What happens next for the It's Our City referendum – one of the biggest people power movements Sheffield

It was one of the biggest people power movements Sheffield has ever seen which came to a sudden end with ‘gut-wrenching disappointment and frustration’.

Wednesday, 20th May 2020, 9:45 am
Updated Wednesday, 20th May 2020, 10:31 am

When It's Our City campaigners collected a petition with 26,000 names, it sparked a citywide referendum on whether the council should move to a committee system, away from the current leader and cabinet model.

Campaigners were so passionate they spent two years explaining to people on the street, collecting signatures in parks and asking searching questions at council meetings.

They not only collected the required number of signatures by law, but smashed it by several thousand and it was a satisfying moment when the referendum was announced.

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It's Our City campaigners

However, just seven weeks before the vote, everything came to a sudden halt with the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown.

The referendum will be rescheduled to next year, planned once again for the same day as the local elections in May 2021, but its cancellation was a major blow.

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Anne Barr, spokeswoman, said: “It was absolute gut wrenching disappointment and frustration.

Carole Sutherland and Anne Barr

"We launched the petition in August 2018, which seems like an eternity ago now, and handed it in during August 2019.

"There we were in January with a big public meeting, lots of enthusiasm and new supporters joining, our strategy to bring it back to the public's attention and then lockdown struck.

“We had the fateful news that had to be postponed.

"Another year's delay means it drags on and it is frustrating as we were only weeks away.

It's Our City campaigners

“Without sounding arrogant, we were confident of getting a resounding result because a lot of people across the city were on board and it had cross-party support which is very important."

Campaigners were quick to contact Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick MP, who agreed it could be postponed.

They cautiously asked if it might be held later this year, aware holding a standalone referendum on a separate day to the local elections costs a lot more money.

He has not replied, understandably consumed by Covid-19 issues.

Ms Barr said: “The pessimist in me says what if things are not sorted by next year.

“However, this is not going away, because the referendum is set down in law and we are not going to jeopardise it, so we have done everything we can on the technical and legal side and have to keep the whole thing in the public's eye."

How does a campaign which relied on handing out leaflets, manning street stalls and talking face to face to people continue with social distancing?

Ms Barr said: "We could have this for a long time. We are using social media and Zoom meetings and there are ways of having public meetings.

“It is our biggest problem, but the referendum is a way off, so we have to be alert, pick things up and continually discuss it. It's never been more important to keep scrutiny alive.

“All we can do is keep plugging away. I have thousands of leaflets at my house which have the date May 7, 2020 on them - I'll be spending many hours sticking labels over them with the new date."

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