offer to be designed with the people of Sheffield first, to make sure that it is a good fit – unlike the current top down way our city is run.
Some places, like Reading, Sutton, Nottinghamshire, Kent, Norfolk, and Brighton and Hove have chosen to go to updated Committee-type structures, with many others examining the potential for change.
The town of Fylde in Lancashire has taken the petition route to change.
We in Sheffield have a unique opportunity to be the first major city to use the Localism Act 2011 this way and pave the way for better governance here – and show other places that it can be done.
Strong local democracy is the corner stone of the wider national democracy. Let’s grab this opportunity to make it so – sign our petition now.
We need 20,092 signatures – quite a lot.
Do you want to help us to achieve our target? If so, please contact Anne Barr (firstname.lastname@example.org) who will provide you with copies of the paper petition sheets.