In challenging circumstances what have been your party’s biggest achievements so far?
“Managing to restore some of the funding which was cut from different areas despite the council having to make £84million of cuts this year, achieving what we perceived to be our priorities.
“The greatest achievement has been establishing the apprenticeship scheme, which we are extremely proud of. It’s ground-breaking because, unlike schemes elsewhere where public funding simply covers the cost of training and the employer pays the wages, ours also subsidises wages making it more attractive for companies who may otherwise be put off.
“We are also offering extra help to smaller firms wanting to take on apprentices, such as covering the HR work for them. The target group is young people finding it difficult to access jobs and training. Through this scheme, even if they do not stay with their employer once the apprenticeship is over, we hope they will be ready to take advantage of some of the other job opportunities.”
How is the council going to maintain services with a further cut of £50 million coming in the next financial year, from April 2012?
“Council services play a vital role working in our communities, often in partnership with the voluntary sector. I think it is important, now more than ever, that we support our communities in Sheffield as they face really difficult times both with the current economic situation and dealing with the impact of cuts across the public sector.
“This is why we are committed to acting responsibly and taking a more long- term view in dealing with the cuts and making sure that we gain a picture of the position the council and the city will be in after the whole of the £220 million of Government cuts are made to the council, rather than simply making cuts year on year and salami-slicing services across the board.”
What is the greatest challenge facing the council?
The cuts and declining resources in general, not just within the council but the entire public sector. The biggest challenge facing us is keeping Sheffield’s reputation as a cohesive, inclusive and friendly community. We still have big inequalities which we would like to tackle despite dwindling funding. We also want to continue to invest in our city centre and keep up the good work which has been happening here with improvements such as the Peace Gardens, Devonshire Green, Tudor Square and the Gold Route to the station.
“We have plans to invest in creating new social housing, district shopping centres, and public spaces. The markets are going to be built along with The Moor redevelopment and Sevenstone.”
What mistakes were made when Labour was last in power, until 2008, and what lessons have been learned?
“In 2008, we lost because nationally there was a swing against Labour, as a swing against the Lib Dems has seen us returned to power. We accept there were some specific issues that people were unhappy about.
“With the merger of Wisewood and Myers Grove Schools, it didn’t matter how we presented the consultation, there were always going to be people left unhappy about the outcome - and whose votes cost us seats. Would they have voted in a different way had the consultation been different? Probably not. That said, the consultation could have been better and we should have been clearer about exactly what we were consulting on.
“On highways, we need to accept that the views of people who experience the service - the motorists - matter as much as the experts. A traffic officer sat in the Town Hall may come up with an idea and say this is the best way of doing things but we need to listen to the people who use routes and take their views into account. In the past, Labour listened too much to professional opinion rather than the public, such as at Woodseats.”
How can the council improve its service to the public?
“One key improvement is to develop a corporate communications policy to make sure that all departments meet certain key standards when informing the public, so nobody feels their views are not being taken into account and that we are carrying out a thorough process.
“We have plenty of other ideas which we will develop in due course but we have only been in power just over 130 days so you will hear more from us in the near future.”
You have a huge majority of 16 so it is unlikely you will lose power next year and there is not an election for another two years. What is your vision for the next few years?
“We want to maintain a friendly, inclusive, cohesive city and work to ensure that inequalities between different neighbourhoods and groups of people decrease. We would also like to preserve as many of our services as possible despite the cuts.
“We are in a position to be able to make bold and difficult decisions and think longer-term - meaning we can look at the interests of everyone rather than short-term electoral advantage.
“We will work for Sheffield and stand up for the city’s best interests.
“The economy is our biggest priority, through ensuring schemes such as the Moor redevelopment and Sevenstone go ahead, working with companies through the Local Enterprise Partnership and ensuring the Enterprise Zone is a success by attracting new business rather than firms relocating from other areas locally to take advantage of the benefits provided.
“We have a plan to address the housing shortage through the new Local Housing Company to redevelop sites left vacant due to demolitions a decade ago and will also encourage more private developments.”
What would you like to achieve once the cuts are over in 2015, when you are likely to have more funding?
“We need to revisit areas that have been cut and see what could be reinstated but also consider new ideas.
“ There may be new ideas and initiatives to help improve the city and we also want to be as efficient as possible.”