Speech by Anne Barr, presenting It’s Our City!’s informed input at the “How Should Decision-making Work in the 21st Century?” event hosted by Nigel Slack in October 2019.
I’d like to say how proud I am to represent IOC! this evening. Without the campaign group and the incredible hard work put in, none of us would be here tonight. It’s a tremendous undertaking and a hugely positive achievement for the city to have got to this point.
Over recent years people, in general, have been unhappy with the decision making process in Sheffield. As a result IOC! launched its petition for change from the Strong Leader and Cabinet model to a Modern Committee System fit for the 21st century.
This, to us, seems a much better fit for a diverse, vibrant city like Sheffield with its history of activism and its huge number of thriving community groups. Approximately 85% of people we spoke to agreed.
A year later with over 26,000 signatures, almost 22,000 validated, with opposition party and backbench Labour support and several Labour Constituency Labour Party and wards groups passing motions to move away from the Strong Leader and Cabinet model, we are where we are, ready for the challenge of change.
We have spent an exhausting but rewarding year talking to people across the city about their issues and concerns. Issues including:-
What have they told us?
“We are missing out compared to other cities regarding funding and opportunities like Channel 4 setting up here and tourist development.”
“The Council don’t listen.”
“We have sham consultations.”
“We only hear from councillors at election time.”
“We are fed up with tribal politics. Who puts the city first?“
“There’s no equality across the city.”
“We don’t trust our local politicians.”
“We want a real say on what happens on our streets and in our neighbourhoods.”
People were genuinely shocked that the ‘Strong Leader’ model means 10 out of 84 councillors, of one party, make the majority of decisions behind closed doors.
Most shocking of all, many elected councillors have no real powers of representation. “What’s the point of voting?” people ask.
At this point I must say that people are very much aware of the savage budget cuts from Central Government. We say, all the more reason that communities, stakeholders, cross-party politicians should pull together and work cooperatively to make sure every penny is well spent. All the more need for a change of culture within the Town Hall.
What’s It’s Our City!’s vision?
•We want a cost-neutral change to a modern committee system.
•We want cross-party cooperation and a meaningful role for all councillors.
•We want community and stakeholder representation, not just ‘consultation’.
•We want independent experts, both local and national, consulted whenever necessary.
•We want an end to tribal politics and to the whip system! How radical is that?!
•We want equality and inclusion across the city.
•We want transparency and real consultation.
•We want expertise in designing the new system. If this isn’t available in house we want it brought in from the outset.
In short, we want to open up decision making to make it better for all.
To finish on a positive note, this is a massive opportunity for Sheffield to lead the way on reforming local governance structures and act as a flagship for the rest of the country. It’s the biggest petition of its kind. It’s Our City! has started the process. Let’s all work hard together to produce a model of governance that makes Sheffield proud.