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It's Our City! nears goal: Democracy campaign on track to trigger referendum

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It's Our City! collecting signatures in Firth Park.

A campaign to change the way decisions are made at Town Hall is set to trigger a referendum on city governance.

Under national legislation introduced in 2011, the It's Our City! group need to obtain 20,092 signatures in a one year period that ends on 24 August. The figure represents 5% of registered voters in Sheffield.

If the target is reached, it will trigger a referendum that will decide whether the Council will change from the so-called 'strong leader' model to a committee structure.

A committee structure would devolve some of the powers currently held by cabinet members to committees of councillors. This would see more councillors involved in decision-making at Town Hall.

We are still hoping the pressure of our imminent success in getting numbers will lead Sheffield City Council to changing of their own free will

It's Our City! told Now Then that they'd gathered 18,500 signatures as of 22 June. To be on track to hit the target exactly, they would only need to have collected 16,569 signatures by this date.

It is now almost certain that the group will meet their goal by the end of August.

"We are still hoping the pressure of our imminent success in getting numbers will lead Sheffield City Council to changing of their own free will," coordinator Anne Barr told Now Then. "If not we will be triggering a referendum at large cost to the city."

A similar referendum in the Lancashire borough of Fylde saw 57.8% of voters back a change to a committee model in 2014.

If Sheffield City Council choose to let the decision go to a referendum rather than changing governance model voluntarily, questions are likely to be asked about whether a vote is a good use of public money.

"Both myself and the Leader of the Council have met with It's Our City and we want to continue to engage with them to look at some of the issues they are raising and how we can best address them," Deputy Leader Olivia Blake told Now Then.

"Last year there was research which showed that Sheffield is one of the most transparent of the big cities when it comes to making decisions," she continued. "Our cabinet decisions are made at public meetings in addition to decisions by Cabinet Members which are published on the Council's website and open to call in by scrutiny committees. Our view is always to be as open as we are able to be."

We know that we can do more and want to listen to how we can best approach this

The Council declined to say whether they will change the structure before the decision goes to a city-wide referendum.

"We know that we can do more and want to listen to how we can best approach this," said Councillor Blake.

"It is important we are talking to interested groups such as Sheffield For Democracy and we will look at the ideas put forward by It's Our City. We are committed to continuing meaningful engagement."

The petition will be discussed at the next meeting of Full Council on 3 July.

Sam Gregory

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Campaigners in Nether Edge.

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