Sheffield Council decides to keep spending tens of thousands on Ponds Forge for full council meetings
Sheffield Council said it will continue to hold full council meetings at Ponds Forge over Covid concerns.
It means the local authority will have held its full council meetings – where all 84 councillors, officers and members of the public gather and decisions are made on key issues – away from the Town Hall for two years.
Despite the hire of Ponds Forge costing in the region of £10,000 for each meeting, no long-term plan has yet been announced for the meetings to return to the council chamber.
Councillor Terry Fox, leader of the council, said the meetings will take place at the city centre sports venue at least until March.
It follows a postponed full council in November and a derailed full council in December which were both affected by venue problems and the cancellation of all meetings near the end of December and early January.
Coun Fox said: “Following the Omicron variant outbreak and advice from public health, in order to minimise in-person contact, the need for meetings scheduled for the remainder of December and early January was reviewed and agreed unanimously by the corporate member group, which includes all of the political leaders on the council, including the arrangements around public engagement.”
Sheffield Liberal Democrats has criticised the council for its handling of full council meetings since the council was forced by the government to return to in-person decision making in May last year.
Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of the 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.”
Why is the Town Hall not being used for full council?
The council has been saying it intends to return full council 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 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 in recent months, the Government has refused to allow online decision-making to return.