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Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions

To receive any questions or petitions from members of the public

Minutes:

5.1

Christine Rose was in attendance and asked the following question: “I am representing the Women’s Equality Party. This year we are mainly focussing on doing everything we can to end male violence against women and girls.
I don’t need to list the reasons why this is so important, but they range from the number of women killed by men, the low levels of prosecution in rape cases, the appalling misogynistic behaviour recently uncovered in the Met police, to everyday examples of street sexual harassment.

 

We are angry that it is always women who are told to change their behaviour and mostly women who campaign against VAWG. It is men who carry out the violence and harassment and it is men who need to change their behaviour.


Therefore, we support the White Ribbon campaign which is the leading charity working to end male violence against women.  They encourage everyone, especially men and boys, to make the White Ribbon Promise to never commit, excuse or remain silent about MALE violence against women and girls.


We are asking that Sheffield City Council to commit to gaining White Ribbon This would mean, amongst other things, appointing male ambassadors, both Councillors and Senior Officers to work on this.


We NEED a timetable for gaining accreditation and the development of a 3-year White Ribbon action plan to implement this.

 

This has the potential to reach a wide range of people and improve the lives of women and girls in Sheffield significantly. Everyone should have the right to not live in fear and to feel safe wherever they are in our City. So, will you commit to bring a joint motion to full council, within 6 months, setting out your intention to achieve White Ribbon accreditation by April 2023?”

 

Councillor Alison Teal responded. She stated that the White Ribbon cause was close to her heart. She said that as she had COVID-19, she had been unable to attend Council when the issue was last discussed. Councillor Teal stated that it was her understanding that White Ribbon status would involve the Council agreeing to phase out or remove sexual entertainment venues. She said that in order to do this the decision needed to go through the Licensing Committee. Councillor Teal said she had spoken with Clare Bower, the Legal Officer who assisted the Licensing Committee, and stated that Ms Bower was working on a draft of the Sex Establishment Policy which would be presented in April 2022. Councillor Teal stated she hoped there would be support for this report. She added that she felt this industry breached the Public Sector Equality duty due to the different employment circumstances of male employees and female employees. Councillor Teal said that Councillor Douglas Johnson had raised this issue previously. She said that she was fully supportive of White Ribbon accreditation and added that she would do all she could to support the initiative.

 

5.2

Russell Johnson was in attendance to ask a number of public questions. Mr Johnson asked: “Firstly, may I ask the Deputy Leader for an apology for the mishandling of my Public Questions at this month’s Full Council?”

 

Councillor Julie Grocutt, Deputy Leader, apologised to Mr Johnson and explained that an administrative error had taken place. She said she was aware that an apology had also been emailed to Mr Johnson.

 

Mr Johnson thanked Councillor Grocutt for the apology.

 

Mr Johnson asked: ‘I have been concerned about several matters that have called into question the quality of political leadership of the Council. Three matters, though themselves separate, are connected in highlighting a number of cultural shortcomings that characterise the organisation.

 

The Councillor Iqbal Affair

 

After a year of ‘investigation’ of serious allegations regarding a senior Elected Member, the Leader is quoted as saying:

 

“The independent recommendations completely exonerate Councillor Iqbal - drawing a firm line under this matter”

 

Yet the Committee looking at this found that

 

‘The sub-committee …  were deeply concerned about the seeming acceptability of the day-to-day behaviours of senior officers and members illustrated by the complaint.

In the sub-committee’s view, the subject member did not always model the behaviours expected of a senior member of the council and this type of behaviour should not have gone unchecked.’

 

This appears contradictory. 

 

Moreover, the Sub-Committee did not consider all the allegations made by Mr Ogden.

 

Does the Deputy Leader understand why the public might be sceptical about the legitimacy of the ‘exoneration’? Will she express on the record unreserved confidence in the integrity of the Councillor concerned whose role involves interacting with Officers and commercial developers? Will the Deputy Leader reassure the public that the recommendations of the Consideration Sub-committee regarding Member-Officer Protocols, development training for senior officers and Members to improve behaviours, including engaging the whips to encourage participation are being vigorously pursued? And provide a progress report?

 

The Interim Chief Executive Scandal

 

SCC three times refused to be open about the costs of employing Charlie Adan after the departure of John Mothersole. The first time in response to a PQ of mine, then twice in connection with an FOIR.  Eventually, the truth was forced from a less than transparent Council: eye-watering amounts paid to create an unnecessary short-term post.

 

Does the Labour Group now regret the enormous expenditure at a time of severe pressure on Council resources? Could the monies have been deployed for the citizens’ greater benefit?

 

Assault Allegations Concerning a Senior Councillor

 

At December Full Council at the Octagon building, it has been reported that a senior Labour Councillor behaved in an aggressive and unacceptable manner towards a member of the public, pulling down his mask against his wishes.  Furthermore, a video is freely circulating that appears to show the Leader himself adopting an aggressive manner and shouting at a person outside the hall.

 

Does the Deputy Leader agree with me that this kind of behaviour does not tend to enhance the Council’s or the Labour Party’s reputations?  Does Councillor Grocutt believe that it is the responsibility of the Leader of a major Council to model civil and courteous behaviour to set an appropriate example?

 

Will she express regret on behalf of the Leader and explain the nature and timing of the ‘training’ that Cllr Damms has been asked to attend as part of the disciplinary process?”

 

Councillor Grocutt apologised for Councillor Iqbal leaving the meeting. She stated that she had unreserved confidence in his integrity. She said that the position was shared by the Leader. She said she had acknowledged that the report findings noted areas within the organisation, both cultural and structural, which required improvement and she stated the Council was committed to working with officers and others on those.

 

With regards to the second question, Councillor Grocutt stated that there was a Member Development programme which had been put together and she said that the Council was committed to ensuring all members had training and the support that they needed to support the city.

 

In relation to the question about December Full Council, Councillor Grocutt stated that Councillors and members of the leadership team abided, to the best of their ability, to the Nolan Principles of Public Life. She added that she felt it was not appropriate for her to comment on matters relating to individual Councillors.

 

In relation to the employment of Charlie Adan, she said she would respond to Mr Johnson outside of the meeting.

 

Councillor Cate McDonald added a response and stated: “The Council acted transparently throughout the appointment of an interim Chief Executive following the departure of John Mothersole. This included Full Council agreement to the proposed arrangement of the appointment of an interim Chief Exec with knowledge of the potential costs, the procurement process to identify potential candidates, the appointment decision being made by a senior officer appointment committee and responding to six separate FOI requests and two ICO investigations.  The only information withheld was that which was clearly personal data and the contractual costs of the arrangement which was deemed to be commercially sensitive. 

 

Invoices covering the costs of the interim Chief Executive were published monthly as part of our transparency reporting.  The Information Commissioner partly upheld an appeal and requested that the council release the contractual costs for the supply of the interim Chief Executive, and we have complied with this.

 

Let me be absolutely clear. This matter was dealt with throughout by the Council; not a single political group.”

 

Mr Johnson stated he did not refer to the Labour Group in relation to Charlie Adan, but instead in relation to Councillor behaviours.

 

Mr Johnson asked the following questions:

 

“The public are still experiencing lengthy delays in FOIRs, SARs and Formal Complaints. One recent much delayed SAR was only provided after a threat of legal action. Then delivered with excessive redaction. This situation persists despite assurances to the contrary since the current Chief Executive has been in post.

 

Does the Leader understand that it is particularly important to address this as the Independent Inquiry into the Street Tree Scandal is getting under way, and the serious implications of continuing poor performance for the image of the Council?

 

Please would the appropriate Co-Operative Exec member provide an update on the independent investigation into the Council’s misuse of LPP?

 

Now that our esteemed Prime Minister has effectively signalled the end of Covid restrictions, has SCC decided when we will return to Full Council in the Chamber, with Public Questions notifiable on the day?”

 

In relation to Freedom of Information requests, Councillor Grocutt stated the Council had a professional team of officers who worked diligently to deal with the volume of requests received. She added that the Council was committed to clearing the backlog created when staff were being deployed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Councillor Grocutt stated that redaction was an appropriate part of disclosure and applied in accordance with regulations.

 

She said that the Street Tree Enquiry would determine the documentation required as it progressed and added that the Council would support this progress.

 

In relation to Legal Professional Privilege, Councillor Grocutt stated that the process undertaken involved the input of external lawyers in order to provide an independent point of view. She stated that obtaining this advice, along with the amount of evidence gathered, had resulted in the matter taking longer to conclude than hoped by the Council. She stated that the matter would be concluded shortly. Councillor Grocutt said that the complainant and those affected by the process had been updated throughout, and she added that she felt it would not be appropriate to provide a further update publicly until those involved had been contacted.

 

In relation to Public Questions, Councillor Grocutt stated that the Council intended to return to the Town Hall for March’s Extraordinary meeting. She said that the Council would continue to ask for Public Questions to be submitted in advance in order to allow the Council to monitor the number of attendees and to keep those attending as safe as possible.

 

5.3

Abby Hodgetts read out the following Public Questions, submitted by Ruth Hubbard:

 

“Can you confirm – in line with the expectations of citizens - that the situation with our council’s CEO is being treated as a ‘disciplinary’ matter?    

 

I would appreciate a very clear yes or no answer on this as I know many others would.

 

Public statements from the council have emphasised the need to follow procedures.  Given this is so clearly a disciplinary matter (with multiple elements and implications), can you explain why the procedures outlined in the Senior Officer Employment Regulations do not appear to be being followed?  This might well be an extraordinary situation but what is the laid down procedure being followed?  Or are you making it up as you go along?

 

Can you clarify who is advising Members on this and is this advice internal or external?  

 

Who is the ‘investigator’ and how long do you expect an investigation to take place?  Is the completion of SCC’s investigation partly dependent upon the outcome of the Metropolitan Police investigation and, if so, why? (Does the council believe there is only a problem if a penalty fine notice is, or is not, issued?) 

 

Can the Cabinet affirm this council’s commitment (in principle and practice) to the Nolan Principles, or does it intend to pursue the utterly disgraceful example of Number 10 in seeing what can be got away with, ignored, or lied about?”

 

Councillor Grocutt stated that a written response would be submitted to Ms Hubbard in her absence.