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Now Then survey reveals political divisions ahead of razor-tight elections next Thursday

Labour and Greens split on issues including HS2, street trees and how Sheffield City Council is run.

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Photo by Raygar He on Unsplash.

A survey by Now Then ahead of the local elections on Thursday has revealed strong divisions but also areas of consensus between different political parties on a range of issues in Sheffield.

Every party putting up candidates across the city was asked about issues from city-wide landlord licensing and public control of buses to systemic inequality and the climate crisis.

The local Conservatives agreed to answer our survey but later declined after seeing the questions. The local Liberal Democrats declined to answer the survey, but sent Now Then their manifesto.

You can read Labour, the Greens, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) and the Women's Equality Party (WEP) positions on each question on the Now Then 2021 policy survey: in full page.

On HS2, the Labour group said they support a station in Sheffield, while the Greens say the "huge amount of money required" for the project would be better spent on reopening local lines. TUSC called the project “environmentally damaging and financially unviable.”

The Greens, TUSC and the WEP all support a change from the council's 'Strong Leader' model to a committee system at next Thursday’s city-wide referendum. Labour did not take a position, but said that "regardless of the whichever system is implemented, we want to see devolution of decision-making to a more local level and this is why we will enact Local Area Committees."

All parties expressed some support Community Wealth Building, with Labour saying the idea would be "front and centre of council decisions" if they lead the next council.

Labour called Greater Manchester’s decision to take their buses under public control “a major shot in the arm for reform”, and said that they were calling on Sheffield City Region to provide more local powers. TUSC and the Greens also called for more public control of buses, while the WEP said they would commission “an audit of women’s travel patterns and employment opportunities in the area to make recommendations on how changes to routes would increase opportunities for women”.

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All parties backed Sheffield becoming carbon-neutral by 2030.

Photo by Gary Butterfield on Unsplash.

All parties also said they support landlord licensing in principle, with the Women's Equality Party saying that "women feel safer and more secure in well-managed homes." Only TUSC and the WEP explicitly backed a city-wide scheme, which would see every landlord in Sheffield inspected and assessed before renting out property. The TUSC also called for maximum rent caps.

Every party agreed on the need to do more to tackle climate breakdown, but there was some disagreement on more detailed proposals to make Sheffield carbon neutral by 2030.

Labour's proposed Clean Air Zone doesn't include charges for private cars, but the Greens say this should have been included in the consultation. The TUSC said they did not want to see “a Clean Air Zone based on financially penalising vehicle drivers before there is a massive improvement in public transport in Sheffield.”

Every party showed support, at least in principle, for the creation of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, but the WEP said this should be coupled with "a full safety audit to make sure women and girls feel safe on the streets."

The Greens said they support the introduction of a Workplace Parking Levy, which would see city-centre employers pay a levy for each parking space they have, which would be used for public transport improvements. Labour, whose 2018 local election manifesto said they would look into the idea, said that "we cannot have a WPL until we a fit-for-purpose public transport alternative."

All parties who responded said they support the work of Sheffield’s newly-created Race Equality Commission, with Labour saying that "BAME communities in Sheffield experience pronounced inequality and are under significant pressure."

The Greens, TUSC and WEP all said they support Proportional Representation at local elections, which would see council seats more fairly match the number of votes for each party. Labour said that as "councils don’t have the authority to set the electoral voting system," their councillors had no position on the question.

All parties support the bringing council services back in-house, with Labour saying they “believe in public services delivered by public servants” and the WEP calling for questions on social value to be introduced into the procurement process "as not everything can be reduced to a monetary value."

On housing, Labour said they would build 3,100 new council homes by 2028 while the TUSC called for “a mass council house building programme in Sheffield and nationally.” The Greens said they would campaign to stop property developers using loopholes to get out of affordable housing contributions, and the WEP said they would identify council-owned land “to develop community housing that is affordable to buy or rent in perpetuity for older people”.

Calls for an independent inquiry into the felling of street trees were strongly endorsed by TUSC, the WEP and the Greens, whose councillor Alison Teal was taken to court in 2017. Labour said there had already been a report by the Local Government Ombudsman and they accepted the findings. “We have apologies for the previous failings and have held our hands up – we repeat, we got it wrong and apologise,” they added.

Labour, the Greens and the WEP all backed a pilot of Universal Basic Income in Sheffield, with the Greens saying it would “reduce crime, while improving health outcomes and wellbeing.” TUSC called for a minimum wage of £12 an hour as a step towards £15 an hour, with a “minimum income” linked to that.

The 2021 local elections, as well as the governance referendum and Police and Crime Commissioner election, take place next Thursday 6 May.

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