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 22 January 2024)



Danny Allsebrook attended to present the following questions that he had submitted:


1. Is the Sheffield library building safe from demolition? 


Answer: We have no plans to demolish the Central Library and Graves Gallery building. The Building is Grade II listed.


2. What is the correct estimate for repairs on the building? 


Answer: The repair cost is currently estimated to be between £20m and £50m based on a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) stage 1 assessment and the extent of the work that might take place. The lower cost of £20m would simply ensure that essential compliance issues are resolved. The higher figure would provide for an improved building, including improved access. As the project progresses through the RIBA stages costs will become much clearer. 


3. Would a friends group of the central library be a viable option to apply funding that would otherwise be unavailable to the council? 


Answer: The feasibility work agreed for the Central Library and Graves Gallery, at the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee in December, will start to set out the information which we, or anyone interested in the building, would need to understand the possible business models open to us. At this time we could not advise if this would be a viable option, without having all the information required.  However, I welcome this idea and want to emphasise that we want to hear the voices of all the users of the building.




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


1. Contract Management Shortcomings. One of the Lowcock recommendations (6, p.15) states: … the Council should consider whether it has the skills and capacity needed adequately to pursue its interests in managing the contract with Amey. 

(a) Has SCC considered this and, if so, what conclusion has been drawn? Has any such consideration taken into account the continued prevalence of potholes and depressed utility chambers and the fact that some roads remain to be resurfaced eleven years into the ‘Streets Ahead’ contract? 

(b) If SCC now believes it is competently managing Amey, what additional measures have been implemented since the earlier reported failings? 


Answer: There is a comprehensive delivery plan in place in response to the Lowcock Inquiry. We have already carried out an internal review of our resources and those within the Sheffield Street Tree Parentship (SSTP) to ensure that we have the capacity and skills needed to manage the Streets Ahead contract and that funding for these resources will be factored into the budget setting process. This includes setting out the safe level of management for a contract of this size. We work closely with Central Government to review this and also use support from peer authorities who run similar projects.

To build capability we have already:

         split the role of Head of Highways and Waste to create a dedicated Assistant Director of Highways post;

         created two Service Manager posts; and

         increased the number of technical officers and the number of inspectors.


We have also recruited a Business Manager who provides some of their time to support Sheffield Street Tree Partnership. On a one year trial basis we are funding a new dedicated Partnership Manager to work wholly to and within Street Tree Partnership.


We are carrying out an external ‘health check’ to include consideration of how the Council can further build its own capacity, as well as set up flexible arrangements to enable access to experts, particularly for specialist legal, financial and commercial resource. A key part of this is that The Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) have been engaged to carry out an Operational Health Check of the contract which includes a full review of contract delivery.

There have been some recent failings in performance in some areas, which have been raised via the Waste & Street Scene Policy Committee, and a recovery plan has been put in place, which Amey are well on the way to achieving. We continue to work in partnership with Amey to also look to constantly improve how we manage the highway infrastructure. There is a regular briefing on Highways Maintenance with Waste & Street Scene Policy Committee Members on contract performance. The Highways Maintenance Team and Commercial Services constantly work alongside Amey to strive to continue improving performance and the Executive Director of Neighbourhoods and Director of Street Scene & Regulations meet Amey on a regular basis to track performance.


Regarding previous failings on resurfacing, we have publicly committed to have designs completed for March for the remaining Core Investment Programme streets which were at the heart of the Street Tree protests. We are on track to complete designs for March as well as completing some consultations however some will run past April. The process includes consulting the Sheffield Street Tree Partnership first and then proceeding to public consultation.  There is a further commitment to have the works done before March 2025.


2. Misleading the Courts. I welcome that SCC has, we are told, apologised last month to the Lord Chancellor for their misleading of the Courts during the ‘dark period’ of the Street Tree Scandal. 

(a) Why did it take so long to send the apology since Lowcock published in March 2023? 

(b) Notwithstanding the accepted need for courtesy when will the full apology be shared with citizens? 

(c) Does the apology cover both the Judicial Review and Injunction hearings where Council lawyers and/or Officers are alleged to have misled the courts? 


Answer: (a)   The apology to the court, like all other apologies needed to be fully considered and properly made. To do so, that required consideration of the legal points raised in Sir Mark’s report.  As the Inquiry was independent, we had not seen the detail of that advice so needed our own consideration.  Also, the General Counsel wanted to read the judgments in all cases taken by the Council to be sure that the Council agreed with the Inquiry view that the misleading document had no impact on the outcome of those cases.

(b)      We intend to share the apology publicly on 31 January.   

(c)      The apology does cover both the Judicial Review taken and the injunction proceedings taken by the Council.  I must however state that the Inquiry found no evidence that Council lawyers or other individual officers misled the courts.  This was covered in some detail by Sir Mark and the findings were that:


‘While the Council as an organisation collectively knew it to be false, the Inquiry has seen no evidence that suggests that any of the individuals giving witness statements in either case believed the Strategy to be false. Likewise, we have not seen evidence of recklessness in the case preparation, or evidence that an individual lawyer knew the Strategy was false.’


He further adds: ‘We have seen no evidence to indicate that individuals involved were aware of the errors brought into the case by this document and allowed them to pass. The fact that this cannot be attributed to an individual should not take away from the gravity of the court being misled by a document produced by the Council.’. This is what we have apologised for.


3. Accountability Failures. In the context of the recent shocking report on Child Sexual Exploitation in Lancashire, the Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has stated that all public servants, including those who have retired or relocated, should have a legal a Duty of Candour, and he finds refusal to give evidence to a voluntary Inquiry to be unacceptable.

(a) Does Cllr Hunt agree with his Labour colleague on these general points?

(b) If he does, what steps will he take to remedy the remaining accountability shortcomings following the ‘voluntary’ and flawed Lowcock Inquiry?

(c) Does he share the widely held view that it is shocking that two key implicated Elected Members remain on this Council despite the damning evidence of the lack of effective leadership exposed by Sir Mark?

(d) Does Cllr Hunt agree with me that if a Council employed social worker or teacher were guilty of serious misconduct their professional bodies and any current employer must and would be informed?

(e) If so, why have the former members of the SCC legal Team who misled the courts apparently been immune from any consequences?


Answer: I do not accept the premise that the Lowcock inquiry was flawed and that there have been accountability failings.  We will have to disagree on this point. Sheffield City Council invested over £800,000 in a year-long Inquiry which had full access to vast amounts of Council and Amey documentation, including digitally recovered material. The Inquiry was headed by Sir Mark Lowcock who delivered a detailed, comprehensive, and impactful Inquiry report. In that report he makes clear that he spoke with over 150 people and that the vast majority of those approached engaged willingly. The Inquiry had access to detailed information, digital and hardcopy records, and personal and organisational testimonies. There is no evidence to suggest that the Inquiry missed any areas which would have been revealed had it had the power to compel attendance at public hearings. Neither the Monitoring officer or the Council has the power to compel an elected Member to resign there seat. Elected Members are held accountable at the ballot box.


The Council does of course take misconduct seriously and follows proper safeguarding procedures. I will take this opportunity to remind you that the Lowcock inquiry found that: ‘we have not seen evidence of recklessness in the case preparation, or evidence that an individual lawyer knew the Strategy was false.’ 


4. Punching at/below/above Our Weight? Cllr Hunt may have seen the very recent Now Then piece which unfavourably compares the ambition of Sheffield with six other councils, all on different grounds. These include, amongst others, climate action, landlord licensing, social housing on Council owned land, and Mr Burnham’s ‘Housing First’

(a) What is Cllr Hunt’s take on the article or, if not yet read, the suggestion that SCC’s ‘ambition’ or performance is, or has been, very disappointing?

(b) If he broadly agrees that my City has a recent history of gross underperformance is he confident of a bright new dawn under the regime he now leads? Would, in his view, any of the initiatives cited in the article be appropriate for Sheffield?


Answer: I am proud that the Council is now setting out an ambitious vision for our city, looking upwards and outwards. Undeniably the city has faced challenges over recent years bit I am optimistic that we have a better and brighter future to look forward to. Thank you for drawing our attention to the examples of excellent work in other Councils which we are keen to learn from, as with any best practice.


At the last Strategy and Resources Committee in December we agreed a new draft Council Plan, which we have called ‘Together We Get Things Done’.  This is an ambitious plan for the council and the city which sets out how we will take the bold decisions which will drive the city’s long-term prosperity, ensuring that we are a global leader in the climate transition, capitalising on the path to net zero to grow our economy, improve lives and protect our beautiful natural environment. We should take time to highlight some of the big ambitious decision the Council will take forward over the lifetime of the Council Plan – these are ambitious projects of the type that were highlighted in the Now Then article – expanding the tram train, creating new, sustainable liveable neighbourhoods at Neepsend and Attercliffe Waterside, transforming the city centre at Castlegate and at the Station Quarter, and transforming our cultural offer. What is clear is that Sheffield is a city making big strides, that is ambitious for the future and that is not afraid to talk itself up.




Isabel OLeary attended to present the following questions that she had submitted: Thank you for listening to campaigners and re-thinking the deadline and process for commissioning a plaque to be installed in the entrance of the Town Hall alongside the Kinder Scout mass trespass plaque. The provision of this plaque was agreed in the Resolution passed at the Extraordinary General Meeting on 10th May 2023 and is to be,

“ In recognition of those who fought for our environmental heritage and were vindicated, and to serve as a reminder to all elected members that this failure of leadership will never happen again.”


The representation of these ideas in a plaque obviously needs to be carefully conceived, and the process of commissioning the plaque needs to demonstrate that the culture and practices of Sheffield City Council are changing, as I believe they are. The principle of co-production and co-ownership as described in the City Goals is a good one but is obviously difficult in practice if it’s not clear who the parties are in this co-production and co-ownership.


At present the task of driving the Plaque project has been given to an Officer. This may not be the best plan.


Will Cllr Hunt agree that overall leadership should come from himself to demonstrate learning from Sir Mark Lowcock’s finding that the responsibility for the “serious and sustained failure of strategic leadership… ultimately rests with the political leadership..”?


Answer: I’m pleased to inform you that the Sheffield Street Tree Partnership (SSTP) have offered to facilitate wider discussions to find an appropriate method of commemorating the campaign, the Council is a key partner in SSTP and so will be involved but recognises that there is value in trying a different approach. The SSTP will organise opportunities to discuss what people feel would be the best way to commemorate the campaign, including but not limited to the installation of a plaque on the Town Hall, and how best to then commission the work. SSTP aim to discuss this process at the next Partnership Meeting on the 30th January and then start the formal process mid-February.


This will lead to a delay from the originally envisaged timescales in the response to the Lowcock report, but we recognise that a different approach is required to get this right. As Leader of the Council, I am keen that we demonstrate learning from the Lowcock Inquiry, in particular that this is not the Council doing things to the people of Sheffield but with the people of Sheffield.  In this case, facilitating the discussions with the STTP is a demonstratable step.  The learning is about more than me, it is about the whole Council, cross party, all members making sure we are all involved in implementing the findings of Sir Mark’s report and that we have learned the lessons from it.


(Note: There was a short adjournment during the above item due to a technical fault with the audio visual equipment).