Why cut in funding is the central issue

Highfield Stay and Play.  28 April 2011
Highfield Stay and Play. 28 April 2011
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PUBLIC spending cuts dominates talk of council elections in Sheffield’s Central ward.

The seat will be one of the closest in the city when voters go to the polls on Thursday, a tight three-way battle between Greens, Labour and Lib Dems.

Tiana Razafimbelo and Margot(2)  at Highfield Stay and Play.  28 April 2011

Tiana Razafimbelo and Margot(2) at Highfield Stay and Play. 28 April 2011

Stretching from Sharrow, Highfield and Broomhall, across town to Kelham Island, the ward takes in the large Lansdowne, Leverton and Hanover housing estates, the multi-cultural community around London Road, and upmarket new apartments in the city centre.

The diversity of the 17,000 people who live in the ward is reflected by their voting habits.

All three parties have held Central since the ward was created by boundary changes in 2003, and this year Green Party leader Jillian Creasy is in for a fight if she is to hold on to her seat.

Coun Creasy is campaigning on a message of opposition to all spending cuts, a mantra that resounds among sections of the community that have lost public services.

English discussion group at Learn for Life Enterprise.     28 April 2011

English discussion group at Learn for Life Enterprise. 28 April 2011

Simon Barth, aged 46, a married dad-of-one, from Abbeydale Road, Highfield, said: “I think it’s shocking the way the council is being run by the Lib Dems.

“I could never have imagined a Tory council in Sheffield, but I think this is what it would look like.”

Mr Barth, a self-employed yoga teacher, is leaning towards voting Labour, unconvinced the Green party offers a viable alternative.

He is among a group of parents trying to defend the Highfield Stay and Play playgroup from grant cuts. The service is funded by Sharrow Sure Start, which is dealing with a 15 per cent drop in its council funding.

Katelyn McKeown and Eva(2).    28 April 2011

Katelyn McKeown and Eva(2). 28 April 2011

The Lib Dem-run council has promised not to close any Sure Start centres, but parents are worried the playgroup may fall victim to future rounds of cutbacks.

Mum-of-one Tiana Razafimbelo, 30, of South View Crescent, Sharrow, said: “The Lib Dems have not really shown a great deal of support.

“I have been impressed with the Greens, who have been very clear, and we are hoping to meet Labour so they can reaffirm their position.”

Child care is also a concern for community worker Katelyn McKeown, 31, of Batt Street, Highfield.

Simon Barth and Zola(20 months).   28 April 2011

Simon Barth and Zola(20 months). 28 April 2011

“There are very few registered child minders around here, so it’s a struggle when I go to work,” said the mum-of-two.

“In some areas there are free creche places for parents who want to get back into education or do a course, but there doesn’t seem to be anything like that here.”

Spending cuts have also hit Learn for Life, a social enterprise on London Road which offers language courses and skills training to the area’s many refugees, asylum seekers and those who have recently arrived from abroad.

Course tutor Carol Holmes said: “We lost all our funding last year.Before we could pay our teachers, now we are all volunteers. Four of us had been made redundant from other jobs and one is retired..”

Learn for Life student Fazil Mohammed, 28, who lives on South View Road since arriving from Iraq, said: “The service is excellent, teaching us many things we need to integrate here.”

Latvian mum-of-one, Lauma Klimanovica, 25, of Abbeydale Road, moved to Sheffield with her husband, who works in a food factory.

Lauma Klimanovica at Learn for Life Enterprise.     28 April 2011

Lauma Klimanovica at Learn for Life Enterprise. 28 April 2011

She said: “I am trying to find work but it’s difficult to get child care for my two-year-old daughter.

“I am very impressed with the way the city is run. The facilities, like the playground on Mount Pleasant Park, are really good, and buses are very regular.”

Emma Jepson, 24, who lives on Millsands, north of the city centre, said: “I will be voting on national issues.

“I don’t have children or relatives who need care, so the council doesn’t really have a big impact on my life.”