Local area committees voted through in Sheffield despite cynicism

Councillors voted for a new scheme that aims to give communities greater say in decision making, despite cynicism from opposition that it was a political move ahead of the election.

Friday, 19th March 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 19th March 2021, 3:53 pm

Elected members debated and voted on plans to introduce seven local area committees covering all parts of Sheffield in an extraordinary full council meeting yesterday evening.

The idea of the committees, which will cost £1.2 million to set up, is to give residents more opportunity to influence decision making.

The council said it was in response to calls received in its Big City Conversation.

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Finer details of how they will work are yet to be released but the council aims to develop them over the next 12 to 18 months.

It comes ahead of a referendum, trigged by It’s Our City’s campaign, in which residents will vote on whether the council should stay in a cabinet model or switch to a committee system.

Councillor Bob Johnson, leader of the council, said: “Today we take the first huge step in empowering our communities, providing a platform to deliver on the changes people want to see within their local areas.

“We wanted to show everyone that we mean business and to show our direction of travel and intent.

“Our plans for local area committees are about more than just Town Hall decision making. This is about engaging, empowering and enabling all of our communities.

“As part of this we are proposing a radical devolution to local levels. It is impossible to say exactly what they will look like as we want to work with communities over the next 12 months to determine what the changes should be. A real bottom-up approach.”

Debate became heated with councillors calling each other hypocrites and questioning intentions.

Green Party and Liberal Democrat councillors said while they supported devolving more power to residents, the timeframe was too long and they were cynical about why the ruling party was proposing it now.

Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew Sangar said: “Eight wasted years. Today this council is debating the need to reintroduce local area committees after they were abolished eight years ago by the current ruling administration.

“I wish I could say that I welcome Labour’s conversion to local action but it’s clear we are only debating this today because Labour are running scared.

“Running scared of It’s Our City and the government’s referendum to move away from strong leader to a modern committee system, running scared of the increased number of opposition councillors and most importantly running scared of their own poor record of centralised decision making, secrecy and mismanagement.”

Councillor Douglas Johnson, leader of the Green Party, said: “The question is: why now? Why would you promise to bring in all this extra resource and decision making to local areas when you spent the last 10 years doing just the opposite.

“Is it because this is from a party that it criticising the failures of centrally organised top-down governments over the last few years or is it a party that is coming up for election and expecting to do badly?”

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