‘Our best chance to cut poverty in Sheffield’

Council leader Coun Julie Dore in the Peace Gardens.
Council leader Coun Julie Dore in the Peace Gardens.
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FORTUNES for Sheffield’s 550,000-strong population are among the most divided in Britain – but council leader Julie Dore has set out how she intends to make the city one of the fairest.

Coun Dore spoke to The Star after a report was published by the city’s Fairness Commission, a cross-party group made up of political, business, community and religious representatives.

The commission was set up by the council’s ruling Labour group.

Its members have published a 78-page report which calls for a city-wide ‘living wage’ of £7.45 an hour, introduction of 20mph speed limits, initiatives to improve public health, fair access to benefits and credit and better crime prevention.

The Fairness Commission also calls for more help for Sheffield’s 58,000 people who care for sick or elderly relatives.

But just £1 million of council funding is available to help implement some of the ideas – while public services are facing huge cuts which include £50m of savings at the council alone in 2013/14.

Coun Dore said: “Setting up the Fairness Commission was a pretty bold and brave thing to do – its members were completely cross-party and represented a large number of organisations.

“The day job did not stop while this report was being put together – those taking part were putting in extra hours to make it a reality.

“The problems of inequality and poverty need to be addressed and the present time is our best chance.

“We are making large cuts and will have to prioritise council services for those who really need them and have no alternative.

“People who complain about us spending money on people in deprived areas need to remember that poverty in one area could mean a rise in crime such as burglary and robberies which affect residents in other parts of the city.

“If people haven’t enough money, they find a way to survive. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t seem to realise that.”

Coun Dore said the council plans to consider the recommendations in the Fairness Commission’s report and will now look into what it can do to achieve them.

The commission wants to reduce inequalities such as life expectancy – 92.1 years in Worrall, and just 72.7 years on the Flower Estate in Wincobank.

Quality of life is also in the spotlight, with proposals including helping people to have healthy diets and better homes.

Coun Dore said: “We will look at each point and put together a response about whether there is anything we can do.

“Although there is not very much money to go around there will probably be some action that could be taken.”

Coun Dore said that the £1m set aside to help make some of the recommendations a reality comes from a £1m underspend on last year’s council budget.

“We could not put that back into a service because it would only end up being cut again after a year,” she said.

Sheffield Council has not decided exactly what to do with the money but Coun Dore said ideas could include small-scale loans.

These could be used to help in a range of ways, such as through providing funding for new businesses to reduce unemployment or providing support for people wanting to get onto the housing ladder.

Coun Dore said the council’s fairness strategy aims to improve the lowest standard of living while not reducing the standard for more affluent residents.

She said: “This is not about taking the whole parks budget, for example, and only spending it in deprived areas. We need to make sure Sheffield is a successful city which means preserving what makes it attractive such as its theatres, galleries and parks.

“Such things are what makes Sheffield attractive to companies and for people such as university graduates wanting to remain here.

“Our aim is to invest in people so they can contribute to society. If we don’t, they will become dependent on public services and cost more to support.”