Sheffield Council faces new challenge from tenants

Concern: Coun Penny Baker
Concern: Coun Penny Baker
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SHEFFIELD Council is being challenged to reveal yet more information withheld from 42,000 tenants before they voted on whether housing should be returned to the authority’s control.

The Information Commissioner has already ordered the council to release its confidential ‘Project Business Case’ report, which revealed secret concerns that housing services could ‘deteriorate or fail’ if management firm Sheffield Homes was scrapped.

But the council was allowed to hold back three appendices.

Martin Brighton, of Lowedges, who requested the report, is appealing for the extra information to be released.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner confirmed: “The case will be considered by an independent tribunal.”

Tenants, who voted overwhelmingly for housing management to be restored to the council, were told in a £400,000 consultation process that axing Sheffield Homes would save £1.2 million and lead to better services.

Concerns have also been raised that the council may have breached Government guidelines. The Department for Communities and Local Government says councils must ‘clearly set out pros and cons’ of proposals and demonstrate ‘potential impact on residents’. But tenants said they were never told services could worsen and Sheffield Homes was not allowed to make a public case to remain.

Lynn Harrison, of Scraithwood Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, said: “I don’t think the council followed the guidelines.”

Stephen Rich, secretary of Greenhill and Bradway TARA, added: “It appears the council has broken the rules. The ballot should be re-held with tenants given full information.”

* Tenants could request a judicial review of the ballot result over the future of Sheffield’s estates due to the claims government guidelines were breached.

* Opposition Lib Dem councillors claim a ‘fog of misinformation and uncertainty has descended around the decision’.

* Coun Penny Baker, opposition Lib Dem housing spokeswoman, said: “When the Liberal Democrats started the process of holding a ballot about the future management of housing, we promised to be open and honest. This is not the way the thousands of tenants in Sheffield deserve to be treated.”

* Unison, which represents many of Sheffield Homes’ 1,000 staff, says it is investigating possible legal action to challenge the legitimacy of the ballot.

* Sheffield Council’s head of housing commissioning Richard Palmer said: “We assessed our consultation process against the government guidance in December 2011.” Mr Palmer said the council is ‘fully satisfied’ it complied.

* Visit Sheffield City Council to view the secret report.