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A Magazine for Sheffield

Unlocking The Cabinet

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Rob Lee

Politicians occasionally worry there's a 'democratic deficit'. The Encyclopædia Britannica definition mentions a lack of democracy, transparency and accountability, technocratic decision making, and inadequate participation of citizens in policymaking. Sounds familiar?

Many think of Sheffield as more of a 'People's Republic' than other cities. I've said so myself, but that was in the past. The current decision-making process at the heart of Sheffield City Council is called the Strong Leader model. The power is in the hands of the Leader of the Council and a selected nine-member cabinet. Most of our elected councillors are mere backbenchers, deciding little more than the overall budget. With fewer regulations, planning meetings are a presentation for the rubber-stamping of decisions already made behind closed doors. Sure, there are many good people in the ranks of the Council staff, but at a time when Sheffield Castle is being excavated, glimpses of feudal attitudes are again seen in Town Hall.

With fewer eyes on the paperwork, mistakes are made

With fewer eyes on the paperwork, mistakes are made. The original, confidential Streets Ahead contract with Amey, which dramatically blew up into the trees protests, may only have been seen by one councillor. The attempted sale of historic Birley Spa was almost sneaked through over the summer with no mention of how the land was originally given to the people of Sheffield, obligatory disabled access requirements not set out, and superficial community consultation. Thankfully a protest paused that sale last month, just days before the auction.

So have we got a democratic deficit here? In the 2016 local elections, turnout in the City ward fell to a dismal 20%. Eamonn Ward of Sheffield Green Party talks of a "dictatorial top-down, Labour-run council and PFI contracts which block out local democracy", with "unpopular and undemocratic council decisions growing week by week." We know that Tory cuts have injured democracy at local neighbourhood levels. Outposts have closed and service provision has retreated to the castle. Most Council spending is now on legal obligations, with discretionary budgets covering little more than a tenth. Sheffield is just one of many places afflicted with the same disease, but we've got a radical history. Laws have been changed by Sheffield revolts and campaigning action, so don't let anyone go unchallenged if they say, 'We can't do anything from here.'

It's Our City is a new group running a petition to force a reversal of the Strong Leader model in Sheffield under the Localism Act of 2011. The group needs 20,956 signatures before 2 January to force a referendum. They're hoping for a revised committee-style system, giving all 84 elected representatives an equal voice, and a new collaborative approach between councillors, parties and crucially with local people. They really want community groups to get in touch and forge links to help everyone understand why it's important.

I hope they succeed and I urge everyone to visit the website, read the news there and sign the petition. For transparency, let's do it.

Hosted by Alt-Sheff


Sheffield Cycle Jumble

Sat 27 Oct | 9am-12pm | St Mary's Church, Bramall Lane

The bi-annual cycle jumble sale returns, including over 50 stalls offering a huge mixture of bikes, parts, clothing and accessories for this clean, efficient and peaceful form of transport.

Peace & Craft Fair

Sat 3 Nov | 11am-4:30pm | Sheffield Town Hall

An annual fair uniting local craftmakers with campaigning and voluntary groups, offering a range of ethical and affordable festive gifts in a family-friendly atmosphere, with refreshments and music.

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