Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions and Other Communications

5.1      Questions relating to urgent business – Council Procedure Rule 16.6(ii).


5.2      Questions relating to the discharge of the functions of the South Yorkshire Joint Authorities (under the provisions of Section 41 of the Local Government Act 1985) and of the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority – Council Procedure Rule 16.6(i).


5.3      Supplementary questions on written questions submitted at this meeting – Council Procedure Rule 16.4.





Clive Stephenson, Licensing Strategy & Policy Officer




The Lord Mayor (Councillor Sioned-Mair Richards) reported that Clive Stephenson, Licensing Strategy & Policy Officer, had suddenly and unexpectedly died a couple of days ago.  She expressed her sadness and shock at Clive’s death and invited Councillor David Barker, a Joint Chair of the Licensing Committee, to speak to pay tribute to Clive.




Councillor Barker paid tribute to Clive for his professionalism and dedication to the Council in his role within the taxi licensing service and commented on the high regard within which he was held by Councillors and the taxi trade.  He stated that Clive’s death was a loss to the Council and to the city and he extended his sympathies to Clive’s family, friends and colleagues.




The Lord Mayor asked that the condolences of the Council be conveyed to Clive’s family.




Parish Nursing Project




The Lord Mayor (Councillor Sioned-Mair Richards) reported that a collection for the Parish Nursing Project, which had been held at the previous meeting of the Council, had raised the amount of £2,010, and those funds would be used to support the services provided by the Parish Nurses to marginalised people in the community.




UEFA European Women's Football Championship 2022




The Lord Mayor (Councillor Sioned-Mair Richards) expressed her thanks to the Council’s Major Events Team, and other Council and partner organisation services, for their work in hosting UEFA European Women's Football Championship 2022 matches within the city over recent weeks.




Petitions and Public Questions




The Lord Mayor (Councillor Sioned-Mair Richards) reported that four petitions and questions from twelve members of the public had been received prior to the published deadline for submission of petitions and questions for this meeting.  Representations were to be made on behalf of the petitioners on one of the four petitions and the other three petitions would be received in the absence of a speaker. The Lord Mayor added that questions from another two members of the public had been received yesterday and immediately prior to the meeting and she proposed to use her discretion, as chair of the meeting, and permit the questions to be asked on this occasion.








Petition Requesting Action On Pension Divestment




The Council received a joint paper and electronic petition containing 197 signatures requesting action on pension divestment.




At the request of the Lord Mayor (Councillor Sioned-Mair Richards), Martin Mayer and Sarah Johnson made representations on behalf of the petitioners and June Cattell, Sue Owen, Hilary Smith, Ayan Abdulkadir and Flis Callow were also invited to ask the questions that they had submitted on this matter.




Martin Meyer, on behalf of the petitioners, requested the Council to join the Palestinian call for international support for boycott divestment and sanctions in supporting justice for Palestine. Several authoritative organisations have declared that Israel operates as an apartheid state. Amnesty International’s report details that fragmentation and segregation of occupied Palestinian land, denial of Palestinian’s rights to equality, equal nationality and status, restriction of Palestinians’ movement as a means of control of people, separation of families through discriminatory laws, forced dispossession of Palestinian land and property to support secular colonianism, administrative detention and torture, unlawful killings and serious injuries.  Mr Meyer stated that Michael Link, former United Nations Special Rappateur for occupied Palestine argues that Israel’s system of oppression, discrimination, control and abusive treatment meets the international definition of apartheid. The petitioners therefore call on the Council to accept Amnesty International’s report and re-affirm its 1981 commitment to be an apartheid-free zone. The petitioners also call on the Council to campaign for the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority to commit to divestment in companies shown to be complicit in human rights abuse, including those involved in the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people.




Sarah Johnson stated that the petitioners were calling on the Council to recommit to a position taken in 1981. She referred to Sheffield’s long and proud history of fighting injustice, and quoted the then Council Leader, Councillor David Blunkett – “we were the first local authority to pledge to end all links with apartheid”. Public pensions investments played a big role, and by 1985, 120 local councils had taken some form of anti-apartheid initiative.  Ms Johnson referred to the steps taken by Professor Michael Link, in urging local pension schemes to divest from any holdings linked to Israeli settlements.  Today, the Government aimed to control how public service pensions were invested, rather than allowing pensions authorities to decide.  Whilst pensions authorities have a responsibility to maximise their returns, they must be free to decide how and where to invest and divest, particularly when considering human rights and the planet.  Ms Johnson referred to Palestine’s call for a global citizen’s response of solidarity with their struggle for freedom, justice and equality. The petitioners therefore hoped that the Council could do this by committing to its proud and historic stance, and support this petition.  




The Council also received five public questions relating to this issue, as follows:-




June Cattell




1. There are clear and irrefutable arguments that Israel is an apartheid state and Sheffield should not shy away from criticism of apartheid in Israel any more than it did with South Africa in the eighties because of concerns about being labelled antisemitic. My question is “When apartheid in Israel is demonstrated daily with ongoing daily killings of Palestinians, seizure of Palestinian lands, the ongoing use of military detention including minors, unequal land rights and many other injustices, what MORE will it take for Sheffield City Council to name the injustice in Israel for what it is - “Apartheid”, support boycott of Israel in goods, culture, academia and sport and ask its councillors who sit on South Yorkshire Pension Authority to pressurise the Authority to divest from Israeli companies especially those that have links with the Israeli illegal settlements.”  I hope Sheffield Councillors today can show the courage they did in 1981.




Sue Owen




2. What steps are you as a council taking to oppose the Government's profoundly undemocratic attempts to restrict the freedom of local councils to make their own ethical decisions with regard to pension investment and other investment and procurement decisions. This is particularly important in relation to Palestine and investments in companies that support Israel's apartheid system and breaking of international law, which the Government is aiming to protect with its anti BDS legislation. What are you doing to try and retain the democratic right as a Local Authority to make your own ethical decisions for Sheffield people who are members of the Local Authority pension fund?




Hilary Smith




3. Having worked for South Yorkshire Councils for many years and contributed to the South Yorkshire Pension fund for over 20 years, I feel outraged that the Government is planning to curtail the influence that pension fund members can have on where our money is invested. This Council rightly has high expectations of its staff in applying principles of justice and fairness and I feel this should extend to its expectations of the pension fund as well. I want to know how the Council is going to support me in opposing the iniquitous legislation that the Government is trying to introduce, which severely limits the influence members who have contributed to the scheme for many years can have. 




Ayan Abdulkadir




4. Does the Council think it hypocritical that the international community has not boycotted the Israel government due to their 73-year-long apartheid, occupation and annexation against the Palestinian civilians when they boycotted the Russian government due to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine after 7 days?




Flis Callow




5. As well as a verbal answer to our questions today we would like to receive written responses and an invitation to the relevant committees which will deal with the petition and with issues of procurement and investment.  I would like to know how Sheffield City Council and its representatives on the Pensions Authority will ensure there is due diligence to ensure companies behave in line with the principles of the well-recognized international human rights standards and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.




The Council referred the petition and the questions to Councillor Terry Fox, Leader of the Council and Chair of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee.  Councillor Fox thanked the lead petitioners and the questioners and stated that he was aware of the implications of the subject matter, and referred to action taken by the Authority to date, in terms of discussions held with representatives of the Palestinian and Jewish communities in the city. Councillor Fox declared an interest in the issue, as a member of the South Yorkshire Pensions Scheme, and stated that he would arrange for a written response to be sent to the lead petitioner and the questioners. He added that he would seek legal advice in terms of what action, if any, could be taken by the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee in this regard.




Petition Requesting Cameras On And Around Frecheville Pond




The Council received an electronic petition containing 54 signatures, requesting cameras on and around Frecheville Pond.  There was no speaker for this petition.




The Council referred the petition to the Communities, Parks and Leisure Policy Committee.




Petition Requesting The Creation Of Residents Only Parking Permit Zones For The Roads Off Abbeydale Road




The Council received an electronic petition containing ten signatures, requesting the creation of residents only parking permit zones for the roads off Abbeydale Road.  There was no speaker for this petition.




The Council referred the petition to the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee.




Petition Requesting The Demolition Of Outhouses At Busk Meadows




The Council received an electronic petition containing ten signatures, requesting the demolition of outhouses at Busk Meadows.  There was no speaker for this petition.




The Council referred the petition to the Housing Policy Committee.




Public Questions




Public Question Regarding Pension Disinvestment in Fossil Fuel Companies




Kate Stott asked the following question:




Sheffield City Council declared a climate emergency in 2019.  A commissioned analysis by the Tyndall Centre states that the city needs to reach zero or near zero carbon no later than 2038 for Sheffield to make its fair contribution to the Paris Climate Change Agreement.


However, one of the largest investors in South Yorkshire, the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority (SYPA), still invests directly in fossil fuel companies to the tune of £230 million.  With five Sheffield Councillors on the Pensions committee broadly supportive of the need to reduce the carbon exposure of the fund, and similar support from other committee members, the fund still refuses to disinvest from fossil fuels.  Money that could be reinvested in the local economy in one of the many exciting opportunities such as the Ultimate Battery Company based at the AMRC.


To add insult to injury, the pension fund provides pensions for Council employees and Councillors across the region, and continued investment in fossil fuels puts those pensions at risk.

The excuse, or stalling tactic, given by the pension fund, is that the Border to Coast Pension Pool (BCPP) don't offer a carbon-free investment vehicle for equities and that SYPA don't want to invest outside the pool.


I call on Sheffield City Council to deliver on their climate emergency declaration by applying pressure on SYPA to disinvest their holdings in fossil fuel companies, either via a fossil-free equity fund within the BCPP or if this is not forthcoming, outside the pool.




In response, Councillor Julie Grocutt (Co-Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee) thanked Ms Stott for raising the question, and stated that the Pensions Authority had agreed a Net Zero goal which aligns with the City Council’s. This is amongst the most ambitious such goals set, not just within the Local Government Pension Scheme, but within the wider Pensions Industry, and the Authority’s officers are working to try to deliver this. However, the role of the Pensions Authority is not to be an instrument of policy, but to pay pensions and while risks such as climate change rightly form part of the decision-making process, it is this overriding duty that must be the Authority’s priority.


This year, being the year in which the actuarial valuation of the Fund is being undertaken, also provides the opportunity for the periodic review of the investment strategy. This review will incorporate consideration of changes to the allocation of asset to individual products that will support both the achievement of required returns and the achievement of the Net Zero goal. However, it is worth emphasising that emissions related to the Fund’s equity portfolios, which are the focus of this question,  have reduced by 49% compared to the 2019 starting point. The Strategy Review will need to consider the type of products that the Fund invests in, but simply changing the product you invest in does not remove one tonne of emissions from the atmosphere and also needs to be considered within the context of the partnership with 10 other funds within which the Authority operates to make investments. The Strategy must, however, generate at least a 70% probability of achieving the required investment return in order to ensure that the Fund’s liabilities can be met without seeking significant additional employer contributions which would impact directly on the Council’s budget.


The Authority has a long standing policy of investing in climate solutions, and already has more money invested in renewable energy than in fossil fuel companies. Beyond this, a three-year commitment of £240m has been made to a specific Climate Opportunities product. This, together with ongoing commitments to infrastructure investment and other private market products, will continue to increase exposure to climate solutions. However, the Authority is not equipped to make individual direct investments into local businesses and private equity investments of this sort would need to be made through fund managers who have the necessary expertise and whose involvement avoids potential conflicts of interest.




Public Questions Regarding Support to Vulnerable People in the Stradbroke Area




Helen Eadon asked the following questions:




1: At present what is being done, and who is doing it, to help and support those being impacted by the cost of living crisis in the Stradbroke area?  What are the future plans to support people in need in this area who will be impacted when we have further price increases in gas, electricity and the cost of living during cold Winter months?


2: When did the review of Sheffield City Council’s Community buildings start?  What is the review for? What is the end date for the review?  Why can’t community buildings be used by the community whilst the review is taking place?  Why has previous requests for the community to use the community buildings in the Stradbroke not been acted on?




In response, Councillor Terry Fox (the Leader of the Council and Chair of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee) thanked Ms Eadon for raising the questions, and for the excellent work she and other residents were undertaking to help people though this cost of living crisis.  The Council had taken decisive action in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the inflation and the huge increase in energy costs on families and local communities.  The Strategy and Resources Policy Committee, at its meeting on 5th July, 2022, had identified a number of key areas to address, and had identified £200,000 towards supporting local food banks. There was also £5.2m crisis support funding for tenants, under the Housing Support Fund, together with food vouchers for families with children receiving free school meals, during the summer holidays. In addition, there was a cross-party, strategic response to the crisis, which included input from partners across the public, private and voluntary sectors.  The Local Area Committees (LACs), comprising local Ward Councillors, were also engaged in terms of identifying those areas of greatest need, such as Stradbroke.  The Council would be continuing, as a matter of urgency, with its review of community buildings, and would be working closely with voluntary organisations and the LACs. Councillor Fox concluded by placing on record his sympathy for those individuals and families who were suffering, on a day-to-day basis, due to the cost of living crisis.




Public Questions Regarding the Council’s Disposal of Unused Land at Walshaw Road, Worrall




Robin Hughes asked the following questions:-




Members may recall my previous questions to Council on 2nd February 2022 and the Co-operative Executive on 20th April regarding a proposed housing development in the village of Worrall. This would entail the demolition of a historic 18th century farmhouse and barn and impact to the setting of listed buildings, unless the Council agree to sell a small piece of land on Walshaw Road as alternative access, which is the Council's preferred alternative. I was assured that the urgency was understood, an extension of time would be sought, and the sale of the land would be negotiated.


Regrettably, this remains unresolved. The extension expired on 29th April, and there has been no visible progress. Having originally tried to push the developer towards a planning appeal, at a time when this was no longer legally possible, the Council now appears to be dragging its feet, despite Members repeatedly promising action. The pointless and avoidable loss of historic buildings becomes increasingly likely.


Will this Council:-


(1)      Urgently instruct its officers to conclude the sale of this land without further delay?;


(2)      Make public the reasons for its failure to do so before now?; and


(3)      Update its Property Strategy so that it states clearly that where Council property is important to the preservation and public enjoyment of designated heritage assets or their settings, this will be given priority?.




In response, Councillor Julie Grocutt (Co-Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee) thanked Mr Hughes for raising the questions, and stated that, with regard to Question 1, officers have held several discussions with the owners and their representatives regarding the sale of the land.  This is a commercial negotiation and the buyer is clearly trying other angles before they reach an agreement with the Council. The Council is willing to sell its land and is happy to continue negotiations with the agent.




In response to Question 2, Councillor Grocutt stated that any sale requires a willing buyer and a willing seller, and until both parties reach a financial agreement which reflects the value of the land in question and achieves best consideration for the Council, the Council is unable to move the sale forward. Clearly the owners are reluctant to purchase additional land and are still trying to make the development work within the existing site boundaries, without the additional expense.  Officers have engaged with the owners and shown willingness to progress a sale. However, the Council cannot force the owners to purchase the land.




In response to Question 3, Councillor Grocutt stated that this is already a consideration in the use of Council assets, but this does not mean the Council gives its assets away. Legally, it must achieve best consideration when considering sale of its land.




Public Questions Regarding the Proposed Creation of Bus Lanes on Ecclesall and Abbeydale Road




Nasar Raoof asked the following questions:-




There are 3 questions the businesses have.  I am here in front of the councillors today on behalf of the Say No to Red Lines group.


1. Why have the results of an economic assessment not been published and done with the businesses on the impact of red lines?


2.       Are the Council going to compensate heavily any losses that are forthcoming for local businesses upon the implementation of the red lines?


3.       With the declining bus services and learning earlier in the month that 1/3 buses will be cut going forward, why are more bus lanes being created ? This doesn’t make sense at all.     




In response, Councillor Julie Grocutt (Co-Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee) thanked Mr Raoof for raising the questions, and stated that Members were well aware of the concerns raised, as well as the general concerns regarding the current cost of living crisis.  She stressed that no decision had been made in terms of the red lines, and that the issue would be discussed at a future meeting of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee.  In response to Question 1, Councillor Grocutt stated that as part of the outline business case to be submitted to the Mayoral Combined Authority, an economic assessment had been undertaken to determine the wider costs and benefits of the scheme.  However, an economic assessment had not yet been undertaken on the impact of the proposed red lines on the businesses on Abbeydale Road and Ecclesall Road, as the red lines would increase existing restrictions on the corridors, and would still allow for parking and loading and unloading outside the red line hours of operation.  Businesses would not be able to load and unload on the double-red lines as they currently could on the double-yellow lines, but the Council would look to introduce more loading bays for use by businesses if the scheme was progressed.  The red lines were being proposed to allow for enhanced enforcement of the loading and waiting restrictions on Abbeydale Road and Ecclesall Road, with the cameras.  The Council would be required to advertise a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) before any proposed changes were made, and no decision had yet been made as to what those changes would be.  The public would have an opportunity to comment following the advertisement of the TRO.


In response to Question 2, Councillor Grocutt stated that red lines would allow for enhanced enforcement of existing restrictions on Abbeydale Road and Ecclesall road, with the cameras.  These lines would not increase existing parking restrictions along the two corridors, although loading and unloading was prohibited on red lines for most drivers.  Therefore, as part of the investigations into whether or not the red lines were to be introduced, additional parking bays to serve businesses would be considered.


In response to Question 3, Councillor Grocutt stated that it was not proposed to increase the length of the bus lanes on Abbeydale Road and Ecclesall Road, although bus priority measures were proposed on both corridors to enhance the reliability and consistency of bus services, and to improve access on the corridors, and into the city centre.




Public Questions Regarding Climate Change




Sam Wakelin asked the following questions:-




1.       This meeting marks three years since this Council gave a full meeting to receiving and approving the climate science report from the renowned Tyndall Centre. It showed that to limit global heating to 1.7C, Sheffield needed dramatic and immediate changes. We are now three years on and none of these changes can be seen. In addition, holding to 1.5C needs around double the speed of change. Councillor Fox said this year that “The sky isn’t going to fall in tomorrow because of climate change.” and “we want a more calculated pace.” Does this show that he doesn’t understand that this is a life and death crisis for all of us? Or that he does not care?


2.       How does Councillor Fox reflect on his record of delivery on the climate crisis while serving as Leader, and what does he say to those who have lost loved ones this week due to unprecedented extreme heat? Or to the estimated more than 1,500 Sheffielders killed by fossil fuel air pollution in the time since he voted to declare a climate emergency?




In response, Councillor Terry Fox (the Leader of the Council and Chair of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee) commented that when holding politicians to account, people should think through the language they use and what they say.  He added that he understood why people may say the things they do, but it should be considered that Councillors were elected by the community, that they too were human beings, not machines, and know how to use empathy, and he asked that people realise that the language they use does count, that Councillors live, eat and breathe within communities.




One of his aims since becoming Leader was to soften the rhetoric but he has asked people to hold him to account.  Councillor Fox believed that we were in the midst of a climate emergency, and that the Council must take strong action and lead from the front to tackle this issue.  The point he was trying to make during the interview referred to by Mr. Wakelin was that a climate emergency was also a climate injustice, and the Council must lead from the front to tackle this emergency and take the community with it, not make their lives worse and it was no good enacting measures that some people would be totally against.  The public needed to work with us all, with Councillors, Local Area Committees and Policy Committees.  Some of the rhetoric coming back was hostile and aggressive and, especially following the problems faced during the pandemic, he felt that we all should be able to talk our problems through.  Councillor Fox said that as a city, there was a need to tackle the climate emergency together in a fair way and see it not only as a necessity but as a positive to enact in people’s lives.  The Labour Administration rolled out the clean air zone (CAZ) proposal and had worked hard with the Government and obtained £24m funding to enforce it in ensuring that it targeted the most polluting buses, taxis, coaches and lorries.  The transition into the CAZ must be done fairly with less polluting private cars and the right financial support package for that transition. Councillor Fox said that, along with Councillor Douglas Johnson, he had attended conferences held with taxi drivers and listened to the difficulties those drivers faced and would have to overcome.  Councillor Fox had also listened to the issues that business owners along Ecclesall Road were facing coming out of the crisis. There was a need to allow people to drive their cars and encourage them to drive clean cars.




Councillor Fox added that another example was the housing strategy, and this Administration was committed to getting its housing stock to net zero, but this had to be done whilst delivering affordability as its tenants were facing the highest inflation rates in 40 years.




Councillor Fox said he might have been careless with words by saying that the sky won’t fall in tomorrow because of climate change, but it didn’t mean that it should be tackled on the backs of the poor and the vulnerable.  The Council was the first local authority to ban fracking, it introduced the clean air zone, smoke free zones and ensured that brownfield sites would be used effectively.  The Council purchased 100% renewable energy and had invested millions of pounds in providing insulation and new roofs to its housing stock and was now working with anchor organisations to clean up their buildings, their vehicles and seek their commitment to support renewable energy in their estates.




Councillor Fox said that this Council under Labour leadership had spent millions on sustainable transport initiatives such as Active Travel, cycle lanes, bus lanes etc. but now the Council was at another crossroads because, whilst there was a focus on public transport, the city was now facing the possibility that a third of bus routes were to be cut.  He stated that Government funding cuts had to stop.  The Council was now working cross party and was working together in all its Committees and he asked that the people of Sheffield come and join the debate and come with the Council along its journey.  Whilst that journey would be hard, it was the right thing to do.




Public Question Regarding Housing Repairs




Val Wilson said that she was severely disabled and has had adaptations carried out to her bungalow in both the kitchen and bathroom and was now waiting for safety flooring to be fitted to the bathroom floor.  Mrs. Wilson outlined all her falls and ailments and felt that the Council was not keeping to their promises to attend to the everyday living needs of its Council tenants and that repairs were being pushed aside.




In response, Councillor Douglas Johnson (Chair of the Housing Policy Committee) said that he was sorry to hear about Mrs. Wilson’s falls and asked if she could leave her details with the officers in attendance about what was needed, and he would ask someone from housing services to contact her.




Public Question Regarding Mental Health Services




Jonathan Marsden said that he used to be a manager within the Derbyshire County Council Mental Health Service and has also carried out mental health work around Sheffield and has noticed the severe cutbacks within the Service.  He said that the triage system isn’t working and referred to a situation whereby three women that have SEN children were not being seen in the same way as someone on their own.  These concerns have been raised with relevant officials, including the Director of Public Health, to make them aware that there needs to be a system shift.




In response, Councillor Angela Argenzio (Co-Chair of the Adult Health and Social Care Policy Committee) said that although she didn’t have a full answer to hand, she totally takes on board the points raised by Mr. Marsden and stated that she would ask officers to provide her with details of how the service currently operated and she would then provide Mr. Marsden with a written answer.  She added that she would be happy to meet with Mr. Marsden, at his request, to discuss this matter further.






(NOTE: Questions which had been submitted by Bridget Ingle and Loveday Herridge, but which were not asked at the meeting, would receive a written response from the Chair of the relevant Policy Committee).





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