It’s been three months since I was elected by an overwhelming majority to represent the people in my home ward, Gleadless Valley. It has been a lot of hard work and put pressure on me and my family but I think it will be worth it.
On the day we won I felt the weight of expectation heavy on my shoulders. I knew it was a big achievement and lots, literally thousands, of people had put their faith in me. There were hundreds of messages wishing me well, congratulating me and among them were warnings of “you’d better keep your word now we’ve voted you in!”
I have had some pretty immediate small victories which are a great boost and give me the feeling I really can make a difference. Things such as preserving the colour of some garage doors as requested by the residents, the location of bins, tree work, rewilding of verges and dealing with abandoned vehicles.
All this time I have been working towards larger gains, with my Green Councillor colleagues, like how the council deals with school dinner debt, the new school dinner contract, recycling, air quality and of course the climate crisis, among others.
Crucially, I am scrutinising every step of the development of the GV masterplan to save GV from privatisation and the bulldozers.
During the last few years campaigning for the Green Party I have made no secret of my opinion that Sheffield Labour party can be crap and useless, but I have been shocked at just how crap and useless they can be! Some local Labour councillors are less effective than I could have imagined. If there was an interview process in front of residents they wouldn’t get the job, picked as they are for their loyalty, not ability. Sadly, ideas are not judged on their merit, but cooed over or disparaged, based on who has suggested it.
Officers are shackled by the lack of political will, ambition, vision and confidence of the elected members. For example, school dinners are to meet Bronze medal standards! Do they really think our children are third rate?! Another example is the 22 EV charging points being planned for Sheffield while Nottingham plans over 200.
The current council system is deeply flawed and not conducive to everybody working for the betterment of Sheffield. The current Labour administration has an obsession with power over democracy and is implacably opposed to the It’s Our City campaign which wants a change to a more accountable modern committee system. Recently constitutional changes were made that limit motions the Greens are allowed to raise to just four a year with only two of them ever likely to be debated. The system of scrutiny allows councillors to scrutinise the cabinet’s decisions but the cabinet have no problem overturning objections from these committees. They recently cancelled a public meeting with twenty odd members of the public present because Cllr Alison Teal was kindly attending in my absence to take notes for me. More petty authoritarianism.
There is hypocrisy and, at best, a lack of joined up thinking. I was shocked by the number of 4×4 vehicles in the council car park when the cabinet meet up. It just shows how little air quality and climate breakdown matters to the cabinet. There is at least one climate change denier in Cllr Peter Price.
But here and there they have started saying the right things. This does, at least, show that they are feeling the pressure of the growing Green movement making its voice heard in Sheffield. But they need to act now: The Tyndall centre says we will use our next 80 years CO2 budget in only 6 years at the current rate of emissions. Labour want to take two years to set up a citizens assembly, a great idea and something the Greens have been suggesting for years but we need to be acting now too.
I really feel that I’ve grown into the role of councillor in my first three months. I’ve worked incredibly hard for my constituents and the city, learning a lot as I go along. I’ve been busy in the wider community with public appearances at Camp Disco festival, appearing on an electoral reform panel for Sheffield For Democracy, done umpteen interviews and written several press releases. I’ve met school heads, student councils and spoke about single use plastics with Y2 students. I’ve been to coffee mornings with pensioners, drinks evenings, TARA meetings, helped out at the Gleadless Valley Food Bank, and much more.
At the full council meeting I wanted to get my maiden speech out of the way early so that I could participate fully in meetings. I had the honour of speaking on an amendment to a Labour business motion where we presented a green ideal of how business should work in Sheffield. Naturally Labour voted it down.
Due to Labour’s inaction and inertia over the years, there have been many missed opportunities to make simple and effective improvements for Sheffield. I’m trying to address some “quick-fix” solutions while building the more long term campaigns needed to deal with our toxic air quality and damaging private contracts. With growing Green support across the whole city, next year’s elections will prove decisive. These are exciting times and change is just around the corner!