The Green group budget amendment for 2017/18 included this: “Cut political spin from the Town Hall and will cut the posts of Group Policy Officers”. These 3 officers are paid by the Council but do research and press work for the Labour and Lib Dem groups. That amendment was rejected by the majority vote of Labour councillors.
Since the pre-dawn raid on Rustlings Rd in November 2016 we have seen the Labour spin doctors go into overdrive. “Trees are only replaced as a last resort” is trotted out again and again despite clear evidence to the contrary. We see more and more attempts to defame and deride tree campaigners with many unsubstantiated and untruthful claims. In October, a judge rejected the Council’s attempt to send Cllr Alison Teal to jail. The court found she had not broken the injunction and the council were wrong. A Freedom of Information request has since uncovered e-mails showing that council officers conspired to spin the case dismissal as “on a technicality.”
Greens will put a similar proposal to be voted on at the Sheffield City Council budget meeting on March 7th. The cost of 3 Group Policy Officers in 2018/19 is £112,000. For comparison, the cutting of 3 ½ full time equivalent library staff saved £98,000 in this financial year.
The last 15 months has seen a dysfunctional and dictatorial council increasingly use spin doctors to try and cover up their failings. One truth outlined by the Labour-run council is that council budgets are under pressure as never before. Council taxpayers facing a 5.99% increase in bills cannot continue to fund political spin while vital services are cut. Councillors must do the right thing on March 7th.
A statement from Sheffield Green Party in support of university staff:
“Academic and academic–related staff at the University of Sheffield will join staff at universities around the country in sustained strike-action starting on February 22 to protest against the employers’ proposal to end guaranteed pension benefits. Should this proposal be approved, final pensions will not depend on contributions, but on how investments perform on the stock market. The University College Union has predicted that an average lecturer is likely to lose as much as £10,000 a year of their pension. Sheffield Green Party wishes to express solidarity with striking staff, as it is wrong to put workers future pensions at risk. We are also recognise that what is at stake is far more than money – the proposals represents yet another attempt to undermine the value of public services and education”.
Cllr Magid made an impact at a busy and vibrant meeting of the full Council on 7th February. As Deputy Lord Mayor, this was the first time he had chaired the whole meeting and he certainly rose to the task. Magid reminded everyone – both councillors and members of the public – to show respect to the views of other people.
There wasn’t enough room in the public gallery so many people had to wait in the overflow rooms. The audio and visual feed broke down yet again, leaving many of the public in the dark as to what was going on. Staff did their best to fix it but it was yet another demonstration of why we call for broadcasting of meetings so that everyone can hear what is being said in their names.
And there were certainly a lot of questions asked, plus seven petitions.
Petitioners and questioners described the appalling temporary accommodation provided to nearly 100 homeless children in 2017, often sharing accommodation with single male ex-offenders. They had one cooker between 20 people. It is against the law for councils to put homeless families in B&Bs except in an emergency.
One petition was about the new slippery pavements. Another asked for safe houses for men fleeing domestic abuse. The young people who represented this petition reminded us that 6,100 men commit suicide each year.
A new petition called on the council to limit work on the Chelsea Elm. The speaker said trust had broken down with the council but this iconic tree was a good place to start a process of change. In response, Cllr Bryan Lodge stated, “there’s no proposal to cut the tree down.” This may be the start of that change.
Members’ questions are where councillors get to ask supplementary questions, depending on the responses given by Cabinet members to written questions. We argued strongly that enough time should be given to this in council meetings. This month we learned:
That “Streets Ahead is a self-monitoring contract”
That Cllr Iqbal blamed the LibDems for signing the Amey PFI contract [it was actually signed by the Labour Administration in 2012, although the LibDems had agreed previous stages]
The Council is still “assessing” the impact on the city of Carillion’s collapse
The Council admitted it did not stop Sheffield Housing Company selling off residents’ leases.
The free public Wi-Fi contract was signed off without the Cabinet member being aware of any data protection issues
The Council is preparing a public consultation on the future of the Central Library, Graves Gallery and Library Theatre
593 roads haven’t yet been resurfaced but should have been
The Council had 629 claims from trips and falls in 6 years but doesn’t have to pay anything because Amey deals with them. The number of complaints has gone up in recent years as Amey has worked on the roads
The council team monitoring the Amey contract has 5 vacant posts out 22
In the debate on the Housing Revenue Account, the cost of re-cladding Hanover Tower was put at £3-5 million but it won’t be done until after the final Hackett Report is published later in the year. Amongst concerns as to why the wrong cladding was installed in the first place, the cost of failed insulation and the delays, the good news is that tenants have “chosen the colour” of the new cladding.
We proposed an amendment to the LibDem motion, which called for a retired High Court judge to lead an inquiry into allegations around the Streets Ahead contract. We said the council should investigate bringing the contract back in-house if there was evidence of dishonesty. But of course, just “cancelling” the contract isn’t straightforward: Amey can’t put the trees back.
Our amendment also called for full disclosure of the contract. As Cllr Rob Murphy explained,
“The Labour group’s defence of commercial confidentiality has been blown out of the water. We’ve shown that it is a political, not a legal, decision not to release the contract.”
“Councillors and members of the public want to know what has been signed in their name, what they are paying for over the next 40 years and what the Council is hiding.”
There was no time to debate the other motions and they were just voted on. Ironically, there was a noisy outburst by Labour councillor Jackie Drayton at not being able to debate their motions.
Labour voted down every opposition motion and amendment, so voting against:
But it seems our motions had some effect. The Council will announce more council tax help for care leavers soon. It has also promised to look into funding for the Women’s Vote Centenary – which was the substance of Alison’s proposal.
After Cllr Magid had called the meeting to a close, there was more drama in the public gallery. As the councillor all left, campaigners unveiled a banner saying, “Show us the Contract please.” They later occupied the council chamber for a few hours.
The Sheffield Green Party election campaign for May 3rd will be launched in Sheffield on Friday February 9th by party Co-Leader Caroline Lucas MP. Arriving 4pm Friday Caroline will speak at a student meeting, a sold out evening public meeting and join Greens campaigning in the Nether Edge & Sharrow area on the morning of February 10th.
Cllr Alison Teal will be defending her seat in Nether Edge & Sharrow ward. Martin Phipps (City) and Kaltum Rivers (Broomhill & Sharrow Vale) will be seeking to gain seats in wards where there are already Green councillors. Former Cllr Bernard Little (Walkley) and Paul Turpin (Gleadless Valley) aim to build on strong second places in the last elections to gain seats.
Ahead of her visit, Caroline Lucas praised Sheffield Greens for their opposition to street tree felling in the city. She said:”In the face of a draconian crackdown from the council, tree protesters like Alison Teal have stood against this needless destruction. Indeed it’s Green councillors who are really standing up for what matters in Sheffield – and it’s only by voting Green that people in the city can guarantee they’ll have people on their side in the council chamber. ”
Former Green Party leader and Sheffield Central general election candidate Natalie Bennett comments: “Since the last local elections in 2016 we have seen police pre-dawn raids on Rustlings Rd and anti-trade union legislation used to arrest peaceful tree protesters. You have to question what this Labour-run council represents when it publicly states their intention to have a city councillor jailed – Cllr Alison Teal.
Natalie continues: “The Green council group has worked very hard in the last 12 months to hold Labour to account in the face of measures to restrict council motions and debate. The Labour-led Council has a big majority, and Labour councillors’ actions are fully controlled by their Cabinet. On May 3rd residents can elect more Green opposition councillors who will stand up for local residents against a dictatorial Council.”
to celebrate the legacy of the centenary of women’s suffrage
for an enquiry into the treatment of Cllr Alison Teal
Cllr Magid said,
“It is a great honour to be chairing such an important meeting for local democracy. It will no doubt bring its challenges but it is something I will revel in.
I hope to do the best I can in this role to serve the people of Sheffield.”
Cllr Magid was elected in May 2016 as the new Green Party councillor for Broomhill and Sharrow Vale Ward. He is currently the Deputy Lord Mayor and is due to become the Lord Mayor at the annual meeting of the council in May.
The role of Lord Mayor is largely ceremonial but the Lord Mayor also chairs the full council meetings.