Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions and Other Communications

To receive any questions or petitions from the public, or communications submitted by the Lord Mayor or the Chief Executive and to pass such resolutions thereon as the Council Procedure Rules permit and as may be deemed expedient.



Lord Mayor’s Announcements




The Lord Mayor (Councillor Colin Ross) expressed thanks for contributions which had been made to his fundraising event for St. Luke’s Hospice on 15th September, where he had walked 9 miles visiting several St. Luke’s shops on route.  He added that any further contributions could be made at today’s Council meeting via the collection being passed around the Council Chamber.




The Lord Mayor also congratulated Councillor Dawn Dale who had completed a sponsored abseil down Sheffield Hallam University’s Owen building on 30th September, also raising funds for St. Luke’s Hospice.






Petitions and Public Questions




The Lord Mayor (Councillor Colin Ross) reported that questions would be taken at the meeting from seven members of the public.  No petitions had been received.




Question from Sue Owen




Sue Owen asked the following question on behalf of Sheffield Campaign for Divestment from Companies that are Complicit with Human Rights Abuses in Palestine, which is part of the Sheffield Anti-Israeli Apartheid Coalition -




“The Labour Party has sought legal advice on the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill and Richard Kermer, KC has concluded: “The implications for local democracy, for the proud history in our regions of campaigning for global human rights, for using our economic clout for the promotion of human rights, for free speech in this country and for compliance with our international law obligations, are potentially profound.”




In the light of the damage to local democracy that this bill would introduce, has Sheffield Council written a response to the consultation about the bill, and if yes, will you publish that response?”




In response, the Leader of the Council (Councillor Tom Hunt) advised that the Council does not have a position on the Bill, which was not yet on the statute books.  The Labour Party had not supported the Bill at its second reading and it was now in the Committee Stage before a third reading in the House of Commons and then further stages in the House of Lords.




He added that the Labour Party was clear that all public bodies must act without bias or selectivity when making ethical decisions on procurement and investment, but was concerned that the Bill risked significantly undermining support for groups around the world facing persecution, such as the Uyghur.  The Labour Party have asked the Government to bring forward alternative proposals because they believe the Bill would place unprecedented restrictions on the ability of public bodies to express a view on policy, has potential widespread and negative impacts on local government pension funds, and was likely to be subject to repeated and extended legal challenges.




Question from Dylan Lewis-Creser




“What will the Council be doing to ensure that the benefits of Active Travel Neighbourhoods, as we've seen in Crookes & Walkley, are spread across the city, especially in areas in need of a social uplift?”




In response, Councillor Ben Miskell (Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee) stated that the Council’s Transport Strategy promoted local transport policies that were intended to provide safe and attractive travel choices for all, with a specific policy to enhance the multi-modal transport system which encourages sustainable travel choices particularly for active travel. 




He commented that the Council would continue to encourage sustainable travel choices and include schemes that met these aims within funding bids where appropriate.  He added that he believed that Active Travel was about enhancing travel choices for people in how they move around the city, and he referred to the fact that the Council had been delivering many of these types of schemes in Sheffield for several years, including the introduction of Active Travel Neighbourhoods, with one of the first of these being in Broomhall.  He stated that the Council wanted to have more sustainable, inter-connected communities throughout Sheffield and its future transport strategy that was due to be presented early next year, and the ongoing development of the Local Plan, will play a significant part in helping the Council to achieve that aim.




Question from Christina Rees




“I would like to know what the Council is planning to put in place to ensure that children walking to school who use a route along Nether Edge Road and Archer Lane can do so safely.   I was dismayed to find there appears to be no mention of this in the report. 




For over a year, the closure of Archer Lane created a wonderful way for children of all ages to reach their schools safely (Holt House, Carter Knowle, Mercia, High Storrs and King Ecgberts). If Archer Lane re-opens there will be no time for children to adjust and learn the extremely hazardous crossings at every junction, as the floodgates open once again. These traffic conditions will be even worse than previously, as Mercia now has its full quota of students.”




Ms. Rees added that Mercia currently has 900 students but by 2026 they hope to have 1200 students.




In response, Councillor Ben Miskell (Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee) stated that road safety was a priority and the pedestrian crossings that had been introduced in Nether Edge would be retained as they have improved pedestrian journeys. 




He added that when people in Nether Edge had been asked about the perceived impact on the safety of walkers and cyclists of the Active Travel measures, more responses had said that there had been a negative impact on people’s perception of safety of walkers and cyclists. However, the available information did not suggest the Nether Edge Active Travel Neighbourhood Project has had a significant impact on personal injury collisions.  All but one of the pedestrian or cyclist casualties had occurred on Abbeydale Road, not Archer Lane.




Question from Simon Sylvester




“Being a resident of Archer Lane, I have experienced at first hand the provocative political campaigning regarding the Nether Edge Active Travel Neighbourhood.   




Following the decision made by the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee to re-open Archer Lane, I viewed the webcast of the Committee meeting.




In their deliberations concerning the Nether Edge Active Travel Neighbourhood, Councillors make hardly any reference to the research commissioned by their own Committee.




Few Members take up the opportunity for debate during proceedings.  It appears that private email messages received by councillors, and feedback from Party colleagues, all have greater influence than commissioned research.




Would you agree that the final decision to re-open Archer Lane was informed more by undisclosed Party interests than by presented evidence or informed debate?”




In response, Councillor Ben Miskell (Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee) stated that the Experimental Traffic Regulation Order had allowed a range of measures to be trialled within the Nether Edge Active Travel Neighbourhood Area.  In making decisions, Members had taken account of officer advice provided through reports, and community voices including from their conversations with constituents and through their Members’ correspondence. After listening to, and balancing, the comments of impacted residents, Members had concluded that two elements of the scheme in Nether Edge and Sharrow were to be made permanent and the trial closure of Archer Lane was not to be carried forward.




He added that, as part of the trial closure of Archer Lane, the Council received a range of views expressed by residents and businesses in the Nether Edge area.  Whilst there were comments that highlighted a positive experience, there were many people who provided negative views on their experience of the trial and asked the Council not to make the trial closure permanent.  He stated that the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee does carefully consider feedback received before taking decisions and did so on this occasion in order to end the trial closure.




Councillor Miskell stated that the report submitted to the Committee does indicate that, whilst a road casualty trend cannot be established based upon just seven months of data, the information available to date does not suggest that Nether Edge as an Active Neighbourhood project has had a significant impact on personal injury collisions.  He added that when people in Nether Edge were asked about their perceived impact on the safety of walkers and cyclists, their responses were quite varied, but more responses said that there had been a negative impact on people’s perception of safety of walkers and cyclists.  He stated that road safety was a clear priority for the Committee and the pedestrian crossings that were introduced in Nether Edge, as part of the trial, would be retained as they have had a significant impact on people in the area and the majority of people had welcomed their introduction.  He added that people had said that the crossings had improved their journeys on foot, with a number of people specifically mentioning that they had improved the safety of routes to local schools.




Questions from Lee Parkinson




Councillors will be aware that the GMB union have launched an equal pay campaign in Sheffield. We note that the Deputy Leader has suggested women who think they may be being discriminated against ask for a regrade. Does the Council Leader believe it is the responsibility of individual women to resolve pay discrimination or the job of the Council leadership to ensure that Sheffield is operating a fair and transparent job evaluation scheme?




When will the Leader commit to scrapping the rotten job allocation scheme that is discriminating against thousands of Sheffield women?”




In response, the Leader of the Council (Councillor Tom Hunt) stated that he welcomed dialogue with the various trades unions who represent the Council’s workforce.  When the GMB’s concerns about equal pay in the Authority had been raised with the Council last week, himself and the Deputy Leader had met with GMB representatives later that same day, as they recognised the importance of the matter.  He commented that, arising from that meeting, the Council had requested further information from the Union and this had been received yesterday and would now be reviewed.




He commented that equal pay was a right, both morally and legally, and if the Council was to identify any issues, they would, of course, be addressed.  This would be done in partnership with the trades unions and with staff and advice would be sought where required.  He added that he appreciated that there would be staff who would have queries and concerns about this matter and may wish to raise these, and therefore, an email route had been established to facilitate this, awareness of which had been raised in various communications issued to Council employees.  He advised that the Council would continue to encourage staff who may have queries or concerns to get in touch with HR or with their representatives so that these can be addressed.




Councillor Hunt stated that pay policy, job evaluation, grading and equal pay, were a set of complex issues, and the Council will review its practice and take appropriate advice.  He added that further discussions on the matter would be held at the joint union, elected members and management meeting which was to be held tomorrow.




Questions from Russell Johnson




1.             The Town Hall plaque agreed by the Council celebrating the victory of Street Tree Campaigners is a small but significant part of SCC’s demonstration of remorse for the wrongs they perpetrated and is thus of course welcome.  However, the possible cost included in a Committee paper of around £10K seems preposterous, particularly in view of the parlous financial position of the Council, even without being further damaged by possible equal pay costs.


(a)      What is the Council’s procurement procedure for this item?


(b)      How is it progressing?


(c)      Would the Leader appreciate details of a suitable tailored plaque for £18.99 that I have located?


(d)      Will the Council commit to consultation on the proposed wording of the plaque with interested parties beyond the few selected people the Council chose to speak to in the aftermath of Lowcock?”




In response, the Leader of the Council (Councillor Tom Hunt) stated that the figure mentioned in the report submitted to the meeting of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee in June was a maximum cost which factored in all potential related costs.  This was done so that, if any unexpected factors arose, which is possible when dealing with a Grade 1 historic listed building, the financial resources would be available in order for the works to proceed on schedule.




He stated that the Council is keen for the plaque to be manufactured in Sheffield, using a local supplier, and added that it was proposed that the manufacturer of the Sheffield Legends Plaques, sited at the front of the Town Hall, would be used for the new plaque. He commented that the Council wished to ensure that the quality of the Street Tree plaque would be of an appropriate standard, and in keeping with other plaques that are present on and around the Town Hall building.  However, he was confident that, as the plans develop in relation to the design and wording to be used in the plaque, the final cost would be much less than the £10K upper limit allocated for the works.  He confirmed that the design process will involve asking the public for their views on potential designs. The plans to deliver the plaque for unveiling in March 2024 were on schedule and it would sit alongside the Kinder Trespass plaque located at the public entrance to the Town Hall building.




Councillor Hunt continued that good craftmanship does cost money, but he would consider the cheaper plaque if Mr Johnson sent him details, but he felt it unlikely a cheaper plaque would meet the criteria the Council was looking for, and the quality that the public would expect, for such a significant plaque on a such a significant building.




2.       “The Internal Audit Report (Jan 2023 Policy Committee Report) concerning the Fargate Container Scandalwas due by the first quarter of this financial year.


(a)      When will this be available for the public?


(b)      When it is published, are disciplinary actions against incompetent or inadequate Officers a possible or likely outcome? Is action against relevant Members for inadequate oversight a possibility? Will any appropriate sanctions that are applied be announced (anonymously of course)? If there appears to have been misfeasance, will action be taken?


(c)      How likely is a clawback of the ‘Get Building Fund’ (DLUHC) of the approx. £0.5m wasted in this bizarre debacle?  Has this been budgeted for?”




In response, the Leader of the Council (Councillor Tom Hunt) stated that the Council would publish the outcomes of the audit ahead of a forthcoming Audit and Standards Committee meeting, the timing of which would be a matter for the Committee to determine.  He added that the Audit and Standards Committee would monitor the actions and recommendations arising from the audit.  He advised that the Council would not comment on individual HR matters or processes that may arise and he stated that there has been no clawback claimed and no specific budget had been identified in that regard.




3.       “Following Lowcock, and the introduction of the modern committee system, the excited Sheffield public, myself included, expected to feel a breath of fresh air blowing through the foetid corridors of power at the Town Hall.  One improvement promised was proper and timely dealing with complaints. Once again, the optimists’ hopes are being dashed.


For example, I am aware of a complaint against the Council outstanding from April 2021, and one from May 2023 that has not even been acknowledged. I also know of a complaint regarding two Members’ breaches of their Code of Conduct that dates from April of this year, that is not proceeding in a timely manner.


(a)      Would the Leader please explain the clear failings in this and other aspects of performance? Is he being distracted by schism in the local Labour Party?


(b)      Would the Leader commit to addressing effectively the continuing dysfunction regarding complaints and speeding up FOIR responses?”




In response, the Leader of the Council (Councillor Tom Hunt) stated that he is fully focused on improving the Council’s performance to make sure it is the best council it can be. He requested that if there were shortcoming and delays in responding then customers should let him know what they were so that they could be followed up.




He added that a full review of the systems and processes for responding to Freedom of Information requests and Subject Access requests was underway. This would include looking at the underpinning IT systems which track them. The Council would continue to publish its performance, and report improvements to the Audit and Standards Committee.




4.      Regarding the Rose Garden Café Fiasco, I welcome the possibilities for community/Council joint working recently announced. 


(a)      However, could the Leader explain why it has taken nineteen months to reach a possible solution that was clear many months ago?


(b)      Does the Leader agree with me that too often Elected Members fail to robustly question poor advice from Officers, and this appears to have been the case with this unfortunate saga?


(c)      What is the explanation for the obviously ridiculous SCC costing of restoring the Café to full use?  Will there be any investigation of this apparent deception appearing to promote a particular and destructive agenda against the expressed public interest of those concerned with the Rose Garden Café?”




In response, the Leader of the Council (Councillor Tom Hunt) stated that a Stage 1 feasibility study had been undertaken to understand options for the future of the Rose Garden café, including initial costings and anticipated works. The cost information which had been provided was only for feasibility, and several assumptions had been made. He said that these can be viewed in the Options Appraisal Costs report on the Rose Garden Café page on the Council’s website.  He added that the study was informed by the commissioned surveys that took place on the building, which were required to understand the extent of the structural works required and any potential solutions.




Councillor Hunt added that all options had been appraised and the outcome of this detailed exercise, which had taken some time, would be presented at an extraordinary meeting of the Charity Trustee Sub-Committee to be held on 18th October. He stated that, at all times, the Council was working in the public interest and added that the Council has ensured that the options appraisal has been undertaken in significant detail, to ensure that the recommendations met the Charity objectives and were viable.




5.       “Regarding personal apologies arising out of Lowcock identified harms.


(a)      Please would the Leader attempt to explain the increased rigidity demonstrated by the Council in refusing to accept victims’ reasonable wishes in respect of apologies that were supposed to be ‘personal’?


(b)      Does the Leader accept that the current ‘doubling down’ is not in the spirit of the remorse and desire for change embodied in the lengthy and remarkable public apology issued in June of this year by the Chief Executive and himself?


(c)      Will he recommit to honesty, openness and a sensitive approach to the victims of Council behaviours?”




In response, the Leader of the Council (Councillor Tom Hunt) stated that in the report, referred to earlier in the meeting, which accompanied the Council’s public apology for the street trees dispute, which was submitted to the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee in June, a clear process was set out for individuals who had suffered harm during the dispute to request personal apologies from the Council for its actions during the time of the street trees dispute.  He added that the Council agreed to do this in recognition of the range of harms that were caused to people who were involved in the dispute, which were articulated in the Lowcock report.  He stated that the process was set out in an annexe to the report and had been designed to take into account the individual’s wishes and their circumstances.  This included the option for the individual to be provided with their apology either verbally or in writing, and for them to set out any specific issues that they are seeking an apology for, and to suggest who should make the apology.  He confirmed that this was the process that the Council was following, and it had not deviated from it.




Councillor Hunt added that the Council’s commitment to the recommendations set out in the Lowcock report remain wholehearted, and that progress was being made across a range of different actions that are outlined in that report, including on the individual apology process.  He concluded by stating that a report would be submitted to a meeting of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee in the near future outlining progress on how those recommendations are being met.






(NOTE: The question which had been submitted by Eileen Howarth but which had not been asked at the meeting due to her absence, would receive a written response from the Leader of the Council (Councillor Tom Hunt) and be published on the website.)




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