In less than a fortnight, voters go to the polls for a crucial election to decide the future of Sheffield Council. Richard Marsden and Ben Spencer reveal where the key battlegrounds lie and the differences between the main parties’ agendas.
Local elections in Sheffield this year will be a close-run affair. The ruling Lib Dem group has just one seat more than their Labour rivals, who are hoping to regain control after three years in opposition.
The Lib Dems hope their record, which involves few major controversies aside from the recycling bin collections issue, will persuade voters to keep them in control.
But Labour, needing to gain three seats for a majority, say they are confident the national unpopularity of the Lib Dems due to their role in the coalition Government, will propel them back into power.
One third of the council is up for election but the outcome is likely to be decided in just a few wards - the Lib Dem seats of East Ecclesfield, Hillsborough, Walkley, Gleadless Valley and possibly Nether Edge, as well as Central, held by Green Patry leader Coun Jillian Creasy, and Labour-held Mosborough.
These are where the results have been closest in recent years and where the parties are concentrating their efforts. In the run up to the election The Star will bring reports from each of the seven key wards, along with the views of members of the public about the poll on May 5.
The current make-up of Sheffield Council is 41 Lib Dems, 40 Labour, two Greens and one Independent. The controlling party at most other councils in our region is unlikely to change as most are solid-Labour and the party is enjoying a resurgence due to the Government’s unpopularity. But Lib Dem-controlled Chesterfield could change hands as all seats on the authority are up for grabs.
Waging war against unnecessary cutbacks
JULIE Dore has been in charge of the Labour group on Sheffield Council for less than a year, but is confident about leading the city council if her party edges in front of the Lib Dems.
“Local people have a real choice on May 5. They can continue to support a party who consistently broke their promises and let local people down, or vote Labour and elect a party which will stand up for Sheffield.”
Labour have promised to wage war against unnecessary government cutbacks. If they win they have pledged to:
Launch a £500,000 apprenticeship scheme for 16 to 19-year-olds.
Reintroduce a free rat treatment service.
Restore cuts to the Activity Sheffield budget, ensuring Verdon Street recreation centre, Highfield adventure playground and Pitsmoor adventure playground do not close.
Put £300,000 into reinstating 10 out of 25 Police Community Support Officer jobs that have been cut.
Freeze council tax in 2011/12.
Labour’s manifesto says the Lib Dem administration presided over ‘three years of lost opportunity’.
It adds: “They have failed to seize the initiative when opportunities were available and failed to stand up for Sheffield when their government has taken these opportunities away.”
The manifesto criticises the Lib Dems’ ‘disregard for the value of public sector workers’ and their ‘unquestioning reliance on inflexible, outsourced contracts’. But, despite the Labour group’s close links with the trade unions representing council workers, they have followed the Lib Dem lead on council contracts.
Their manifesto says: “We regrettably confirm that despite the value placed on the dedication, skills and motivation of Sheffield Council’s workforce, we are unable to reverse the two-year pay freeze for council employees, due to the inability to find the additional £10m from services required if the decision were to be reversed.”
Coun Dore added: “Sheffield needs a council which will fight its corner and I promise Labour will fight for Sheffield at every opportunity. We will always be honest with local people and won’t make promises we can’t keep.”
Youth unemployment in the spotlight
MAY 2011 could be something of a make-or-break moment for Sheffield’s Green Party.
Having grown in support to hold all three Central ward seats, they lost one to Labour last year. Now party leader Jillian Creasy, a councillor since 2004, is defending her seat and could be vulnerable to Labour’s resurgence.
Coun Creasy is encouraging voters to think beyond the UK’s three main parties.
The party chose to launch their election campaign with a photocall outside West Street Jobcentre Plus to highlight the plight of the 963,000 people aged 16-24 who are unemployed across the country.
She said: “Youth unemployment rose significantly under Labour and is now spiralling upwards under the coalition. Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories all favour big spending cuts, though these lead to substantial job losses. We argue that the UK could create at least a million new jobs by closing tax loopholes and taxing very wealthy people and banks more. Voters have a real choice - either the positive future offered by the Greens or more of the pain seen under Labour and the coalition.”
The party is standing in all 28 city wards. Green commitments include creating jobs in the green energy sector, improving local food production and public transport. The party would abolish Sheffield Homes
Excellent response on the doorstep
THE Conservative Party has not been represented on Sheffield Council since Anne Smith lost her seat in 2008. But young Tory candidate Daniel Gage is confident of winning back the Dore and Totley ward on May 5.
He said: “I’ve had an excellent response on the doorstep and I genuinely think that we could actually win the ward this time.
“Yes there’s a lot of talk about cutbacks and I’m aware it’s a Conservative government taking those steps, but people know this is a local election and they will vote on local issues.”
Mr Gage, son of former Sheffield United full-back Kevin Gage, is campaigning on two main issues.
“If elected I will stick up for everyday bread and butter issues that mean a lot to people in my ward. Making sure the roads are safe, the grit bins are full - these are the things that mean a lot to people.
“City-wide I have pledged to do everything I can to stick up for pensioners’ services and young children’s services, particularly for kids with special needs.
“I support the public spending cuts because I think they are necessary, but I will do everything I can to protect these services locally.
Voters should put the national situation to one side
LIB Dem leader Paul Scriven says the election is by no means a done-deal. He said: “We’re upbeat going into this election. The reaction we are getting on the doorsteps is, ‘We understand why the cuts are being made and we like what you are doing in the city’. Labour shouldn’t take victory for granted.”
Lib Dems say they want people to think about local issues and put the national situation aside. The party has several key pledges:
Keeping council tax low
Retaining the weekly black bin collection and keeping green waste collections free
Beginning the £2.1 billion project to fix all of Sheffield’s roads, streetlights and pavements
Setting aside £1.4 million to attract private sector jobs.
Continuing the devolution of services and budgets to local people through Community Assemblies.
One of the most important policies, Coun Scriven believes, is further work to devolve budget-setting powers to communities.
He said: “This will be done through the Community Assemblies, but it will involve going out to community groups, sports clubs, supermarkets, to ask the public what they want rather than just the old-fashioned method of a council meeting which we recognise most people won’t be able to attend.”
He added: “We also want to put a strong emphasis on supporting local businesses to grow jobs. In recent years, we were in the ridiculous position that only 29 per cent of job growth in Sheffield was in the private sector.”
The Lib Dems want to use a £1.4 million fund, from the Government’s Local Area Based Growth Initiative, for economic projects.
Coun Scriven added: “We have already made improvements such as an advice service for businesses and we want to use the money to fund more projects which help local firms.”
Labour would use the money to restore funding to some services which are facing cuts, such as Sure Start children’s centres and Police Community Support Officers, as well as creating apprenticeships.
But Coun Scriven warned: “It’s only a one-off budget and while it may protect services for a further year, the cuts will still have to be made and the apprenticeships will not have secure funding for the long-term. We think it is right the money is spent for the purpose it was given to us.”
Another Lib Dem pledge involves continuing a ‘silent revolution’ in schools to continue improvement of exam results.
Coun Scriven said: “The number of children with good GCSE results has improved in recent years through good leadership of schools and by encouraging schools to work together to develop their joint expertise.”
He added: “We want to treat all areas fairly and target funding towards everywhere that needs it.”