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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.


(NOTE: There is a time limit of one hour for the above item of business.  In accordance with the arrangements published on the Council’s website in relation to meetings of the Council held remotely, questions/petitions are required to be submitted in writing, to, by 9.00 a.m. on Monday 1st February.)




The Lord Mayor (Councillor Tony Downing) reported that two petitions and 38 questions from fifteen members of the public had been received prior to the published deadline for submission of petitions and questions for this meeting.  He stated that ensuring that elected representatives are answerable to members of the public is a key part of the full Council meetings and that, in his time as Lord Mayor, he had always sought to hear as many questions from members of the public as the meeting’s format allowed.  He added, however, that this meeting was scheduled for three and a half hours, with many other items on the agenda, including updates on the Covid Pandemic and the city’s response to this, and setting the rents for council housing for 2021/22.  The Lord Mayor stated that, given the logistics of hosting a virtual meeting and the number and length of some of the questions received, he did not want to see public questions only asked on a ‘first come, first served basis’ and so he had decided that Council officers shall read each public question on behalf of the questioner, as this will offer a more streamlined process and ensure time for all questions to be asked and, crucially, more time for proper answers to be provided.








Petition Concerning Support for Vulnerable People Over Winter




The Council received an electronic petition containing 587 signatures calling on the Council to urgently support vulnerable people over the next two months, and to lobby the Government to ensure no one is left in the cold this winter.




Representations on behalf of the petitioners were made by Rob Reiss and he asked that the winter fuel support provided to the elderly be extended to all vulnerable people in Sheffield living in fuel poverty. He asked that Members also lobby the government to change this at a national level. He mentioned the crisis grant available and asked how many people in the city were aware of this. He also mentioned that the Council’s website suggested this scheme was only available to those with pay-as-you-go fuel meters and asked if this could be extended to other heating types.




The Council referred the petition to Councillor Paul Wood (Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety). Councillor Wood responded and said he had considered how to better publicise the crisis fund across the city. He said the Council had distributed £331,000 over the last 13 weeks, to 576 residents, through the Local Assistance Scheme. He said the Council website provided detailed information on how to apply. Councillor Wood said that in addition to this there was a hardship fund through the Housing Revenue Account, which recently had a further £500,000 added to it. Additionally, the government have provided a further £750,000 to add to the Local Assistance Scheme. 




Councillor Wood suggested that Mr Reiss direct any vulnerable people to the Council’s website or telephone number. He added that he would work with officers regarding better publicising the support which was available to people.




Petition Concerning an Ecological or Biodiversity Emergency




The Council received two electronic petitions containing 750 and 391 signatures, respectively, requesting the Council to declare a biodiversity/ecological emergency.




Representations on behalf of the petitioners were made by Anna Parkin, who asked if Sheffield City Council would declare an ecological or biodiversity emergency today - alongside the climate emergency.




The Council referred the petition to Councillor Mark Jones (Cabinet Member for Environment, Streetscene and Climate Change). Councillor Jones responded that councillors recognised the challenges to our environment and wildlife. He said that the Council recognised the global, national and regional loss of biodiversity. Councillor Jones said that COVID 19 had not paused the climate emergency, but it might offer a chance to restart the conversation.




He made reference to the call for a green economic recovery to protect jobs, our communities and the planet. Councillor Jones said that councillors recognised the importance of this issue and said that the Urban Nature Project was one effort to protect native plants and animals in Sheffield. He said that the Council was looking to imbed Biodiversity Net Gain in district level licensing within the planning systems. He added that there were also natural recovery networks in place and that the Council was seeking to protect Sheffield’s green belt. Significant bids were being made to government to create greater nature-based solutions. Councillor Jones said that there was also the issue of invasive species, which needed to be addressed.




Councillor Jones said that he believed that declaring an ecological emergency would not help in getting Sheffield where it needs to be. He said an ecological emergency needed a full and collaborative approach and should not be put forward by the Council alone. Councillor Jones said that he was committed to moving this agenda forward and would share his work on these issues with Anna Parkin ahead of a meeting with her and others to discuss a draft ecological response for Sheffield.




Public Questions




The Lord Mayor (Councillor Tony Downing) referred to his earlier statement that in order to include the many questions submitted by members of the public, and to allow full answers to these questions alongside the other agenda items, the Director of Legal and Governance (Gillian Duckworth) would read the questions submitted by the public, to which responses would be given by the appropriate Cabinet Members.




Public Question Concerning Communication to those with a Learning Disability or Disability in Sheffield




Adam Butcher asked how the Council can make sure that people with a learning disability or disability can understand what is going on within Sheffield.




Councillor Jackie Drayton (Cabinet Member for Children and Families) thanked Mr Butcher for his questions and for all his work on ensuring that the voice and views of people with disabilities are heard, she then went on to outline some of the work that the Council was doing to address the issues he raised. She added that the Council also worked with Partners in Health, the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector, including the Burton Street Foundation, Speak Up and Disability Sheffield to create and distribute easy read publications on all sorts of issues including Covid-19 for people with disabilities. She acknowledged that more could always to be done to improve services and ensure publications were timely and easy to understand. Councillor Drayton said she would provide a fuller written response to Mr Butcher, and, once again thanked him for taking the time to attend the Council and raise these important issues.  




Public Questions Concerning Gritting Bins and the Clearing of Key Commuting Routes for Bicycles and Pedestrians




Declan Walsh asked the following two questions:




Can you please tell me how the provision of gritting bins has changed since the Streets Ahead programme was instituted? i.e. how many bins were provided when they were distributed in-house versus by Amey.




Further to this, can you tell me the details of whether there is a programme to clear key commuting routes for bicycles and pedestrians during snow and icy conditions?




Councillor Mark Jones (Cabinet Member for Environment, Streetscene and Climate Change) responded to question one, stating the number of grit bins had increased by 10% over the last 8 years.




Councillor Jones responded to question two and said he would provide a written answer and that cycle routes were kept as clear as possible as a priority. He said that the use of salt on cycle paths near to waterways might not always be appropriate.




Public Questions Concerning Sheffield’s Libraries




Matthew Smith asked the following three questions:




How do book loan issues for December 2020 compare with December 2019 for the Council run libraries?




Sheffield's two Carnegie libraries at Tinsley and Walkley were funded according to the "Carnegie Funding Formula" which required public support rather than making endowments because, as Andrew Carnegie wrote: "an endowed institution is liable to become the prey of a clique. ". What steps has the cabinet member for libraries taken to ensure the volunteer groups currently running the Associate libraries in Walkley and Tinsley maintain the same standards of neutrality as intended by Andrew Carnegie?




Could the Cabinet Member for libraries endeavour to hold a public open Question and Answer session via Zoom alongside the Head of Libraries at some point this year.




Councillor Mary Lea (Cabinet Member for Culture, Parks and Leisure) said that around 20% of the usual loans were made last year. These were via the order and collect system. Councillor Lea stated that when Sheffield was no longer subject to Coronavirus related restrictions, she hoped the libraries and book loaning would be running normally again.




In answer to question two, Councillor Lea said that the associate libraries had leases which tie them to the standards of the Council and that the Council continued to have good relationships with these libraries. She said she had no evidence that the libraries were not running an inclusive service. She said this applied to Walkley, as an associate library. The Carnegie building had not been used as a library since 1985, and the associate library there was run by Tinsley forum’s one-stop-shop, having recently been renovated. Councillor Lea said that she hoped that once the restrictions were lifted, this will be up and running.




Councillor Lea responded to question three, stating there were no plans for a public meeting currently, but this would remain under review.




Public Question Concerning City Council Repairs




Ann Whitaker asked why does it take the City Council Repairs Department several days to repair a boiler, when it should be done within 24 hours and then leave the resident with only one available electric socket in the whole house for 3 weeks, the burst boiler having flooded the electrics. Then take almost 3 months to relocate a socket that was unsafe to use as it was situated under the boiler. She said this had happened recently to an elderly lady living in the High Green area, who had serious health issues, making her life even more difficult.




Further, Ann Whitaker asked what assurances the City Council could give to residents, that it is taking action to ensure that this doesn't happen in the future.




Councillor Paul Wood (Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety) responded that an investigation had been carried out into the particular case to which the question referred and that showed that that the electrics were on and working and there was photographic evidence of this. Councillor Wood said that he had instructed an Area Housing Officer to visit the resident concerned in relation to this particular case.




Public Questions Concerning Housing Repairs




Jim Coleman asked: can the Cabinet Member clarify what the waiting times are for the Council housing repairs service please?




Councillor Paul Wood (Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety) said that he believed that there was some incorrect information being shared about this issue currently. He said that an emergency repair should be carried out within 4 hours, an urgent repair should be carried out within 24 hours and the other two repair categories had not yet been reactivated by the Council through the Coronavirus response group.




Councillor Wood said that in December 2020, there were 68 emergency calls and 4,476 urgent calls. Of those emergency calls, 61 were responded to in less than 3 hours, 7 were awaiting parts and took a further 12 hours. Councillor Wood said that of the urgent calls 3,461 were completed within 24 hours. Of the remaining, some took up to 3 days to be completed due to the ordering of parts, sometimes over a weekend. He stated that if heating was needed by people waiting for repairs, it was provided.




Public Question Concerning Rental Contracts




Connor Shreeves asked the following 5 questions:




1.      Why are you allowed to break your contracts with the tenant but as soon as the tenant break the contract with you there will be out on their ear?




2.      As a landlord you have to organise the inspection like you have done but why have you not looked at other alterations to the property such as looking for leaking internal pipes, broken or faulty heating systems and cracked walls or rotten window frames? 




3.      Am I going to get a rent reduction as compensation for the 9 months last year you left me with rotten and mouldy walls from January to September 2020 and from December 2020 until you fix the problem again? 




4.      Are you going to replace the damaged plaster board, skirting boards, replace mouldy carpets and give me a redecorating grant to decorate the affected areas? 




5.      You as a landlord have to ensure that the house/ flat a tenant lives in is “fit to live in” so why are you letting tenants live in an unfit house if the mould is seriously effecting your health as it as mine as I’ve told you on multiple occasions. Please explain to me in detail why you are still allowing this to happen? 




Councillor Paul Wood (Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety) responded and requested that he be provided with the details of the case(s) referred to in the questions so that he could respond to Connor Shreeves in writing.




Public Questions Concerning Recycling, Air Quality, an Apology and the LGO Rustlings Road Report




Russell Johnson asked the following 4 questions:




1.      Recycling

In 2018-19, (latest available figures) Sheffield was ranked 300 out of 345 Local Authorities for overall recycling performance. Why?




2.      Air Quality

Is the Council aware that there is widespread abuse of clean air legislation by burning unauthorised materials and/or by using non approved stoves or fireplaces. Discussions on social media reveal the impression that SCC does not engage in effective action in accordance with its responsibilities, and that this was the case before the Covid crisis. Why?




3.      Apology?

I urge the Leader, on behalf of the whole Ruling Group, to issue a sincere apology for the harm caused to Sheffield’s people and their assets by the Council’s behaviours during the tree felling debacle.
To help Members appreciate the importance and value of moving towards atonement, I offer a short quotation from Nick Hayes’ Trespass:
‘An apology is an acknowledgment of responsibility, the moment an addict first looks in the mirror and sees himself. It is the first step to recovery. It is a spell that, once uttered, changes the story, resets the balance. It can level the fences, turning division into unity’.
A proper apology, followed by a shared collaborative process to uncover the truths beneath this most unfortunate chapter in the history of Sheffield local Governance, would be cathartic and restorative. (The proposed Archive could be helpful in this). Apologising will help to cleanse the toxic reputation of Labour in my city for the Party’s natural supporters. I am one of those people.




4.      SCC’s response to the LGO Rustlings Road Report

Will the Council be making their response to the Ombudsman public? If yes, when? If no, why not?




Councillor Mark Jones (Cabinet Member for Environment, Streetscene and Climate Change) responded to question one. He said that the figures for Sheffield’s recycling could and must be better, and that this was his intention. He said that household waste was decreasing, although COVID had impacted this, and that the Council would do more to ensure there were improvements on recycling.




In response to question two, Councillor Jones said that there might be an element of misunderstanding in terms of what goes on social media. He said that investigations were carried out when there are suggestions of problems in clean air sites. Councillor Jones said it was possible that people using burners are not complying with the use of those devices. Councillor Jones said that if Mr Johnson wanted to provide details of places he felt should be investigated, then he would ask officers to do this.




Councillor Bob Johnson (The Leader of the Council) responded to question three. He said that a full and frank apology had already been given.




In response to question four, Councillor Johnson stated the Ombudsman report was considered by Council’s Cabinet at its meeting on the 21st October 2020 and a report and minutes confirming the Council’s response were available on the website.




Public Question Concerning Rother Valley Car Park




Ann Woolhouse submitted the following question: ‘I go to Rother Valley on a fairly regular basis; when I do I park in the car park at the back entrance. The car park is quite small and in a poor state of repair, which was one of the reasons people park their cars on the road and roundabout, The other was that despite the poor condition it was often full.  She asked what the Council intend to do about this?  For clarification, this is the car park by the roundabout opposite Meadow Gate Avenue and is in the Sheffield area.




Councillor Mary Lea (Cabinet Member for Culture, Parks and Leisure) said that the Council acknowledged there were some issues at Rother Valley car park and that parking encroached on the local area. Councillor Lea stated that Councillor Julie Grocutt (the Cabinet Member for Transport and Development) would be looking at this issue and possible solutions. Councillor Lea said that the Council wanted to encourage people to use green spaces, but it understood the difficulties that people can experience in relation to parking.




Public Questions Concerning Foundation Living Wage




Nigel Slack asked the following questions:




1.      With the Government having given very clear indications that, despite pre-Brexit promises, they intend a bonfire of workers rights and protections, will this Council confirm that a commitment to paying the Foundation Living Wage will continue to be Council policy for their own employees?




2.      Will Council also confirm that the same Foundation Living Wage will be expected of all contractors of Sheffield City Council and how they intend to enforce that within their 'Ethical Procurement Policy'?




Councillor Terry Fox (Cabinet Member for Finance, Resources and Governance and Deputy Leader) responded that in respect of both questions, the answer was ‘yes’ and announcements in that regard would be made in the next few months.




Public Questions Concerning Sheffield Legal Services (SLS)




Justin Buxton submitted the follow questions:




1.      Is SLS a commercial venture / enterprise?


2.      What is the legal status of SLS as an entity?


3.      What is the financial relationship between Sheffield City Council and SLS?


4.      Who paid for setup costs and pays day-to-day costs incurred by SLS? What is the figure to date?


5.      What happens to any profit made by SLS?


6.      Who is responsible for any liability incurred by SLS (including being sued or similar)?


7.      Was a business plan submitted to and approved by elected members? If so is this available for public scrutiny?




Councillor Terry Fox (Cabinet Member for Finance, Resources and Governance and Deputy Leader) responded to these questions. He said that information concerning Sheffield Legal Services was available on the Council website. Councillor Fox stated that Sheffield Legal Services was not a separate legal entity.




Public Questions Concerning Repairs and Maintenance




John Hawkins submitted the following questions:




1.   I would like to ask is can repairs and maintenance deal directly with tenants reporting repairs instead of waiting times in excess of 40 minutes with the call centre after initial contact and afterwards tenants are left in a loop.




2.   Why are vacants left for months empty i.e. loss of revenue. One on Lowedges had been empty two and a half years and this is not an isolated occasion. 




3.   Why are board-ups left for months? Local housing officials’ failure to monitor or address tenants, knock on effect stops repairs and maintenance completing repairs leading to estates looking deprived. 




Councillor Paul Wood (Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety) responded to question one. He said that there were some improvements that could be made and he stated that a new IT system was being introduced to allow tenants direct access to the Repairs Centre. He said that this system should be available around April/May this year.




In response to question two, Councillor Wood said that the average time a property is left vacant is under 50 days. He said that there might be extenuating circumstances with some properties, and in those cases, they may be vacant for longer.




On question three, Councillor Wood said that at the start of the lockdown in March 2020, only minimal and essential work was allowed and that this resulted in windows being left boarded up and created a backlog. He said this was now being addressed.




Public Questions Concerning Free School Meals, the Speed Limit in Westfield and the Crossing on Station Road




Kurtis Crossland submitted the following questions:




1.   Will the Council commit to supporting children with free school meals for the entire pandemic?




2.   Has Westfield moved up the list for a 20mph zone or does it remain “not a priority”?




3.   Has the study taken place for the crossing on Station Road and can you give an approximate date for construction yet?




Councillor Jackie Drayton (Cabinet Member for Children and Families) asked Councillor Abtisam Mohamed to respond to question one, as the Cabinet Member for Education and Skills. Councillor Drayton wanted to thank Mr Crossland for bringing this question to the Council and for keeping this issue on the agenda.




Councillor Abtisam Mohamed (Cabinet Member for Education and Skills) said that the Council had received money from the government for the Winter Grants Scheme and the Council had used this money to cover free school meals over Christmas and during the February half-term holiday for over 30,000 families. She said that from Easter the government was extending the Holiday Activities Fund which was piloted over the summer. Sheffield had been allocated up to £2.6 million to cover summer 2021.




Councillor Julie Grocutt responded to question two and said that delivering 20 mph speed limits across all residential areas in Sheffield was a priority. Councillor Grocutt said that the roll out of this scheme was a significant undertaking, and that in order to deliver this in a managed and affordable way the Council had identified priority areas in the city so that this can be delivered in phases. The primary source of funding for delivering 20mph limits and all of the local transport improvements across the city each year is from the £2.4 million annual allocation from the South Yorkshire Local Transport Integrated Grant. This fund covered a large number of requests to local transport improvements; therefore, the Council had to prioritise how this funding is spent. Councillor Grocutt said that the Council was looking for alternative additional funding to make these local road safety improvements and including the acceleration of the 20mph zone programme. She said that the Westfield area was ranked 11th on the list of priorities for the 20mph schemes and is likely to be progressed.




Councillor Grocutt responded to question three and gave an update on the crossing on Station Road. She said that the feasibility of improved pedestrian crossing on Station Road had been undertaken and following discussions with the team that had developed the proposals, arrangements for a local consultation would be confirmed shortly. She said once the findings of the consultation are known, the construction period for this crossing will be confirmed. Councillor Grocutt thanked Councillor Tony Downing for his work on promoting road safety and for his work on this proposal.




Public Question on the Climate Crisis




Lindy Stone asked the following question: ‘In February 2019 Sheffield City Council recognised the urgency of the climate crisis and declared a Climate Emergency. Since this time they have been working on developing a clear data base and are now developing an action plan. In the intervening period, it has become even clearer that alongside the drive to meet a net zero target, it is essential that it is recognised there is an ecological crisis. Biodiversity is in serious decline globally, nationally and locally as the State of Nature report demonstrated. The ecological crisis is both part of and feeds into climate crisis and for the health of the planet is equally dangerous. To name it is to note it. Specific plans do not need to be adopted and developed first. A Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill is making its way through Parliament with extensive support. The Wildlife Trusts across the UK are calling on the government and councils to declare ecological emergencies and several councils have recognised this and done so - including Doncaster MBC. Will Sheffield do the same?’




Councillor Mark Jones (Cabinet Member for Environment, Streetscene and Climate Change) responded and said that he had sent on a draft on his response to the ecological issues the city faces to Lindy Stone. He referred to the answer given to the petition submitted earlier at this meeting on this subject and said he looked forward to working with Lindy Stone on these issues in the future.




Public Questions on the Council and the Public and Repairs




Sophie Thornton submitted the following questions:




1.   What steps is the Leader taking to ensure this Council treats members of the public and campaigners with respect?




2.   Can I have an update to the number of completed boarded up window repairs in Lowedges, Jordanthorpe and Batemoor since I last asked.




The Leader of the Council (Councillor Bob Johnson), responded to question one. He said everyone should be treated with respect and if anybody had any concerns they should report these to the Council’s Monitoring Officer. He said there is an independent procedure for this, through the Audit and Standards Committee and it will be followed.




Councillor Paul Wood (Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety) responded to question two and said the Council had completed 18 of the boarded-up properties in the S8 postcode from the 1st November to the beginning of January.





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