Here is what happened at September’s full council meeting, the one day in the month when all Sheffield’s elected councillors get together.
Now part of a pattern, Lord Mayor Magid opened proceedings wearing a new hat (a fedora) and the meeting quickly got into a procedural argument. The LibDems proposed a vote to limit the amendments we could put in. Labour supported them whilst we objected. It may seem petty but it is yet another restriction on elected councillors having their say, instead having to channel everything through the party leadership.
Petitions and public questions
On to petitions – with one on bridleways. It’s a less common mode of transport but has implications for improving off-road routes. Public questions followed. Ruth Hubbard, of the It’s Our City petition, asked the Council to embrace change but was given a hostile response by the Leader, Cllr Julie Dore. Calvin Payne asked about the Council’s role in actions, which the Independent Office of Police Conduct had recently found to be wrong. As usual, all questions on “trees” and people connected with tree protests were lumped together at the end instead of being treated like other members of the public.
We then moved on to Members’ Questions, which became a bit more lively. Just before the meeting, the Cabinet provided 29 pages of written answers to councillors’ questions, to which we had the chance to ask a few supplementary ones.
I received a number of vague reassurances that “good progress” was being made so I asked what “good progress” on the Workplace Parking Levy (a Green idea) and the Inner Ring Road expansion (definitely not a Green idea) looked like. Cllr Jack Scott made it clear he was not going to give us any genuine or informative answers. However, he did confirm no further consultation was planned. The theme of Labour councillors in the Executive abusing their power to keep things secret was going to develop.
CIL – the Community Infrastructure Levy – and central control
The first motion on the agenda (by the LibDems) was about spending the “Community Infrastructure Levy” (or CIL, the replacement for “section 106” or “planning gain” money). This levy is paid by property developers to compensate for the loss of open space or increase in traffic. Most of it (85%) is controlled centrally by the council and is spent on big schemes in the “Regulation 123 list” and administration. The remaining 15% is meant for parish councils or other ward-level areas. However, none has been spent since 2015. The real reason is this: by far the largest amount of CIL comes from city centre development. This is in City Ward, where Green councillors have a majority. So Labour’s proposal is to redistribute it to other wards.
Lies and more lies?
Normally, officers provide quarterly reports on the amount of CIL money collected by ward. However, they were then instructed by Cabinet Members not to release any further information to us. When I put the question to Cabinet, Cllr Jack Scott denied this, saying that “no such instruction was given,” so I called him out on this apparent untruth. There was commotion amongst councillors and another complaint from the Labour Whip.
What was even more blatant was that Cllr Scott, in his oral answers, told us that some information from officers was only provided for Labour members and that if we wanted this data we should “join the Labour Party.”
This led on to the debate on CIL. Our amendment pointed out that the consultation was a stitch-up made of leading questions. Instead, we said it should be spent in the communities most blighted by big building developments.
We supported the Labour motion promoting the TUC’s “Great jobs agenda.” Strangely, that didn’t stop Labour councillors attacking us for it. Many Labour councillors are of course sponsored (i.e. paid) by unions.
Cllr Martin Phipps seconded Alison Teal’s amendment, welcoming the steps towards making SCC a living wage employer (something originally proposed by Green Councillor Bernard Little in 2009) and noting that insecure work is a product of a system that puts profit over people.
Martin noted the huge importance of unions for a healthy society and sadness that we have reached a point where a job paying enough to live on is considered a ‘great’ one. He described the impact insecure and lowly paid work has on people’s mental and physical health.
However, Labour councillors voted against our proposal that would actually help workers in Sheffield and counter the effect of Government cuts to legal aid. We had asked officers to look for funding for three advice workers to advise on employment rights.
Reduce, reuse, recycle… or privatise instead
On waste and recycling, we criticised the Administration’s triumphant motion on the new brown bins. We pointed out that Sheffield came 314th out of 350 local authorities in the recycling league table, which is not something to be proud of. Cllr Martin Phipps pointed out that “over two thirds of our waste is incinerated, with the incinerator’s CO2 levels rising year on year. We are left behind as an authority, with waste food recycling seen as standard elsewhere, no plastics apart from bottles collected and not even aluminium foil or trays being recycling.”
Cllr Rob Murphy added that these problems all stem from being tied into a long-term contract with Veolia – signed by the LibDems and extended by Labour.
Finally, we came to our transport motion. In Members’ Questions, Cllr Rob Murphy had asked the Leader of the Council if she had been consulted on the Regional Mayor’s plans to spend public money at Doncaster/Sheffield airport. She hadn’t, so Rob followed up with asking if she thought she should have been.
Rob explained that people in Sheffield want to see local transport improvements instead of using public money for the benefit of big business. Cllr Alison Teal asked the chamber if it was serious about climate change and referred to the case of Phoenix, Arizona where the effects of climate change had grounded planes. I commented that, with even the Leader of the Council not being consulted of Mayor Dan Jarvis’s plans, this was yet another failure of openness in the way Sheffield City Region hands out millions of pounds of grants to profit-making businesses.
More questions, not so many answers
In answer to other questions, we also learnt the council had failed to comply with the legal requirement to publish the official verification number [relevant to the It’s Our City petition] because of an “oversight.” We heard the council is carrying out an assessment of the impact of Brexit. All parks are assessed against something called the “Sheffield Quality Standard” which includes accessibility for disabled people. We were promised that agendas and minutes of the Health & Wellbeing Board would be published from now on.
And the new home for the Central Library?
We also received some more evasive answers – Alison Teal asked how the council manages conflicts of interest around academies. Kaltum Rivers asked about funding and re-staffing public libraries.
I asked about Council plans to move the Central Library to the new HSBC building on the Moor – the official address is Grosvenor House, 1 Wellington St. Cllr Mary Lea neither confirmed nor denied. This may well come up again in the future.
With all that done, and Magid’s effective chairing – many councillors were stopped from speaking for too long – the meeting ended at a record early time of 5.30pm.