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.
There are only twelve local ward seats to go before this ruling administration is no longer in control
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.”