Deputy Leader of Sheffield Council RESIGNS

The Deputy Leader of Sheffield Council has sensationally quit – just two hours after a 26,000 name petition was handed into the Town Hall condemning the way the council is run.

Friday, 23rd August 2019, 16:56 pm
Coun Olivia Blake

Coun Olivia Blake resigned as campaigners from It’s Our City stood on the Town Hall steps calling for the Cabinet model to be scrapped in favour of a committee system.

In a shock resignation, she said she would “take the side of the people and back the committee system”.

She said she had signed the petition and would make further statements over the coming days about the role she will play in the referendum.

Handover of the It's Our City petition at Sheffield Town Hall. Picture: Scott Merrylees

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By signing the petition, she said her role as Deputy Council Leader had become “untenable under the current political leadership”.

It will be a blow for Council Leader Julie Dore, who is already facing a citywide referendum. If the names on the petition can be verified, the council will have to allow people to vote on whether to change the way the council is run.

Coun Blake said: “I stood to be a Labour councillor to help transform the lives of the people of Sheffield for the better. To ensure that people are healthy and wealthy enough to take full part in the public life of their community.

“The austerity inflicted on people in our city for the past decade has caused personal tragedies, but it is also a tragedy for our democracy.

“People feel disenfranchised when their elected Labour councillors have no money to spend, because of cruel decisions by a Tory government.

“Open, democratic and accountable government is nonetheless crucial. And I have been at the forefront of pushing for greater democracy in the council as Deputy Leader.

“I have introduced webcasting of council meetings. I have reversed privatisation, so councillors have direct control of public services. And I helped to change the direction of policy on the issue of street trees, so the council listened to the people.

“One of the strengths of an open, transparent and robust democracy is that it allows us to acknowledge mistakes, learn from them, and move on in a better direction.

“My preference was to resolve the debate on the council’s governance structure without the need for a referendum but now that it is almost certain to be held, it is time to take a public position on where we go next.

“I will take the side of the people. I will back the committee system. It is a starting point for a wider debate on how to rejuvenate our democracy, and it is important that Labour voices contribute to this debate.

“I have added my name to the It’s Our City petition, and will make further statements in the coming days about the role I intend to play in the upcoming referendum.

“These decisions make my position in the council’s Cabinet untenable under the current political leadership.

“I have therefore resigned as Deputy Leader of the council and of the Labour Group. This has not been an easy decision to make but I believe it is the right one for the people I represent and for the Labour Party.”

Coun Blake is married to fellow Cabinet member, Coun Lewis Dagnall. She will remain as a Labour councillor for Walkey, where she was elected in 2014. Her seat is up for election next May.

She is also Labour’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for Sheffield Hallam against Jared O’Mara MP.

Council Leader Julie Dore was unavailable for comment.

Campaigners from It’s Our City handed a paper petition with 16,000 names into the Town Hall. An online petition with another 10,000 names will be submitted tomorrow,

Dozens of campaigners gathered outside the Town Hall as boxes containing the paper petition were handed to council officers.

Chairman of It’s Our City, Ruth Hubbard, said: “It’s the largest ever petition in the country for a change of governance in a council.

“People are astounded and appalled to discover the strong leader model. The majority of local councillors have no formal role and communities have no voice or representation to shape and influence decisions made on our behalf.”