Row erupts over Richard Caborn being given freedom of the city of Sheffield
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The ex-Sheffield Central MP, who spearheaded the city’s Olympic Legacy Park, was honoured “in recognition of his contribution to the advancement of sport in Sheffield, nationwide and internationally, and, in doing so, rendering eminent services to the City”.
It is the first time that the honour has been awarded to a father and son – George Caborn won the accolade in 1981. He was a lifelong Communist Party activist and a huge figure in the city’s trade union movement.
Green group leader Coun Douglas Johnson objected, saying the council should wait and use a new policy being proposed to make the award system more inclusive. Green members voted against the award or abstained.
His speech was met with asides of “disgraceful” in the council chamber and Labour member Coun Anne Murphy said she was “ashamed” of what he said.
Lord Mayor Sioned-Mair Richards proposed the motion. She said that he left school aged 15 for an apprenticeship with Firth Browns. He became a shop steward, then works convenor, and was involved with Sheffield Trades Council.
‘Passionate about injustice’
She said: “Richard was passionate about injustice, so he joined the anti-apartheid movement and he was actually the founder of the Sheffield anti-apartheid group. He rose up to become national treasurer of the anti-apartheid movement for Great Britain and he was one of the few people who could call Nelson Mandela ‘Madiba’ because he was a friend of his.
“That’s how much Nelson Mandela admired Richard.”
She said that he had been an MP and a Euro MP and served as sports minister, adding: “His work at securing the Olympic Games for the UK was one of his great successes.”
“Apart from his amazing wife Margaret, who has the patience of a saint, his passion has always been Sheffield, it goes through him like a stick of rock”.
She said that on retirement, he worked on securing the Advanced Manufacturing Park, “a world-class facility”, and the Olympic Legacy Park, “an unrivalled cluster of life science assets”.
She said that Sheffield United proposed the honour.
The motion was seconded by Coun Peter Price. He said he had known Richard since he was a shop steward and was present when his father got the freedom of the city for his contribution to the trade union movement.
‘Modern and fitting’
He said that Richard’s friendship with Nelson Mandela helped to win the UK Olympic bid when Britain was unpopular among African nations.
Coun Price praised him as “the greatest sports minister this country’s ever had”, bringing sports investment to Sheffield and other regions. He also said “Richard’s initiative, energy, enthusiasm” have brought together significant public and private partnerships.
Deputy Lord Mayor Coun Colin Ross also backed the proposal on behalf of the LibDem group, recalling they had worked together on the bid to bring the World Cup to Sheffield.
Coun Johnson said: “It is the highest award that we can offer as a council and only last week it was set out in a paper that members of the council here discussed, that freedom of the city should only be used for the most exceptional contributions, usually of international historical importance, and the examples given were Nelson Mandela, who’s already been mentioned, Jess Ennis, Helen Sharman, the first woman in space – actually going beyond international – and the Yorkshire Regiment as a body.
“Despite these names, if you look back at the list of the freedom of the city, it’s recognised there’s a lack of diversity in those honours – not just in the father and son arrangement, a lack of diversity – and we agreed to devise a new process for all sorts of city awards and how this council could recognise people who have done things for the good of the city with a new system of public nominations.
“A slight awkwardness here, a non-public nomination that’s come before us today. We’ve had some fine speeches on this but the brief we’ve been given it’s for the advancement of sport in Sheffield.
“I don’t mean to take it away but it’s come before us without going through this process which everyone’s now agreed that we need to revitalise and make sure is modern and fitting and reflects the present and future of the city, rather than the past.”
He added: “The difficulty is it doesn’t seem to make it to the level of eminence envisaged by this very high award of the freedom of the city. I would propose that we defer this until we have this new revised honours system in place with the criteria that we’ve all agreed need to be revised, to include an independent civic awards panel.”
Coun Anne Murphy said: “I just find that shameful that you’ve made that kind of statement after hearing what Coun Price and the Lord Mayor have said. I’m sat here actually quite cross with you as a party.
“We’ve been working with you on these honours awards for over a year now. Your representative on the board was Coun Argenzio. If she hasn’t passed on that information to you, that’s not our problem and actually it was the Lord Mayor that specified that Richard was nominated by Sheffield United.
“I came you and spoke to you about it, and as far as I was concerned, you said to me, Angela, that you didn’t have a problem with it and you were going to take it to the group.
“So, I’m sorry, I find it absolutely disgraceful the way that you’ve just behaved, and I’m very saddened on behalf of Richard but also on behalf of this city. Richard is well liked by everybody and I’m actually ashamed today to be in this council chamber with people like you.”
The Lord Mayor said this would be the last freedom-giving under the old system.