Sheffield Council chief executive John Mothersole answers Star readers’ questions in our second instalment of our exclusive Q&A.
Q7: Did you know how many trees would be cut down in Sheffield when the Streets Ahead contract was being negotiated and if so, would you have gone ahead with it? Liam Barr, Sharrow Vale
“Sheffield has the street trees it has today, because previous generations planted them. We have a chance today to do the same for the future. I do firmly believe that is the attitude we should have.
We entered into the Streets Ahead contract with full knowledge of the condition and health of our street trees. This is the first time we have had the resources and investment to properly maintain and on some occasions, where necessary, replace them.
In the past when we have had to remove a street tree on health and safety grounds we didn’t have the resources to replace them. Streets Ahead has given us that opportunity.
This is a once in a life time chance for Sheffield to be able to not only maintain but also renew our street tree stock, where it is needed. We shouldn’t squander this opportunity. We have resumed the replacement programme and this follows on from honouring our commitment that we would not do anything until the judgement had been received from the High Court. This judgement found in our favour on all points and we are now continuing.
I can safely say that at the end of the Streets Ahead contract in 2037 Sheffield will have more street trees than it started with in 2012, further cementing us as the greenest city in Britain.”
Q8: Why has the council extended car parking, so that people can no longer, for example, park around London Road/Bramall Lane free of charge? That doesn’t help bring people into the city centre. Anne Bradford
“I live in an area affected by a parking zone, so I know how they work and feel.
Areas around the city centre often get very busy with parking and residents and local business customers can find it difficult to park. Controlled parking areas can help with this and there are a number of them in Sheffield, which we introduced after consulting with residents and local businesses. Often, it is local residents who first call for these changes.
We’ve extended the controlled zones around London Road and Bramall Lane as these areas were just getting too busy and the parking was having a negative impact on a wider area. Residents should now be able to park more easily and others can park slightly further away and walk into the centre or look at other ways to travel such as by bike or bus.
This is not unusual and is a challenge that every city faces. Inevitably it’s impossible to please everyone when we have a limited amount of space but we have taken the decision to prioritise the people that live and work and run their businesses in these areas and to keep Sheffield moving.”
Q9: How will the council cope with more budget cuts from London? Charity worker Anthony Cunningham
“It certainly gets harder each year to deal with the funding cuts and by the end of this year we will have had to find savings of £350m. That is an incredible amount, and if you had asked me five years ago how we would have coped with a figure like that I think I would genuinely have said ‘I don’t know’.
The worry is that the fact that somehow or other the city has coped means that we will just be given more savings to find. There will be a breaking point.
We also shouldn’t fool ourselves that finding these savings has not been without consequence. Lots of things have had to change in the city and not always for the better in order to balance the books.
We have managed to do it with a lot of support and cooperation from the people of Sheffield. We have done it not just by cutting costs and by cutting services but wherever we can finding better ways of achieving what we are here to do. So for example we have found better ways of responding quickly to children who find themselves in difficult circumstances. This is better for the child concerned, and also is more cost effective. We work now much more closely with colleagues in the NHS so that we see social services as part of someone’s health and social care needs, and not just passing them from one part of the system to the other.
Obviously, we brought in alternative weekly bin collection; we found with lots of communities very different ways of keeping all of our libraries open; we have found different ways of funding advice services in the city. They are just three examples.
Can we cope with more? We certainly can’t cope with much more, and I only hope that the signal from the government that after the next couple of years things might start to stabilise becomes true. We certainly need it to be the case.”
Q10: As the council has lost half of its funding, and as a result has had to cut a lot of services, why do we still need a full time Chief Executive to manage a much smaller council? Jean Tinsley, Walkley
“I thought a question like this might come up!
I know that there are people who think that Councils don’t need Chief Executives at all, so I’m not going to win that particular argument with those with that view.
What I would ask people to reflect on is that Councils, just like lots of businesses, are very big and complex organisations. Sheffield City Council is the third biggest urban authority in the country, and just about all of the Councils in the country do have Chief Executives.
Equally, whilst we have seen a significant reduction in our resources over the last five years, we are still responsible for just about everything now as we were responsible for five years ago. In some respects finding different ways of keeping the city going is a harder job than it used to be.
My simple line on this is that big organisations need managerial structures in order to deliver. That usually translates into having a Chief Executive or a post with some similar job title. That is why most companies have Chief Executives; that is why most Councils have Chief Executives. I think the reduction in money over recent years has certainly challenged the cost and need of senior management, and we have reduced significantly that group of people in Sheffield City Council. But it doesn’t get rid of the need to have senior management.
If having senior management is the right thing to do for the best companies in the land, then I do think we should equally expect the best of our public services.
So, I have always tried to avoid arguing in favour of why I in particular do this job. I do however believe that big organisations need senior management and leadership. If you believe that then you probably I think believe that there should be a senior role like the one I occupy. If you don’t, then you will never agree with me!”
Q11: Has an impact assessment been done to ascertain the collective impact of the different cuts and reductions to service on the older generation of people in sheltered housing and care in Sheffield? John Hopkins, Broomhall
“We carry out an impact assessment on all the decisions we make particularly when it is linked to cuts or changes to services. Even when the law was changed so that we did not have to do this, we carried on as it does give a very useful insight. I want all of our staff to think like Sheffielders, but unless you are exactly of the same age or experience of those who are affected then that is not as good as first hand knowledge. Doing the impact assessment helps with that.”
Q12: When will Housing Plus be put in place in Firth Park? We heard it was going to be rolled out across the city. How will it directly affect council residents? Mick Daniels, Brushes TARA, Firth Park
“Housing+ will be introduced across the city later this year.
We developed the new approach after feedback from council residents. It means people will have a named Neighbourhood Officer to contact for housing issues, who will also speak to other services on their behalf.
Around 170 Neighbourhood Officers will be out on the estates more often and will have more contact with people in their own homes. I hope council residents like the new approach and welcome any feedback about it.”
Q13: If you were offered a solution to affordable housing which wouldn’t cost the Council a penny, what more would you want to know? Jon Johnson at Strip the Willow
“I’d want to know more about what you’re proposing and how it could work. I’d want to know what it needs from us, if it meant too much risk had to be taken and if it would deliver good decent, homes. So, give us a call!”
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