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Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions

To receive any questions or petitions from members of the public

Minutes:

4.1

Nigel Slack attended the Committee and asked the following questions which were answered by the Chair:

 

4.2

Q1 With the dire prediction for the potential budget crisis for the city's finances, I'd like to ask for some clarification of the reports details.

We must all recognise the problem of the national & international economic crisis that will impact Local authorities as well as households and businesses in the coming months, but specifically:

Do the forecasts in this report include the impact of fuel and energy costs on SCC Budgets?

 

A: Yes, we have factored into our forecast our view of pressures for energy costs and any mitigations such as reserves for such eventualities.

 

Do the forecasts include the impacts of poor service from SCC contractors on the financial position? Are there plans to address these problems in performance?

 

(I'm still trying to sort out a Council Tax exemption problem for a house I sold over 12 months ago - £2500 missing from the treasury for 2021-22. / Business rates income from premises sold 4 years ago that are still unoccupied & therefore presumably currently exempt.)

 

A: Contract management is important, and SCC takes this role seriously for any supplier we have contracts with. We can look into the specifics of your issue if you would like to share the detail.

 

Are there plans to approach Government for a relief package, proportionate to the cost pressures, similar to that being offered to households?

 

A: It’s unknown at this stage if LA’s will receive any Govt support in-year for such pressure, we are not assuming any further funding in the forecast as it would not be prudent to do so, and we are working with the relevant SCC Committees to manage within current resources. We continue to lobby Government for fair funding for SCC and inflationary increases will be an element of that approach. 

 

Are there plans to approach the new Mayor about the issues and to get his support in squeezing more money out of Government and to address how his allegedly more flexible approach can be used to support both local businesses and therefore SCC? (i.e. support so that businesses can pay business rates rather than avoid them?)

 

A: We work very closely with South Yorkshire MCA on a number of issues that affect SCC and the region, working across the region to ensure a collaborative approach and to maximise opportunities.

 

Lastly, does the report enable SCC to extract and discuss the impact of Covid & Brexit measures on the city's finances?

 

A: There are many factors impacting on SCC’s finances, the report does not attempt to identify these individually but focus on how the authority should address the overall impact.

 

4.3

Q2 Both a finance and democracy question next. What is the saving that would be made for SCC by switching to All Out Elections rather than elections by thirds?

We have already heard, as part of the Governance Committee's work, that All Out elections are a better fit for Committee decision making than the current election cycle. It would provide stability of committee memberships for 4 years, improve decision making through better experienced Councillors and enable longer term policy planning than currently. It would take Councillors away from the continual fixation on 'electioneering' that typifies the current cycle, with all the antagonism that generates between parties. The only loss would be for the political parties in having to be grown ups for four years. I suspect this is a price the residents would be willing to pay.

 

Will this committee add a review of the SCC election cycle to their work plan as a matter of urgency, potentially to be sent to the Governance Committee for consideration and research about fitness for the new committee system.

 

A: In common with most metropolitan districts, Sheffield currently elects a third of its councillors in three out of every four years, with the fourth year ‘fallow’.  All authorities that elect by thirds have the option to alter their pattern of elections to move to ‘all-out elections’.  This would mean all councillors being elected at the same time once every four years. 

 

There are benefits and disadvantages to any pattern of election – for example, electing by thirds gives voters a more frequent opportunity to express their views about the performance of their elected representatives whereas all-out elections arguably promote a more stable political position for a longer period of time

 

4.4

Q3 As part of my daily exercise I often spend time in and around the General Cemetery. My route always takes me past Mount Pleasant House and inevitably I am reminded that it is now 4 years since the property was agreed to be sold by SCC for redevelopment into Care Home facilities. In that time nothing appears to have happened, at all, to that building apart from continued dilapidation of a Grade2 heritage asset and undoubtedly a consequent impact on Business Rates for the Council.

I was told by a now departed Councillor that the sale went through in 2021 but I was sceptical.

 

Who currently owns Mount Pleasant House?

 

A: The hub and stables are owned by Hermes Care under a 250-year lease from SCC. Contracts for the Agreement for Lease for the main house were exchanged in July 2021 which contractually commits the purchaser to acquiring a lease for this part of the site. The terms of the contract require a number of conditions to be satisfied by the purchaser to ensure that the heritage asset is repaired, and the scheme delivered as originally intended. Once these conditions are satisfied the lease will complete and ownership will transfer to the purchaser Hermes Care. Under the terms of the contract Hermes are currently managing the site.

 

What planning permission still exists, if any was ever granted?

 

A: An application for planning permission has not yet been submitted. Discussions are currently underway and this is one of the conditions to be satisfied for the completion of the lease for the House.  

 

What is SCC doing to ensure the integrity of this Grade2 listed building?

 

A: There are conditions in the agreement for lease relating to planning and repair of the building. The agreement for lease requires that the main building is refurbished and brought into use before or at the same time as any new building/extension works. SCC as landlord and planning authority will sign off any proposals before they are undertaken to ensure that these are sympathetic to the listed building and secure its long term future.

 

4.5

Q4 The Seven Principles of Public Life are embedded in the SCC Constitution.

https://democracy.sheffield.gov.uk/documents/s52082/Part%205A%20-%20Councillor%20Code%20of%20Conduct%202022.pdf

Appendix A – SCC Constitution – Part 5 – Pg 244

 

Will this committee confirm that they hold these principles to be a core part of the way SCC works, despite the pressures from local 'Business Leaders' and 'some' Councillors' to water these down for one specific individual?

 

A: This a question for the committee that needs to be answered without specific reference to any individual or case in hand