Agenda item

Public Questions and Petitions



The Committee received Public Questions from three members of public, prior to the meeting. One member of the public was in attendance to raise her questions. The Chair (Councillor Colin Ross) mentioned that all the questions were on the same topic therefore a response to all questions would be provided at the meeting and all the public questions will be included in these minutes.



Annete Taberner



1. Is this Committee satisfied that the Chief Executive, along with the Leader of the Council had done an adequate job in responding to the Street Trees Inquiry report. They’ve said they’ve changed the culture, although they haven’t acknowledged the change to committees or ending of the strong leader model. There was enormous amounts of effort by local people to collect signatures, making the Council have a referendum and then to win the referendum to change the way this council operates. Therefore, is the Committee satisfied with who they appoint to represent the Council in the media.


2. Disappointed that this Committee which overseas risk assessments, high standards and the codes of conduct, along with external auditors, had not been able to identify the issues referred to in the report. Therefore, why hasn’t this Committee been able to identify those issues.


3. Why hasn’t this Committee organised an urgent meeting to receive that report and respond to it. When is Full Council going to address it and when is the Council going to start taking action on these issues.




Ruth Hubbard



In light of the publication of the Street Trees Inquiry Report:


1.  When will the Committee be examining and discussing the Street Tree Inquiry Report given its pivotal role in upholding and maintaining standards of conduct, and the clear and comprehensive failure of these during the years of the street tree crisis as documented in the Report?


2.  Will the Committee immediately be drawing the Report to the attention of the auditors Ernst and Young given their statutory duties in investigating and publishing Public Interest Reports and the very serious situation the report documents?


3.  In November 2020 at full council (on zoom) there was what I and many others regarded as a clear (and horrible) bullying incident perpetrated on a public petitioner by the then Leader [name of former Councillor redacted] (in her last but one meeting).  In fact I do not see how anyone could describe it as anything but a clear bullying incident.  This was witnessed by all who were there and immediately directly challenged on zoom by two subsequent public questioners, including me.   


Over the following months at various council meetings I (and also [name of public questioner redacted]) pursued the question of what, if any, action had been taken following the meeting, The answer appeared to be nothing.  Eventually, in March 2021 at full council I appeared to be being told by the then Leader [name of former Councillor redacted] that I could submit a complaint, if I wanted to.  This was despite the incident having been in plain sight, witnessed by all, and I had already, immediately and directly at the time, voiced my complaint.  No one in Council took any action at all. 


At about the same time, in Feb 2021, this Committee discussed a new Councillor Code of Conduct and passed this on to full council for ratification. (Finally) in a written answer to me at the end of June 2021 [name of Councillor redacted] admitted that the November 2020 meeting was “not our finest hour” and also that, in discussing the new Code of Conduct this Committee had not discussed councillor conduct towards citizens nor this specific bullying incident - no one had raised it.  


In light of the Inquiry Report, the apparent failure of this Committee throughout the street tree crisis years to fulfil its role to maintain standards, but also at other times (as above), why should members of the public have any confidence at all in this Committee to do this work, let alone play its required pivotal role?  Where is the evidence that there has been any cultural or other shifts at all in its approach to citizens who challenge, or attempt to hold the council to account, when councillors and this committee have, over many years, not even been able to mention let alone discuss these serious issues, in plain sight?


If senior councillors directly involved in the street trees crisis do not resign, and if other councillors do not act - as they could - to enforce basic standards, does this not mean the council "standards' regime is utterly toothless? None one of our elected members should command the confidence of the public should they, if they cannot routinely and demonstrably uphold basic standards in public life outside and before narrow political calculation?




John Williams



In light of the publication of the Lowcock Report this week, it is apparent that [name of Councillor redacted] and [name of Councillor redacted] are both clearly identified as having been responsible for many of the failings identified therein. As Councillors are mandated to comply with the Nolan principles, and the conduct identified has clearly breached those principles, how can [name of Councillor redacted] and [name of Councillor redacted] positions still be tenable on the council?

Sheffield City Council’s Mission Statement says that ‘openness and honesty are important to us’. To give any credence to this, both [name of Councillor redacted] and [name of Councillor redacted] should resign immediately, or the entire mission statement of the council is meaningless. If these two are to remain in post, please make a statement on behalf of the council as to how these two situations can be mutually exclusive.

1. Councillors such as [name of Councillor redacted] and [name of Councillor redacted] are still in role and were at the very core of the issues the report highlights. They have confirmed that they will not resign - why have they not been fired or made subject to disciplinary action?

2. It is evident in the report that the public were wilfully and repeatedly misled. Why have all councillors involved in this (extending beyond [name of Councillor redacted] and [name of Councillor redacted], and to include those who have retired or moved to the Commons) not been recommended for investigation into whether their conduct amounts to misconduct in public office?

3. Will the Audit and Standards Committee refer itself for disciplinary action considering the absolute failure of oversight it provided throughout this fiasco? 


In response to all the public questions, The Chair mentioned there were a misunderstanding of the role of the Audit & Standards Committee, the Committee did not institute proceedings against individual Members or members of the public. The role of the Audit and Standards Sub-Committee was to determine the outcomes of complaints therefore it would be inappropriate for this Committee to institute proceedings.


The Chair mentioned he was in a different political party to the Leader of the Council, and that he protested with many others throughout the tree dispute, therefore he empathised with the questioner on this matter.


The Council received the report on Monday 6 March 2023 and were considering how to respond to it. You’ll have seen the interviews and statements conducted by the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council earlier in the week therefore the Council needed some time to consider this and also how this Committee and auditors may look at lessons learned for the future. The Council recognised there will be legitimate questions from members of the public and Elected Members therefore we needed to allow sufficient time for them to be adequately answered. This was likely to take place after the local elections as this was an issue that will cause for political debate and the Council was about to enter their pre-election period.


What was clear is there had been some serious errors of judgement and the Council had apologies for that. There would be further personal apologies made in due course. Since these events, there had been significant changes in leadership at the Council along with a change in the Councils behaviours and objectives. Although it will take some time to be the Council we want to be, changes had already been put in place to avoid making this mistake again in the future.