‘Categorically untrue’ only cabinet has say, says leader

“It is absolutely, categorically untrue that only cabinet have control over decisions,” said councillor Julie Dore, leader of Sheffield City Council, ahead of a debate on whether the authority should change to a committee system.

Sheffield City Council's cabinet
Sheffield City Council's cabinet

Currently, the council operates under a strong leader and cabinet system run by one party but that could soon change.

Campaign group It’s Our City has got nearly 20,092 signatures, five per cent of the electorate, on a petition calling for a referendum on the way the council is run.

They want to see a committee system which gives opposition more say on decision making.

Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore.

If they hit the five per cent target, a referendum will be triggered. But Coun Dore said people needed to be clearer on what kind of committee system they wanted and why before an expensive referendum took place.

She said: “I’d like to understand what they want when they bring their petition to full council. Do they want us to have a referendum before they reach the 20,000 because it’s £500,000 to hold a referendum. If I agree to a referendum, where is that £500,000 coming from?

“I think there’s pros and cons with all systems, I’m meeting with It’s Our City, Sheffield For Democracy and an active citizen and all three don’t agree on what the system should look like yet.

“Of course I want wider engagement with the public – why would I want to create policies that the public don’t want? I want greater engagement with them and we’ve tried various ways – with cabinet events with the media and different ways online.

Fran Grace, Sue Kondakor, Andrew Kondakor, Ruth Hubbard and Shelley Cockayne are joined by Lord Mayor Magid Magid at the launch of their petition. Picture: Scott Merrylees

“I want to understand what they think a committee system would give them that isn’t being achieved by the current system and so far I’ve not heard of anything that would have changed in decision making or outcomes, but I’m happy to have that discussion.”

Due to the petition reaching over 5,000 signatures, a full council debate will be held on Wednesday, July 3 to discuss the proposals.

During their campaigning, It’s Our City, supported by the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, claimed that decisions were being made by only 10 councillors under the current system and that even Labour backbenchers were unable to speak out to their own party.

In their petition statement, they said: “Just 10 out of the 84 councillors in Sheffield Council have been given the power to make nearly all council decisions.

“In this undemocratic decision-making system, the other 74 councillors (from all parties) have little or no say. This petition is about making the council change to use a more democratic decision-making system, where all councillors actually have the power to represent the people that elected them.”

However, Coun Dore said this was “categorically untrue.”

“Planning and licensing for example are both cross-party and I don’t have any say in those as a strong leader. I have no say in the decisions that affect people, like planning applications, on a daily basis. It’s just like the government but we are far more transparent and far more engaged than government ever is.

“There’s also a democratic system within the Labour group through which we engage every Labour councillor and each one has an influence.”

She said she would like to see greater engagement with the public but believed a committee system would not achieve this.

“It’s hard to say what the outcome would be if we did have a referendum. Our country’s experience of referendums is not very pleasant.

“Then if you have one referendum there will be lots of people who don’t like it and call for a second one. The irony of this is, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats that want this are the ones calling for a second referendum on something that they didn’t get the first time round.

“It’s really difficult, I just don’t want to spend £500,000 on a referendum which may not improve people’s lives.

“If opposition put it in their manifestos next year that ‘vote for me and we will turn into a committee system’ then to me that’s a way of people expressing what kind of system they want.”