Green councillor Alison Teal bids farewell to Sheffield Council just months after the coalition

Alison Teal’s name is synonymous with the Sheffield street tree campaign – she made national headlines when she was arrested for trying to stop workmen acting on behalf of her own council.

Friday, 11th February 2022, 12:34 pm
Updated Friday, 11th February 2022, 2:14 pm

But just months after a Labour and Green coalition was formed and she became an Executive member, she is standing down as a councillor.

She admits she fell into politics after the Green Party was concerned there were no women standing in target wards in 2016.

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Coun Alison Teal with fellow Green councillors, protesting via t-shirts at a Town Hall meeting.

She submitted her nomination papers the night before the deadline, never expecting to win, and was elected by eight votes in Nether Edge and Sharrow.

Her involvement in the tree campaign makes a whole other article in itself and was the reason she stood for election again but the time has come to move on.

“It wasn’t ever really my intention to get into this situation,” she reveals. “It’s the right time to finish because things have gone really well with the tree campaign, it feels like that piece of work is completed so it’s an appropriate time for me to stand down.”

Coun Alison Teal, with fellow Green councillors, wants to move away from the Town Hall and concentrate her energy in communities.

Her day job is as a psychologist and family therapist but she wants to pursue a long held passion to become an author.

“I’ve written two novels which are in a bottom drawer, a coming of age novel and a crime and romance one, and I’m really keen to write more and to try and get those into print.

“Maybe they’re not good enough but I just want to keep working on that, it’s my big ambition. I’ve wanted to do it all my life but just never let myself really get to it.

“I feel a lot of guilt that I shouldn’t be leaving right now with the new governance system because it’s going to be a really pivotal time and I would have liked to contribute to that and help that system work.

Coun Alison Teal, with fellow Green councillors, wants to move away from the Town Hall and concentrate her energy in communities.

“But for myself, I have to be a bit selfish. I’m 56, there are other things I want to do and I want to use my time differently.”

I suggest she should write a PhD about the tree saga and she laughs.

“Fiction gives you a lot more leeway to say what you really want to say, I’d have a lot more fun.

“I have to be honest too that financially, it’s really tough living on the £12,000 a year allowance.

“We need to look at making the role something everyone can do because we are not getting that diversity. If people aren’t paid enough it limits who can do the role so councillors’ pay needs a serious review.

“Being a councillor is a privilege and an honour, but there’s also quite a bit of sacrifice in terms of time with people you love and financially.”

From opposition to the Executive

After years in opposition it’s surprising that she’s standing down after finally having some power in the Executive but she’s blunt about the challenges.

“What I’ve learned is that even though it might appear you have some power, that power is incredibly limited because central government has got all the purse strings.

“All these wonderful things that you’d like to do and see happen are just not achievable because we don’t have the freedom to spend our budget in the way we want to.

“There’s very little over and above the statutory requirements to realise your ambitions for the city and that’s deeply frustrating.

“You’re in a position where you supposedly have power and yet there’s no money to support making the changes that you need.

“I wish there was a better level of political education so people understood that just how limited councils are, we’re just shuffling the pennies around.”

Her portfolio covering sustainable neighbourhoods, wellbeing, parks and leisure was another challenge.

“It’s absolutely vast and is fascinating but I’m spread so thinly. I could work 24 hours a day, seven days a week and still not feel like I’m doing a great job because it’s just too much, I can’t keep up with everything.

“I am forever frustrated and thinking I could have done that better, or I need to read more about that.

“It’s too much for one person to do but again, that’s another limitation that central government imposes upon us, you can’t have more than 10 Cabinet or Executive members.

“Maybe with the committee system things can be more equitable and people can delve deeper into issues. I really do hope we can do a better job.

“I’m quite academically research oriented and I’m forever aware of the amount of research needed and we just can’t get close to it.

“Officers do a brilliant job but I very often feel like we really need to know more about something before we make a decision. Maybe that’s a bit too much perfectionism but the resource issues are really serious.”

Party politics

She recently tweeted her criticism of the national Green Party saying “We’ve seen the party move from being tolerant/thoughtful to authoritarian/dogmatic underpinned by racism”

Does this signal her departure from the Party as well as the council?

“I can’t close any doors but a lot of the things I have been engaged in involve the community, they’re not really about the Party. I don’t think party politics is helping anymore.

“We need some serious structural changes but the system we have moves too slowly. I think my energy might be better spent outside the system than in it.”