Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions

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


(NOTE: There is a time limit of up to 30 minutes for the above item of business. In accordance with the arrangements published on the Council’s website, questions/petitions at the meeting are required to be submitted in writing, to, by 9.00 a.m. on 19 February 2024).



Isabel Oleary attended to present the following questions that she had submitted:


Given Sir Mark Lowcock’s recommendation number 11 that the Council should consider improvements to its information management, both in record keeping and in communication with the public, can the Leader provide specific examples of improvement?


I ask this question in the light of my knowledge of specific examples of recent poor information management. These include late or no responses to FOI requests, lack of retention of files that were sent to the Lowcock Inquiry, lack of responses to direct emails to officers and bizarrely, the apology to the courts being published not in Sheff News but placed directly in the archive.


Answer: As well as the matters that the Council got seriously wrong, the report also recognised issues that stem from years of funding cutbacks.  We are in the process of making investments in our infrastructures and people even though we continue to face funding issues, as the budget report we are considering today shows.


This reinvestment is being led by the Future Sheffield programme, which has been reported to this Committee previously and will be updated here in the future and I hope you will see that progress is being made. Some improvements will take time, but we are committed to getting this right.


Specifically in response to your last point - the Street Tree Archive is a publicly accessible resource. It was set up to ensure that all information produced by the Council remains publicly available and in one place. The Council communicated directly with key stakeholders and interested persons to inform them that the apology to the courts had been added to the archive.




Russell Johnson attended to present the following questions that he had submitted:


1. SCC’s Continuing Difficulty Accepting Challenge.

(a) Does the Leader share my concern that senior Officers are able to underperform by persistently failing to respond to communications, offering only repeated empty apologies when they do feel pressed to communicate, and  manifestly fail to properly carry out their duties with no apparent sanction?


(b) Is it the Leader's view that the process for monitoring and, where relevant, acting on clear demonstrated incompetence, is currently sufficiently robust and timely?  Thus ensuring that his Council administration led by Labour is able to move towards establishing a reputation of competence following years, nay, decades, of failure?


(c)   Will he personally meet with concerned citizens to confidentially discuss Officers' performance so that he becomes more aware of such issues than is perhaps possible from their narratives alone?


(d) Would the Leader confirm that he believes that all in public service, whether elected or appointed, should adhere to the Nolan Principles and that prompt action where there is breach is necessary for organisations such as SCC to carry credibility with the public who fund their salaries or allowances?


Answer: Thank you for your question. Any matter of underperformance or incompetence is taken seriously by this council. There are clear processes for tackling performance or disciplinary matters for all officers, including senior and statutory officers of the council.


As the Leader of the Council, I fully support the Nolan Principles as a foundation for public service and I believe that the council has taken a proactive approach to demonstrating this through work such as the Street Tree Inquiry, our peer review and the Race Equality Commission.


But I will always listen to concerns from residents and if any matters of individual competence are referred to me, I will of course ensure that they are appropriately investigated.




2. Continuing Poor Performance - FOIRs and Complaints

Lowcock’s Ultimate and Complete Truth ‘Tablets of Stone’ recommendations were released to the awestruck Council last March. This resulted in reassurances that there would be greater openness. However, FOIRs continue to be delayed and obstructed. In addition, some formal complaints have been ‘in process’ for ridiculously long periods of time.


(a)        Is the Leader disappointed by this?


(b)        If he is, does he expect improvement?


(c)        Does SCC still take the view once expressed to me by the Chief Executive, that seekers of accountability should “just ask”, rather that submit Requests?


Answer: Firstly, I want to say that I am absolutely committed to improving performance on Freedom of Information Requests and complaints. I see this as a key element of the Council’s commitment to openness and honesty. 


I understand and share your frustration that progress on improvements in this area have not been quicker. Volumes of new information requests continue to increase year-on-year and this is challenging to manage given the council’s significant resource constraints.


An audit of the Council’s FOI practices was carried out in May 2023 by the Information Commissioner’s Office. An action plan has been developed and agreed by the Information Commissioner’s Office and I fully expect to see improvements going forward. Progress on this will be monitored and performance reporting will be shared publicly.


In response to your last point, many people write to the Council or contact us through our contact centres every day for information and are given swift and accurate support. This is in line with principles of open government. Most of the time contacting the Council with an enquiry will get the information desired and by adding more to our archives we are also finding ways to make information accessible without the need for a formal request. So yes, I would encourage people to ask but I would also say that the formal requests route is important as it enables people to access the information they want or need through subject access requests and freedom of information requests.




Jonathan Feldman attended to present the following questions that he had submitted:


As a Jewish resident in Sheffield I am keen that my views are not represented by a synagogue I am not affiliated to.


Can the Council commit to ensuring that Sheffield Jews Against Israeli Apartheid will be able to participate in the new multifaith initiative especially given that the employment tribunal found this week that anti-Zionist beliefs qualified as a philosophical belief and thus also qualified as a protected characteristic pursuant to section 10 Equality Act 2010?


Answer: There has already been concerted effort to bolster interfaith dialogue over the last few months, including through work with an organisation called the Blackley Centre who specialise in supporting interfaith relations and convening interfaith conversations.  We will work with faith leaders to support the development of a new Interfaith Compact for the city with the intention of launching this later in 2024. 


We will seek for this to be an inclusive process, involving as many different faith communities in the city as possible. 


I have asked officers to provide you with a more detailed response in writing.




June Cattell attended to present the following questions that she had submitted:


Your report to this meeting (Item 12) omits any reference to the recent ruling by the International Court of Justice and the immediate measures that Israel should take to prevent genocide against the Palestinian people. In the recent meeting held between the leader of the council and representatives of the steering group of the Sheffield Palestine Coalition, it appeared the leader was reluctant to acknowledge the serious findings of the judges at the ICJ and that it was sufficient for everyone to adopt a 'wait and see' approach.


Does the Council agree that everyone has a moral duty to do what they can to prevent genocide? Does the Council agree that there are steps it could take, however small, to minimise the risk that Sheffield Council could be supporting, however indirectly, Israel's actions in genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza?


Answer: I have been clear throughout this conflict that justice and international law must be upheld and I fully support the legal process underway at the ICJ.


I stated clearly at the meeting of Full Council on 7th February that the provisional measures set out in the ICJ’s interim ruling must be followed. I said that it is imperative that Israel must comply with the orders of this ruling in full and said that I joined others in pressing for these orders to be implemented.


I want to reiterate that the loss of civilian life in Gaza and the humanitarian catastrophe that we now see is absolutely heartbreaking and that the UK government should be doing all it can to secure an immediate ceasefire and the restarting of peace talks.


I’ve had constructive conversations with the Sheffield Coalition and I’m grateful to them for engaging in these discussions positively and for taking the time to share their views with me.




Hilary Smith attended to present the following questions that she had submitted:


Your report (item 12) refers to a number of demonstrations taking place in the city over the last few months. Are you aware that there has been at least one protest every single week in this city since mid October calling for a ceasefire, and that every single national protest in London has been supported by at least one full coach from Sheffield. Is the council aware of any issue in the last 50 years which has resulted in this extraordinary level of protest and active solidarity over a sustained period of time in Sheffield?


And yet the Council continues to be silent on the question of whether it should put a public statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people on its website.


Your report refers to differing strongly held views amongst Sheffield residents, but the report and the Impact statement characterise these as if talking about groups of people who support different football teams in the city, either United or Wednesdays. As if both points of view should be given equal weight and equal consideration by the Council. I reject this point of view and I invite the Council to do the same. It is the 2.4 million people of Gaza who are facing starvation and death by a combination of disease, untreated illness and injury, and military attacks. It is the occupied and oppressed people of Palestine who need our solidarity.


This is not a situation where the Council should or can stay neutral.  Silence in the face of genocidal acts is complicity.


Will the Council make a public statement expressing solidarity and support with the Palestinian people?


Answer: The report we are considering today makes it clear that deep concerns have been raised by very many people about the violence and deaths in Gaza and the unresolved conflict. It rightly states that there are strongly held views amongst Sheffield residents regarding this issue, however I wouldn’t characterise the EIA in the way that you have.


I don’t believe that the council is or has been silent on the issue of the conflict. At the council meeting on 1st November the council passed a motion which:


•Condemned “the tragic loss of civilian life in both the Hamas terrorist attacks on the 7th of October and the ensuing bombardment of the Gaza strip by Israel”;

•Stated that “there can be no justification for the loss of innocent lives, and all atrocities committed against civilians must be condemned and investigated”;

•Made it clear that “all UK political leaders must call upon the Israeli Government to ensure enough food, water, medicine and electricity is provided to Gaza, that there must be clear humanitarian corridors, and that all actors must follow and be held accountable under international law”; and

•Called upon the UK Government to “call for an immediate ceasefire and to vote for this at the UN”.


This resolution is published on the council’s website and it was also submitted to the UK Government.


Sheffield was the first UK city of sanctuary and has a proud track record of standing up for those who have suffered human rights abuses or have fled to Sheffield from oppressive regimes around the world. I know from conversations with you that this is a part of the city’s history that you and others are proud of, as am I.


The report that we will be considering later in this meeting demonstrates how the council is responding to the concerns raised about the ongoing conflict in Gaza by many in the city. I would like to thank you and other members of the Sheffield Coalition for taking the time to meet with me twice to help inform the content of the report.


The report reconfirms the council’s continued recognition of the State of Palestine as a full, sovereign, and independent nation and outlines the ongoing appeals for donations to support the humanitarian effort in Gaza.


The report also confirms that the council has no relationship with any of the companies listed in the UN Human Rights Council’s latest update.


A further report to be discussed by the committee later recommends that the Council enters into a friendship agreement with the city of Nablus.


A vote is due to take place in Parliament this evening on a motion urging an immediate ceasefire and I am sure that all members of this committee would urge all parliamentarians to vote for an immediate ceasefire, as I do.




Val Johnson attended to present the following questions that she had submitted:


The Council has been asked on several occasions about the fact that it banks with Barclays.


As a major customer of Barclays bank will you write to Barclays to ask them if they plan to review their investments and loans to companies which produce or sell weapons to Israel's military?


If you are not prepared to do this, can you explain why not? 


Answer: The Council’s contract with Barclays was procured in line with our ethical procurement policy.  This allows us to ask for and take into consideration how the contract will generate social value within the city and more broadly.  


However, I do not intend to write to Barclays because our ethical procurement policy does not allow us to take into account non-commercial matters that are prohibited by the Local Government Act 1988. This would include the set of issues that the questioner is concerned about. 


We are currently conducting a review of our ethical procurement policy as part of developing a wider Commercial Strategy for the organisation. I will ensure that concerns raised by campaigners will be considered and taken into account as part of the review.


When our banking contract comes up for renewal we will procure it in line with the law and with our revised ethical procurement policy.




Calvin Payne attended to present the following questions that he had submitted:


Does the Leader of the Council share my dismay at Sheffield again recently appearing in the national news for all the wrong reasons? The mystery surrounding the Gleadless masterplan was reported by the BBC, whilst the Market Tavern demolition saw a word used that we have come to recognise - misleading.


Since the Lowcock report the council have repeatedly promised that honesty and transparency are at the core of their way of doing things. When will the people of Sheffield start to see any evidence of this welcome new behaviour?


Answer: Honesty and transparency are a key part of the Council’s core values and are very important to me personally. Unfortunately, this does not mean that the Council will never make mistakes. What is more important is how we respond.


I want to be clear that I share your concerns about the Market Tavern. The decision to demolish the pub was not taken lightly and throughout the process partners should have been kept fully informed.


I am disappointed that this does not appear to have been the case and that people have been provided with inaccurate information.


We have written to partners to apologise and have asked that an internal investigation takes place to understand exactly what went wrong and determine any actions required.




Calvin Payne attended to present the following questions on behalf of Justin Buxton who was unable to attend:


Following the council's recent (carefully qualified) apology to the Lord High Chancellor for misleading courts by misrepresenting a meaningless document as a genuine contractual document. In July 2017 Sheffield City Council submitted sworn evidence to Leeds High Court and Justice Males in pursuit of an injunction against those protecting Sheffield's street trees stating, ‘For the avoidance of doubt, the vast majority of street trees in Sheffield are being retained (30,000 out of 36,000).’ Has the council sought independent advice from a lawyer to ascertain whether or not this sworn statement was less than accurate? Bearing in mind the then secret contractual obligation embedded in the Streetsahead contract to fell 17,500 street trees, regardless of their health or any other circumstances."


Answer: The Council committed to make apologies for those wrongs identified by Sir Mark in his report.  The apology to the court does that in full and without reservation based on the Inquiry findings. 


Having set up the Inquiry with a broad remit and allowing it access to all the information held by the Council, including the information you refer to, we have not reinvestigated matters or sought advice where the Inquiry did not make any finding.


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