Almost 500 public questions asked at Sheffield Town Hall in a year – report finds

A new report has found that almost 500 public questions had been asked in a year at Sheffield Town Hall while attendees felt “intimidated” and “frustrated”.
Sheffield Town HallSheffield Town Hall
Sheffield Town Hall

A report – “S.O.S. Citizen Scrutiny Report: Public Questions and Petitions” – published by campaigners “to bring citizen experiences and perspectives to bear on arrangements and processes for public questions and petitions at Sheffield City Council (SCC) full council and committee meetings (including Local Area Committees – LAC)”.

A citizen-organised platform called Sheffield Oversight and Scrutiny (S.O.S.) urged the council, among other things, to drop the requirement of in-person attendance to get a public question (PQ) answered in council/committees/LACs as it’s deemed “profoundly inequitable/restrictive”.

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Also, they wanted better and easier access to public records of questions and answers, to improve information about what has previously been asked, and accountability in satisfactory answers.

The group consists of local campaigners who have attended public meetings in the past and they have a long history of submitting or presenting petitions and public questions – or at least “attempting to ask”, they added in the report.

In the report, the council was also recommended to allow a follow-up question and consider the provision of written answers published as part of the council/committee papers before the meeting.

They called the council to provide them with high-quality and relevant information – and “less waffling”.

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Attendees found that the process of submitting a question (and receiving an answer) was “intimidating”, “frustrating” and “nerve-wracking”, among other things.

Campaigners also went as far as gathering data regarding public questions asked and petitions submitted between September 2022 and August 2023 and they found that the council had received a total of 472 public questions in all available forums (full council, committees).

Meanwhile, a further 141 public questions had been asked at LACs.

The report said: “We think most people will be surprised at the high number of PQs and petitions. Though 472 PQs are not from 472 different people, neither are they from a small number of people.

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“Additionally, it is evident that approximately 80 per cent of questioners (and, by definition, all petitioners) are not asking questions as individuals – they are linked into groups, organisations, campaigns and networks of one sort or another.

“Therefore, a single PQ is sometimes being asked on behalf of large numbers of people. The number of ‘questioners’ is, in this sense, much higher than 472.”

The committees receiving the most public questions, the report stated, were Waste and Street Scene; Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy; Communities, Parks and Leisure and Charity Trustees Sub-Committee.

Most questions during the data collection were submitted to council and committee meetings about climate, parks (generally and specifically), racism, disability and other equality issues (including cost of living), clean air zone (CAZ) implementation, the Street Trees Inquiry and the Local Plan.

The full report can be found here.