Campaigners demand action from Sheffield Council over alleged “inaccurate” referendum leaflet

Campaigners are threatening to report Sheffield Council to the Ombudsman amid claims it sent out inaccurate and misleading information about a vote.

Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 9:23 am

It’s Our City campaigners have complained to chief executive Kate Josephs about a leaflet which the council delivered to all households about the referendum.

On May 6, the same day as the local elections, voters will also be asked if they want to keep the current Leader and Cabinet system or switch to committees.

Campaigners say they told the council the information was wrong in a letter on April 9, and reiterated in a follow-up meeting with director James Henderson on April 12, but it was still distributed.

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The campaigners.

Woll Newall and Ruth Hubbard, of It’s Our City, say the leaflet is clearly unfair and contravenes regulations.

“The information does not enable voters to understand the particular referendum choice they are empowered to make, nor to enable them to assess the different choices available.

“We require the council to correct the inaccurate and misleading information by writing to the electorate within 10 days.

“We understand your opposition to this is partly your interpretation that the council is prohibited from publishing any further information in the 28 days before the referendum and that regulations only allow the council to correct third party misinformation in this period.

“We find the position taken by the council – that it is not able to correct its own misinformation – is one where there is clear maladministration and is not a decision that any local authority could legitimately make.

“We think there is a clear case of maladministration if the council does not correct the record.”

Ms Josephs said the council had engaged with campaigners on the material.

She said: “As part of this, we commissioned independent advice from the Local Government Association on the material to ensure that it was factual, neutral and unbiased.

“That advice suggested some changes, which we made in full before the material was published.

“We are confident that the leaflet and accompanying webpages present the two options fairly and will ensure that voters are able to make an informed choice.”