Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions

To receive any questions or petitions from members of the public.


(NOTE: In accordance with the arrangements published on the Council’s website in relation to meetings of the Cabinet held remotely, questions/petitions are required to be submitted in writing, to by 9.00 a.m. on Monday 15th February.)



Public Question Concerning Legal Action taken by the Council




Russell Johnson commented, on BBC Radio Sheffield on 15 October 2019, Councillor Mark Jones took part in the now notorious ‘car crash’ interview with Toby Foster.


(a)      Will you now explain why in that interview Councillor Jones stated “we [Sheffield CC] didn’t try to put anyone in prison” when this was patently untrue, and this was known at the time.  For the avoidance of any doubt about this, below is an image of the Committal Notice. Furthermore, it should be noted that during the hearing the Judge was told that the Council Leader approved of the attempt to imprison citizens, one of whom was and is an Elected Councillor. This is on public record.


(b)      Was informed political authorisation sought from the Leader of the council for this action or did the head of Legal and Governance authorise this legal action solely via 'delegated authority' without seeking informed political sign off?


(c)      In that interview, Mr Foster suggested that you go away and find out who made the decision that led to the Rustlings Road debacle, and call him back when you had. You agreed to this. Have you made that call, and if so are you able to share what you told him with the public?


(d)      Since there has been no repeat appearance on BBC Radio Sheffield it would appear that you have as yet been unable to unearth the truth. Therefore, will SCC initiate an Independent Inquiry into the whole SCC-AMEY PFI saga, as advocated in a recent Yorkshire Post article? This would be a step towards lancing this festering sore that debilitates our Governance. Would Councillor Jones please resist referring to the Street Tree Strategy – though that is very welcome – and the ‘Archive’ – most likely window-dressing – in making his response. These do not meet the need for a truth & reconciliation process.



Councillor Mark Jones commented with regard to question (a) this is a repetition of a statement that has previously been made and referred Mr. Johnson to the response given by the then Leader of the Council. 


In respect of part (b), this question has also been addressed by the previous Leader and I refer you to these previous answers.


With regards to (c) I have yet to return the call to Mr Foster however I will repeat that I wholeheartedly believe that we are all the products of our environment and experiences and that our decisions are doubly so. I maintain that the breakdown of communications and the subsequent environment that developed from that failure to hold a dialogue resulted in a series of decisions that were frankly wrong.  We wouldn't seek to defend them and these were our responses to the recent ombudsman report. We will endeavour to make sure this doesn't happen again.


With regards to question (d) this is a good question because it clearly acknowledges the efforts we are putting in to rebuilding trust with our citizens of Sheffield. You are quite right that there is a difference between the past, and what has been done and future relationships that we are endeavouring to build.  He stated that he was optimistic about that future and believe that the previous issues have to some extent been addressed and would hope that the vast majority of people in Sheffield are satisfied with how things are currently proceeding. 



Public Question Concerning use of Civil Injunctions




Russell Johnson commented, A 2019 Appeal Court Hearing (Boyd & Anor v Ineos Upstream Ltd & Ors [2019] EWCA Civ 515) found that ‘the blunt tool of Civil Injunctions should not be used in place of criminal proceedings’.  As a result of this judgement, it is highly unlikely that SCC would now be successful in securing the draconian ‘Persons Unknown’ Injunction (which applied to everyone in the world), and thus the imposition of costs and suspended prison sentences may be considered illegitimate and are most certainly unjust.


(a) Will the Council today and on record express its regret that this ‘blunt tool’ was used to crush peaceful protest and arrange for some form of reparation for those who suffered both financially and emotionally.


(b) The Labour Party can boast a fine tradition of supporting protest against injustice. This is illustrated by the Kinder Mass Trespass commemorative plaque proudly displayed in the Town Hall entrance lobby.  Will the Leader please take this opportunity to clarify the Council’s position on peaceful protest, and set out the roadmap for a constructive truth, atonement and reparation process that is so clearly needed?


(c) Will the Leader please comment on the fact that FOIR released emails show communications within the Council which reveal planning to describe Cllr Alison Teal’s acquittal on an alleged Injunction breach as a ‘technicality’, contrary to Justice Males’ clear judgement? Does the current Leadership believe that seeking to deceive the public in this way is honest governance?



Councillor Mark Jones commented that these questions are a repetition of the questions previously asked to the former Leader and referred Mr Johnson to the responses made.  In doing so, he stated that we indeed welcome all peaceful protest and indicated that we are happy to repeat that.  He confirmed that we would not look to deceive the public in anyway. 




Public Question Concerning Local Government Ombudsman Complaints




Russell Johnson commented, in 2019/20 89% of complaints about Sheffield CC to the Local Government Ombudsman were upheld, compared to 67% in similar authorities in that year. Why?



Councillor Robert Johnson commented that if specific details could be provided a suitable answer will be provided.


(Note: Subsequent to the meeting a written response was provided to Mr Johnson and published on the Council’s website).



Public Question Concerning People with Disabilities and Postal Voting




Adam Butcher commented, further to my question at full council on the 3rd of February about communications, how is the Council and the Cabinet making sure people with all disabilities can have a postal vote if they want one to make sure there can do their civic duty.



Councillor Fox commented that he would firstly like to apologise to Mr Butcher for the actions of some Councillors at the last Council meeting which was very disconcerting and very distracting for him.  In reply to the question, he stated that the returning officer is finalising plans to send out postal vote applications with polling cards.  This will give people some choices on how they wish to vote, by post or in a Covid secure environment and also by proxy as well.  We will try to ensure that the election, forced on us by Government, is as safe as possible and as friendly as we possibly can for people with disabilities.  He stated that he would welcome any suggestions on how we can do this.



Public Question Concerning the Council’s Constitution




Nigel Slack commented, the last couple of Council Meetings and the history of the Council tinkering almost monthly with the City's constitution suggests there is a bigger issue than poor application of the rules within. We are sliding into an ever greater democratic deficit and the editing by an officer of public questions is another sign of disrespect for the public of the city.


With a new Leader and a new Chief Executive, perhaps now is the time for Council to commit to a wholesale review of the Constitution, root and branch.


Will the Leader and Cabinet, irrespective of the potential outcome of the May Elections, make that commitment now?



Councillor Bob Johnson commented that we should always look to make the Council more accountable, open and responsive to peoples’ needs.  We can all agree that the last 12 months however have been exceptional, and of course the Council has not been immune to any changes.  This brought about change to public meetings that we would not have usually done. I want the council to be responsive to public questions and I was pleased that at last month’s Council meeting, every public question that was submitted was given time for a proper answer.  It should also be noted that Full Council is scheduled for three and a half hours and many other items were on that agenda. For instance last month we had updates from Greg Fell on the public health pandemic and responses to that; and we also had the setting of the Housing Revenue Account.


It would have been fair to treat questions on a first come first served basis, at the exclusion of some questioners. I welcome that the Lord Mayor decided that council officers should be able to read out questions on behalf of the questioner. This ensured a more streamlined process, crucially allowing more time for answers to be given.  I think most members of the public want to see public questions in Full Council being used for genuine questions.  The process last month saw some statements within the questions abridged but all of the questions were asked and responded to accordingly.


Sheffield is far from an outlier in taking this approach and this is exactly how it is done in many other local authorities across the country. We should always look to make the Council and councillors as close to the people it serves and when the time is right, I will make a full review of the Council's constitution, however I don't think, in the midst of a pandemic, this is the right time to be doing that.



Public Question Concerning Opposition Motions




Isabel O’Leary commented, members of the Cabinet, including the previous Leader, have said that they are actively seeking to work with people who may have ideas and expertise from within and outside the Council.


I understand that no Opposition Motions have been allowed during the pandemic. In view of the previously expressed desire to work collaboratively with those outside the ruling Labour Group, please confirm what proportion of  Motions that have been proposed by Opposition Party Councillors in each of the past 10 years have been passed. I am interested in any trends as to whether Opposition Motions are being considered more or less favourably by the ruling Labour Group over time.



Councillor Terry Fox commented that, as a result of the pandemic in October Council resolved that motions would not be taken at meetings of Full Council through this pandemic to allow for the consideration of regular important Covid-19 updates by the Director of Public Health and other issues that the public wanted to hear.  With regards to motions and trends over the last 10 years, it was not possible to provide the numbers because Councillors will often vote on parts of resolutions, amendments and substantive motions. However, he confirmed that, at the last Council meeting, an opposition amendment on the Housing Revenue Account was passed. The reintroduction of motions back on to Full Council agendas is now subject to cross party discussions.



Public Question Concerning Streets Ahead Contract




Isabel O’Leary commented, in reply to many public questions to Council over the past few years about the setting up and subsequent management of the £2.2 billion Streets Ahead Contract, Cabinet Members and the Leader have repeatedly referred to the document “Review of Tree Investigations- Lessons learned & Actions”, saying and I quote, the report “ sets out how the council has learned lessons”


I have read the Review document and it is solely concerned with decisions around how street trees should be managed in future.


Whilst welcome, this certainly does not improve transparency in how decisions were made

a)       to include felling 17500 trees as a Contractual requirement

b)       to seek an Injunction against the citizens of Sheffield at great cost to the Public Purse

c)       to seek to imprison peaceful protestors for alleged breach of the Injunction


Would the new Leader agree that the best way to learn broader lessons about these decisions would be to establish a robust Inquiry, completely independent from Officers and Elected Members who may have been party to the setting up and subsequent management of the Streets Ahead Contract?



Councillor Mark Jones commented that the substance of this question had been broached previously in an earlier question from Mr Johnson so I'd like to refer you to my previous answer and reiterated that at this moment in time this would be an inappropriate way forward.


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