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 8 March 2024).




Elissa Thompson attended to present the following questions that had been

submitted by Mishanth Feinstein: Since September ACORN Burngreave members have been running our #takebackVestryHall Campaign. We are unhappy with the fact that Vestry Hall, given its fantastic location and facilities, remains massively underused - especially given the desperate need for more community facilities in our area.


Following a number of community meetings, we have identified two main reasons for Vestry Hall's massive underuse - the high price of room booking, and the lack of any community outreach or involvement to ensure it is filled. We believe Vestry Hall could and should be a community hub for Burngreave, instead of an near-empty husk which at the moment is best known in the area as a feeding place for pigeons.


Given it is the councillors on the Strategy and Resources committee that set the room booking policy and charges for Vestry Hall, will the committee Chair meet with us to discuss our proposal on how we can turn around Vestry Hall, ensuring it is used by community groups and becomes the community hub our area needs?



Elissa Thompson attended to present the following questions that she had

submitted: My name is Elissa Thompson and I run a new community group with Ekram Ali in Burngreave and Pitsmoor called Clean Zone Community Network. We offer signposting, benefits help, activities such as cultural crafts, healthy eating advice for people with or at risk of type 2 diabetes, physical activities such as walking and running and we encourage letterpicking and environmental work and provide equipment for our members to take part in these activities.


Currently we have no income and all our resources, including food for each week which we provide as part of our healthy eating education, have been paid for from our own bank accounts. We are in the process of looking for funding and networking/hosting with other local charities however we need a central space to hold our drop in. Currently we use Abbeyfield House however this is not central enough and many of the people who would like to attend, especially those who are older and physically vulnerable are unable to get to this location, plus it does not have disability access.


A room at Vestry Hall would be ideal. However due to the cost of Vestry Hall, we are unable to offer our service to the community in this area, as for 4 hours, the cost would be £70, or in some cases depending on security cost and cleaning fees, even more. We are aware of a discount for community groups which we applied for in November but so far have not been awarded.


Vestry Hall is chronically underused - for instance in the months of September and October the Main Hall was unused 86% of the time. Does the council agree that the high price of booking is making it nearly impossible for community groups to use, what is meant to be a community building?


Vestry Hall would be a fantastic location for our drop in, which runs every Friday from 10am till 4pm. We are also hoping to hold an Eid Event mid-April which would be open to all ages, of every ethnic, cultural and religious background, to provide food for the community and offer an opportunity for social cohesion. Holding an event such as this at a central location such as Vestry Hall would be vital as this is easy to access, central, has good transport links and disabled access.


Finally, Ekram and I are both healthcare workers with over 20 years’ experience between us (Ekram is a senior support worker and I am a qualified psychiatric Nurse). We understand the complexity of social and mental health issues in the north of Sheffield and have excellent links with the community, having lived and worked here for many years. We feel we can offer our community some vitally needed support, if we are offered the appropriate finding.


Our question is, what can the council do to enable groups like ours to run, free of charge from Vestry Hall which is a prime location, for the long term, given our group is likely to have a significant impact on many of the social and environmental issues Burngreave faces and will help improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable and socially excluded people in our local community?




Lois Cole attended to present the following questions that she had

submitted: When are you going to fulfil your obligations as Sheffield council to the residents of Burngreave?


As you know it's the second most deprived area in Sheffield, yet we don't even have a library. As a local resident I struggle to access any help with benefit and consumer advice and help with job hunting, since the local CAB office shut down several years ago. There is nowhere safe and welcoming where local residents can mix and meet, and get involved in local activities. This is why we need to make Vestry hall a community hub.




Ronnie Lewin attended to present the following questions that he had

submitted: As Former Chair of Burngreave New Deal for Communities, I would like to know how the local buildings bought by the Burngreave New Deal  programme (which are fully owned by local resident resources for local community income generation) are to be opened up for some free use to enable local resident development, as a part of the "Levelling Up" ..."Left Behind Communities!" agenda.


Currently Vestry Hall is charged by the hour for use by local residents, although, it is fully owned by the very same community!  This damages community voice, development and access, by the privatisation of a community owed asset in one of the poorest areas in the city, notwithstanding the entire country!


How will "Levelling Up" change this immediately as apart of the City's plans, in a lasting and meaningful fully costed way?




Elissa Thompson attended to present the following questions that had been

submitted by Helen from ACORN Burngreave: Burngreave is the second most deprived ward in Sheffield, out of 28. Average household income is just over £20,000 a year, while nearly 30% of children are on Free school meals. There are wards on the other side of the city (for instance Eccleshall) that have over ten years more in life expectancy. The fact that in these circumstances, the Burngreave Vestry Hall which was built to be used by the community but is at the present time mostly empty, is unconscionable.


Will the Committee Chair commit to meeting ACORN Burngreave and discuss our proposal of turning Burngreave Vestry Hall into a community hub?




Answers to questions 5.1 to 5.5: Thank you all for bringing these questions to us today. Firstly, I want to apologise for the fact these questions could have been addressed at the last meeting of this committee. The advice at the time was that that Strategy and Resources Policy Committe would not be the appropriate committee to answers these questions. That was incorrect and so on behalf of the committee I apologise again for the confusion, and thank you for your patience. Policy matters come under the council’s Community Building Review which falls under the remit of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee of the council. 


I completely understand the strengthen of feeling of residents for the building and the crucial role it plays for communities. Vestry Hall has a prominent and proud place in Burngreave and we are putting in place a new Community Buildings Policy so that there is open, fair, transparent, and consistent process to enable the management of Community Buildings and for the Council to work with the voluntary, community and faith sector and promote their long-term success.   


The Council has around 100 Community Buildings that we manage and maintain, with a further large number owned by the Council, but leased to voluntary, community and faith sector groups and organisations. We want to have a more consistent, sustainable and asset-based approach to community buildings which is why we will today consider the adoption of a new Community Buildings Policy to help us to do that.


This approach is being developed with full engagement with the Voluntary Community and Faith Sector (who are consultees to the policy via the Community Buildings Board). The principles of the policy will be tested and a period of learning will take place during a Pilot period of up to 12 months, at which point the policy can be reviewed.


This is the context for discussion today, and for my answer on the specifics of Vestry Hall.


Regarding the question about fees and charges from Mishanth – Thank you for coming today. The current fees and charges set for Vestry Hall have been in place for some time and were determined by officers considering the operational expenses of each building.


The policy sets out that land and Property is not a free resource – we are under significant budget pressures - and Council Members and officers have a fiduciary duty to ensure that property is effectively financially managed. A standard pricing methodology will be put in place to ensure that users are charged consistently across the Community Building portfolio. In the case of ad-hoc rental of Community Buildings the ‘hire-rate’ will be set annually, formally as part of the Council’s fees & charges setting process.


The North-East Local Area Committee (LAC) in partnership with the Council’s Facilities Management Service agreed, as part of a response to a public question at the meeting held at Vestry Hall to look at how we could improve the use of the building for users and its accessibility. We are holding a community consultation event on Thursday 4th April between 1-6pm at Vestry Hall. This event will invite the community to come along and have their say and share their ideas with us. I hope you’ll all be able to attend.


The event will also give details on current rates, booking processes and funding available to groups. There will be stalls from services and partners who can provide advice and help to the community, such as cost of living, and housing.


We will share details of the event shortly and send through a flyer. The North-East LAC team will be there to share the community plan and work it has been delivering in the Burngreave area over the past year and ask for your ideas for futures projects. In the first instance I would suggest you meet with the LAC team and your ward councillors to discuss the building but I am always happy to meet residents of the City.


Regarding directly the questions from Elissa Thompson and Ekram Ali. Thank you for coming today and for your long service as healthcare workers. The North East Local Area Committee (LAC) team has been in touch with Clean Zone Community Network and sent through a funding application request form.  The LAC has agreed to fund the request for the EID Event of £750. 


The request would also like further funding to hire Vestry Hall to hold Healthy Eating and Provide Food drops in sessions. The North East LAC currently has a cost of living small grants scheme live that invites groups to request funding up to the sum of £2,000. This is open until 22nd March, the application form and details have been sent to Clean Zone Community Network.


Concerning specifically the questions from Lois Cole on the lack of library provision. Thank you for joining us today. I would like to note that Burngreave does have a library. It’s a volunteer led Library and it’s based at Sorby House.


The library does provide Connections to Health services – e.g. self help groups, health chats, access to Health Trainer and Connections to other services: Sheffield Citizens Advice, Community Learning, Work Clubs.


The North East Local Area Committee received additional funding for the Cost of Living around £90,000, it agreed to provide CAB with half of that funding in a sum of £45,000 to help support the advice line and widen their capacity to provide advice across the North East area.


Firth Park library also has a CAB interactive tablet in a private room that can be accessed easily. I have previously mentioned about the North East LAC community consultation event on Thursday 4th April, and I hope you might be able to attend meet with other groups and networks in the area.


Concerning the questions from Ronnie Lewin on how the recent Levelling-up awards, and concerns over the use of this Vestry Hall. Thank you for coming today and for your work with Burngreave New Deal. Sheffield City Council’s levelling up programme is geographically based in the Castlegate, Parkwood and Attercliffe areas and therefore there is no resource from the programme for the Burgreave area.


However, the Council is working to implement a Community Buildings Policy and associated Pilot, to be discussed today. As mentioned earlier, this will set out a proposed approach to build a sustainable and asset-based approach to Community Buildings, working closely with residents and stakeholders to do so.


And finally concerning the question from Helen about turning Vestry Hall into a community hub. Thank you. Understanding the potential of our buildings and interest in them is a key part of the reivew. We know that provision and use of Community Buildings is a tool which can be used to support communities and forms part of a wider strategy to help local communities. That’s why our forthcoming review of community building will involve all local councillors, community organisations, and the voluntary sector in shaping the policies related to community buildings, costs, use and transfers. The event on April 4th is an initial opportunity to discuss future use. Will make sure you are all sent details.




Julie Pearn attended to present the following questions that she had



Q. As we understand it, Strategy and Resources is the committee charged with debating matters of “significant strategic importance” and for considering “any policy matter not otherwise allocated to a committee.”


In the light of this, we note that the drafting of a statement of unity and solidarity, agreed in full Council on March 6th, has not been referred to a committee per se, but to a “cross-party group”. Our questions relate to that group. When will this group meet? What is the composition of that group to be?




Answer: Under the constitution, each policy committee may set up task and finish groups to look in more detail at particular issues.  The group referred to in the question will be a task and finish group of Strategy and Resources Committee.  Any formal decisions that need to be made in relation to the petition, following the work of the task and finish group will be made by Strategy and Resources Committee in a public meeting as normal. This approach is being adopted because it will allow the committee to move quickly in responding to the issues raised in the petition and debate at Full Council. 


The drafting and issuing of a statement is not one that requires a formal decision of the Policy Committee, so will be able to be actioned more quickly and as per the commitment I made as Leader at Full Council last week we will do our best to agree this before the pre-eleciton period.


The composition of the group is Cllr Shaffaq Mohamed, Cllr Douglas Johnson, Cllr Dianne Hurst, and myself. We will meet as soon as possible within the coming days.




Q. Matters pertaining to the composition of the group:  In a previous cross-party group of three, a decision was taken by two of the three members to fly the Israeli flag on October 10th 2023. Other West Yorkshire Councils chose to fly the peace flag, so discretion was an option.


Would it be appropriate to reconvene only this group of three, given a past decision by two of them to adopt a partisan position?




Answer: The decision to fly the Israeli flag on 10th October, as I have said before, was taken to show solidarity with the victims of the Hamas attacks on 7th October.  That decision will have no bearing on the task at hand now.


The cross party task and finish group will reflect on and consider this very different set of circumstances when making recommendations about the next steps that the council should take in relation to the petition.




Q. Would it be appropriate to include a member who said on March 6th (inter alia)” …Passing a resolution at Sheffield City Council in November didn’t bring about a ceasefire… If you really think that passing a resolution is going to change the situation on the ground, I have to disagree with you.”

Does this committee agree that those utterances suggest a lack of understanding of: the central importance of statements of moral leadership to the role of elected representatives? And the way that this builds confidence in the electorate that those elected to serve have high moral integrity?




No, I don’t agree. Let me explain why. At Full Council last week I said that words matter, and the words of elected politicians in this chamber do matter. They matter in Sheffield, but can have much greater impact further afield as well.


But I must accept that, however just our calls, however loud our voices, they of course may have limited or no impact at times. This is a reality, and it would be completely incorrect to overstate what the council can achieve. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out,


I am proud that Sheffield has a long history of speaking up, on international matters. This clearly remains the case today, and I do think we have raised our voice loudly on this issue in the last few months.




Q. Can we assure petitioners that the composition of the cross-party group will be made up of members who:  inspire confidence that they are equal to the task and understand the clear brief of producing a “statement of unity and solidarity with the Palestinian people” Reflect the supportive tone of Councillors’ contributions in the chamber on March 6th?




Answer: I have full confidence in every member of the cross-party task and finish group. We will come together to do what is right, and in a timely manner.




Annie O’Gara attended to present the following questions that she had



Q. At the full Council meeting on March 6th, the petition signed by some 7,500 people was discussed. After some intense and revealing debate, it was decided to refer the petition to this committee. Petitioners expressed strong concerns about further delays to the Council’s response to this important petition. They had no option but to contrast the numerous supportive measures, offered without let or hindrance by the Council, to the Ukrainian people, clearly demonstrated on the city Council’s website. Unnecessary delays will exacerbate concerns about what is seen as the Council’s selective morality when it comes to some sorely oppressed people, in contrast to others, like Ukrainians.


Community cohesion, often referred to as a priority by Council leadership, cannot be achieved by failure to oppose genocide, apartheid or by flagrant double standards on whose lives we value. This committee now has the weighty responsibility of discussing further the petition. Our questions today require urgent answers which must then be communicated to the large number of petitioners. What is the time frame for this discussion? Will the matter be tabled for the April 17th meeting, the agenda of which has not yet been set?


Answer: As referred to in the earlier answer, our clear intention is to issue a cross-party statement of solidarity, in line with the resolution of Full Council, as soon as possible and before the beginning of the Pre-Election Period on 26 March.  This does not require a decision of a policy committee.


The other matters contained in the petition will require detailed work, and a report to be brought forward to the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee with options and officer advice.


That will not be able to be considered at the meeting of the Committee scheduled for 17th April as the Council is prohibited from making decisions on issues that may be politically sensitive in the period immediately before an election.  This year that period runs from 26 March to the close of poll on 2 May.  The report therefore will be considered at the first meeting of the committee after the election.


Q. How will that discussion be structured? E.g. Will the Strategy and Resources committee consider each element of the petition separately and also reach a determination on them separately (as we understood from comments in Full Council)?


Answer: That is to be considered by the task and finish group, but it is likely that each element will be discussed and determined separately as suggested in the question.


Q. Will the Strategy and Resources Committee undertake to reach a full decision on all the petition’s elements within that meeting?


Answer: This is the clear intention.  However, it is possible that there may be more complex areas that will require further work. But do please rest assured we will do this in timely manner.




Hilary Smith attended to present the following questions that she had

submitted: I note that this committee is today considering a report recommending a new flag protocol, and that the report contains a number of days which will be marked by specific flags being flown each year. I note the absence from that list of the United Nations Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, marked on November 29th each year.


General Assembly resolution 32/40B, passed in December 1977, introduced the day of solidarity, and the UN has marked the day ever since. The UN resolution also encourages Member states to continue to give the widest support and publicity to the observance of the day of solidarity. 


Some of you may not be aware that Sheffield City council flew the Palestinian flag on 29th November each year between 1995 and 2000 but has failed to do so since then. Recently the leader of the Council has reaffirmed that the Council recognises the State of Palestine. If this is to mean anything at all, it is surely time for the Council to commit to fly the Palestinian flag each November 29th. Will this committee agree to do so?




Answer: The annual list of flag days does not include the flags of any sovereign nation other than the United Kingdom, and we would not propose that we should add particular national flags to our annual calendar. 


However, as you will see, the new flag protocol includes a mechanism for ad hoc requests to be made to fly particular flags and a clear decision-making route for how those requests will be determined.


The United Nations flag is included on the list to be flown on United Nations day, which is 24th October.




Chella Quint attended to present the following questions that she had



Q. Language matters, we have observed that the language in the Charter draft needs updating.  Use of terms like sanitary products and repeated use of the phrase women and girls, with only a very brief mention of trans and non-binary people who also menstruate can perpetuate stigmas and exclusion. Will the Council commit to updating the charter language and seek out training to improve this standard going forward?

Q. We believe it is vital for the Council to demonstrate transparency and choice in the procurement process for menstrual products, so as not to tacitly promote one brand over another.  Can the Charter ensure fairness and transparency regarding existing relationships with product companies and around new partnerships, purchases, donations and charitable arrangements and ensure environmentally friendly options such as plastic free and reusable products are included.

Q. Our work has been instrumental in shaping Sheffield’s approach to menstruation and menopause awareness since long before the very welcome recent motion and Charter and we are proud to see several of our campaigns long standing aims included in several motion and Charter points.  How will the Council ensure that the Charter acknowledges the legacy of the voluntary work of our partners, volunteers and colleagues across Sheffield, so that this continues to be recognised and celebrated within the City.  In conclusion we are here to ensure that our collective efforts towards menstrual literacy and equity and menopause awareness are acknowledged, respected and continued.




Answer: Thank you for submitting your questions Chella, which I will respond to in a minute, but before I do, I just wanted to acknowledge the contribution you have made with your work over a number of years on period equity, and in particular your Period Positive campaign.


You and colleagues have done a huge amount to raise awareness of the challenges that so many have with access to period products in our city and across the country, and to advocate for change.  I would also like to thank you for working with officers and councillors on the report that we are considering today and I am sure that the rest of the committee will join me in that.


As well as the questions you have asked today, I know that you had wanted to ask many more but given the timescales permitted at today’s meeting it is not possible to go through all of these. However, a full written response will be provided and will also be made available online as part of this meetings’ record.


On language, we have used the Equality Act as the basis for our understanding and looked at the impact on all protected characteristics. This has included feedback that language has to be simple and understandable to people of different faiths, ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds, to disabled people, to lesbians, bi and trans and non-binary and to people of all ages. 


We are happy to take specific feedback and suggestions on how language in the charter may be improved and made more inclusive. The document is published in draft, and we are keen to seek feedback to refine and improve it further. 


With respect to procurement, the council notes that donations may take the form of partner to partner rather than via the council and this response relates specifically to council procurement activities. The Council does not currently purchase menstrual products at this time and would be subject to our existing procurement regulations and our own policies if we do in the future, including in relation to social value and ethical procurement. It is important to note that we do not have any existing relationship with any providers of period products.


Finally, the council is proud to have worked alongside a variety of partners over months and years on matters of period equity, menopause and matters of sex and gender equity. Many partners are specifically acknowledged in the annex 2 of the committee report, including Period Positive Initiative. The council has explicitly recognised the contribution of Period Positive and offers thanks for participation at the international women’s day event last week, as well as the significant work that it has done with Learn Sheffield and with schools in the city and we hope that this will continue into the future.


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