Concern for public’s say as Sheffield Council meeting chaos continues

Sheffield Liberal Democrats raised concern about how cancelled and postponed full council meetings are affecting members of the public.

By Molly Williams, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 7th January 2022, 5:43 pm
Updated Monday, 10th January 2022, 7:58 am

The opposition highlighted the issue after finding that there would be no public questions or petitions at next week’s online briefing, which is replacing a cancelled full council meeting.

Councillor Joe Otten, chief whip for Liberal Democrats, said: “This follows on from the farce of December’s full council meeting where Labour and Green Councillors refused to enter Sheffield University’s Octagon Centre where the meeting was being held due to a lecturers strike at the University despite the venue being booked after the strike was called.

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Sheffield Liberal Democrats have raised concern about how Sheffield Council's meeting problems are impacting members of the public.

“This decision will mean that by the time of the next scheduled meeting of full council the general public will not have been able to bring their questions and petitions to the council for almost two months. This is a disgrace; shutting the public out of the council’s democratic processes is a dangerous precedent.”

The local authority has cancelled or postponed its biggest meeting – where all 84 councillors, officers and members of the public gather and decisions are made on key issues – every month since the start of November as it refuses to use the Town Hall over concerns about Covid.

January’s full council meeting was due to take place on Wednesday, 12, but it has been cancelled and replaced with an online briefing where Greg Fell, director of public health, will provide an update on Covid.

Why is the council not using the Town Hall for full council meetings?

The council has been saying it intends to return to the Town Hall for a while but there are no signs of this happening any time soon.

It held all meetings online throughout the height of Covid-19 but the Government forced local authorities to return to in-person decision making last May.

The council said the Town Hall is not big enough to allow attendees to do social distancing so it has been using Ponds Forge and The Octagon as alternatives.

But the cost of this continues to run up. The total cost just for holding full council at Ponds Forge between May and September last year was £42,927.

Despite pleading from local authorities across the country, the Government has refused to allow online decision-making to return.

Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of Sheffield Liberal Democrats, said: “We understand that the council is reacting to events around the pandemic, but with critical decisions around the local plan, council reorganisation and the budget coming up, simply cancelling meetings is not the answer and will have a knock on effect for these serious choices.

“Unfortunately the Government is, for no obvious reason, still not letting council meetings take place online. But, we would be happy to either move meetings online if allowed or hold them with reduced numbers where necessary to maintain safety.

“However, the council cannot just continue to cancel meetings as it has with the January full council meeting and a number of others in recent weeks. The councils Labour and green leadership need to step up and lead.”

Sheffield Council was asked multiple times what – if any – its long-term plan was for full council going forwards.