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, questions/petitions are required to be submitted in writing, to, by 9.00 a.m. on Monday 5 February 2024. Questions/petitions submitted after the deadline will be asked at the meeting subject to the discretion of the Chair.)





Lord Mayor’s Announcements




The Lord Mayor (Councillor Colin Ross) reported that he had visited the Winter Gardens earlier that day to see young people performing, in advance of the MOBO (Music of Black Origin) awards which were being held that evening in the city.  He stated that this major event in the city had engaged many sectors of the community, including schools, and it had been a pleasure to be involved.




The Lord Mayor also reported that celebrations marking the Lunar New Year on 10th February, would be taking place in the city over the coming weekend, including a Dragon Parade from the Town Hall on Monday.




He concluded his announcements by reporting that there would be a fashion show taking place in the Town Hall on 22nd March in support of the Lord Mayor’s charity.






Petitions and Public Questions




The Lord Mayor (Councillor Colin Ross) reported that one petition was to be received at the meeting and questions would be taken from 19 members of the public.






Petition : Calling on the Council to Create a Dedicated BAMER Community Infrastructure Fund




The Council received a joint paper and electronic petition containing 1,129 signatures calling on the Council to act on Race Equality by creating a dedicated BAMER (Black, Asian Minority Ethnic and Refugee Organisations) Community Infrastructure Fund.




Representations on behalf of the petitioners were made by Emily Wilson, who explained that she had worked on the petition with Geoff Green, Emeritus Professor of Urban Policy, and with the CEOs of the five leading black and ethnic minority led organisations in the city, with a view to establishing the provision of council funds to support equity-led community infrastructure, which aimed to enable communities to solve problems within their community themselves.


Ms Wilson advised that previous engagement with the Council on this had been unsuccessful, but she felt that it was time to use the assets that the city had to build more cost effective, equitable and resilient models of community infrastructure, and it was particularly important that the Council listen to local communities in the wake of the Race Equality Report.  She concluded by saying that the Council should stop being a gatekeeper to funding and act as a connector and convenor for the city, focussing on enabling civic voice and power.




The petition was referred to Councillor Tom Hunt (the Leader of the Council and Chair of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee) to respond.  Councillor Hunt offered his thanks to everyone who had signed and worked on the petition, and stated that he would do all he could to eradicate racism within the city.


Councillor Hunt explained that the Council was looking at how it supported and engaged with the city’s diverse voluntary and community sector and faith organisations, with the aim of improvement, so engagement was consistent, and included organisations who felt that they did not get their voice heard or have equitable access to the Council and its resources.  He advised that the Council had agreed to publish more information on who it contracts with and gives grants to.


Councillor Hunt emphasised that he recognised the important and valuable work that BAMER groups did in the city, and he wanted to ensure that they had equitable access to funding to help support their work, as outlined in the Race Equality Commission report.  He had asked Officers to consider the issues raised by the petition and he would also ask that a report be taken to the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee, ideally in March.  Councillor Hunt added that he would ensure that BAMER organisations were involved and engaged in any proposed changes, and he was meeting with the 5 main organisations on 21st February.




The Council noted the petition and response from the Leader of the Council.






Public Questions




Question from Val Wilson




Question - I need to remind you about the request I made at the Council meeting in July asking if a plaque could be produced and installed at my bungalow, as I have lived there for 51 years this year since they were built in 1973.  I hope you still have it in mind.




In response, Councillor Douglas Johnson (Chair of the Housing Policy Committee) stated that he recalled Ms Wilson’s previous visit to Council, where she had asked for a plaque on her bungalow.  The matter had been referred to the ward councillors for the area and he understood that they were in discussions with the local housing office, and that she should hear further on the matter shortly.




Questions from Ruth Hubbard




Questions - 1.  It’s the beginning of February and very soon I’m aware we will start to see what is for many the unedifying spectacle of the lead up to local elections and the grab for local power.  We sadly remain firmly behind the curve in moving towards more appropriate election cycles. 




Can I firstly request the approximate cost to the Council of running an annual round of local elections.




I am also concerned with the conduct of free and fair elections.  Last year the actions of one candidate - without revealing they were a candidate but using a position of political authority - necessitated police intervention from specialist harassment officers.  This was because of the candidate’s intimidating messages to a community group who simply sought to share legitimate local election information to their local community.   Can I please confirm with the Leader that there will not be a repeat of any such behaviour by any candidate this year; his commitment to free and fair local elections; and the rights of community groups to freedom of expression, including their right to share information.




2.  I have been tracking the Council’s follow up to the Fargate container project.  A partially redacted Internal Audit (IA) Report has been received at Audit and Standards Committee that identified a catalogue of failures inprocurement processes, management of the contractor, governance and planning controls, decision making, financial controls and monitoring, stakeholder engagement and communication and risk management.




There is a clear public interest in elected members exercising explicit and committed oversight over how council systems operate and to try to prevent similar episodes recurring.  However, the Audit and Standards Committee has chosen - twice now - not to endorse the recommendations and actions identified in the IA report on the adjustments being made within the Council. 




The problem for some members of Audit and Standards Committee seems to be that they really want to be able to put more emphasis on who was responsible and, in particular, the political context in pushing through decisions on the project.  There is also a public interest here of course.  Whilst it has been made clear that further action has taken place in relation to individual Council Officer roles through the project, it is not clear what actions have been taken by politicians in relation to their role and accountability.  Audit and Standards could, for example, have used their powers to recommend Strategy and Resources Committee have further discussion following the IA Report on the political context of the Fargate Container Project and I am not sure why they did not.




So in terms of the public interest, we are in an unsatisfactory situation - in fact where the public interest has not yet been served.  Elected members in Audit and Standards have refused to exercise the role they are supposed to in overseeing and endorsing appropriate changes to council systems as a result of IA.  But nor have they provided a means whereby political errors or failures of oversight and scrutiny might be understood better and addressed or mitigated for the future. 




So where will weaknesses or failures in political decision-making or scrutiny systems be addressed in the light of the Fargate container project? The formative decisions on the project took place under the old executive leadership arrangements and about which there is almost no public information at all, although there are certainly some remaining questions about the role of personal political connections and potential conflicts of interest in the project.  But it is also no secret that (at least in my view) there was and remains a real lack of attention to how proper scrutiny functions have been brought into the new constitution and committee system.  Who and where is addressing these questions (and in light of the container project) to ensure the public interest is being served?




In response, Councillor Tom Hunt (the Leader of the Council and Chair of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee) stated that, regarding the first question regarding local elections, the cost of running elections fluctuated each year depending on their precise pattern, and on whether they were combined with other government-funded elections such as the Police and Crime Commissioner elections.  Costs had also been increasing with the impact of inflation.  However, with those caveats, he could confirm that the cost to the Council of a standalone city council election was around £940,000.




In response to the point regarding behaviour, Councillor Hunt stated that as Leader of the Council he expected all candidates and agents, from all parties, to behave in a lawful and respectful manner.  He advised that in Sheffield there was a history of positive, respectful campaigning and he hoped that would continue.




Councillor Hunt explained that each year the Returning Officer supported this process by inviting all election candidates and agents to an online briefing.  Amongst the topics covered were the law covering election campaigning and the specific offences that can occur; the Electoral Commission code of conduct for campaigners; and the role of South Yorkshire Police in investigating any breach of elections law in respect of the campaign. Candidates and agents were asked by the Returning Officer to abide by the code of conduct and to report any issues during the campaign to the Returning Officer and, if they believed an offence may have been committed, to South Yorkshire Police.




The second question regarding the Fargate Container Project was answered by Councillor Mohammed Mahroof (Chair of the Audit and Standards Committee), who stated that at its meeting on 1st February, the Audit and Standards Committee had noted the findings and recommendations of the Internal Audit report into the containers project.  In particular, it noted that all 14 critical recommendations identified by Internal Audit had been implemented and were now ‘green’ on the audit tracker report.  He emphasised that it was important that the Council was open and transparent at all times, particularly when things went wrong.




Councillor Mahroof continued by explaining that the Audit and Standards Committee had carried out its functions properly and responsibly, recognising that its primary responsibility was in ensuring that the Council’s governance and control arrangements were working properly, and providing oversight of the Council’s risk management arrangements.  He stated that wider issues of service performance were for the relevant policy committee, and for Strategy and Resources Policy Committee in its overall corporate role. The effectiveness of the Council’s oversight and scrutiny arrangements was for Governance Committee to consider, and to make recommendations to Full Council.




Question from Isobel O’Leary




Question - Following the Council's apology to the Courts for misleading them in two cases, does the Council have any message for other Local Authorities about the wisdom of misusing public money to take out injunctions against environmental protestors?




In response, Councillor Tom Hunt (the Leader of the Council and Chair of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee) stated that in his view, Sir Mark Lowcock’s report into the street tree dispute was clear, that the Council’s strategy at the time of taking out injunctions was ineffective in deterring protestors or resolving opposition to the Streets Ahead programme.  He added that as well as failing to resolve the dispute, relying on legal solutions had caused the Council wider reputational damage, as well as costing a significant amount of money that could have been used to fund compromise solutions for street trees.




Councillor Hunt concluded that the Council has learnt from experience that a collaborative, respectful, but appropriately challenging partnership approach, based on mutual trust and understanding had delivered more for the city and its street trees, than was achieved through four years of dispute.




Question from Dave Dilner




Question - Will the Council Leader agree with me that it is highly regrettable that nobody has yet been held to account for the mismanagement, etc., highlighted by the Lowcock Report?




In response, Councillor Tom Hunt (the Leader of the Council and Chair of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee) stated that Sir Mark Lowcock was clear in his report that the Council’s behaviour during the dispute amounted to a serious and sustained failure of strategic leadership at both political and officer level.  Councillor Hunt added that the Council had apologised publicly on a number of occasions for that failure of leadership and for the harms that were caused, and individual apologies had also been issued. He explained that none of the politicians or senior officers who were in post at that time remained in positions of responsibility in the Authority. The Council had been clear throughout that it had no power to hold former employees directly to account or to require them to apologise for what happened during the dispute, and that similarly, elected Members cannot be compelled to resign.  He stated that the ballot box was the mechanism for voters to hold their elected representatives to account.




Question from Justin Buxton (asked at the meeting by Mark James)




Question - Did the Council seek a barrister’s opinion at any point, in order to inform their apology for misleading courts to The Lord High Chancellor, signed by two very senior officers, both with a significant role in this matter?




Or did the signatories rely solely upon the solicitors' view furnished to Sir Mark Lowcock and subsequently published in his report: That the fake, deliberately misleading and contractually irrelevant, 5yr Tree Strategy document, which was falsely and intentionally presented as a legitimate revision (7) of a contractual document ... actually, authored by SCC rather than Amey as per section 6.34 and annex 3 of the Streets Ahead contract …. did not have any bearing upon the resultant judgements referred to - as the solicitors engaged apparently believe and advised?




In response, Councillor Tom Hunt (the Leader of the Council and Chair of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee) confirmed that the Council did not seek a barrister's advice, and had not seen the advice that was given to Sir Mark’s Inquiry, other than the conclusions that were published in the Inquiry Report. He added that the Council’s General Counsel had considered the point himself prior to the apology being made.




Question from Lynne Chapman




Question - What steps will be taken this year to make bus travel more attractive to the Sheffield public?




In response, Councillor Ben Miskell (Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee) stated that he was excited about the year ahead as, together with Mayor Oliver Coppard, there were plans to bring the buses and trams back under public control. Trams would be brought back under public control on 22nd March.




Councillor Miskell added that, in his view, the region had been getting a rough deal from government in relation to buses.  This was because, since bus de-regulation in the 1980s, South Yorkshire’s bus network had been run by private companies, who chose when to run services, what services to keep going, and how much to charge for fares. This meant that decisions on whether to cut services and let down passengers, were taken by private operators.




Councillor Miskell explained that fares had risen by 51%, which was almost twice as fast as wages since 2010, which put high pressure on passengers, and more than 15% of South Yorkshire bus services had been cut in the last year. He stated that, in his view, this this was what a deregulated bus system looked like, which was why he was working to change it.




Councillor Miskell also stated that the Mayoral Combined Authority was going through an assessment process for a bus franchising scheme for Sheffield and South Yorkshire which would bring regulation of bus routes, frequencies, fares, and tickets under local public control, as Greater Manchester had done under Labour leadership.  He added that ,whilst he couldn’t prejudge the decision, the work was being done as quickly as possible.  Additionally, Councillor Miskell advised that, in January, a bid had been issued to the Government as part of ZEBRA 2, which was a pot of funding which could deliver 65 electric buses in Sheffield.




Councillor Miskell concluded by saying that he was excited for the year ahead and hopeful for a General Election soon and the possibility of a Labour government that would rejuvenate public transport in Sheffield and the region.




Questions from Hilary Smith




Questions - The International Court of Justice has ruled that there is a plausible case against Israel for committing the crime of genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza. Israel has been told that it must refrain from any acts that could be considered genocide. However, Israel has ignored this ruling and continues indiscriminate bombing, continues with the collective punishment of the population by turning off water, food, medical and power supplies and refusing to allow adequate humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza area. This means that any government, institution, or business that is aiding Israel's attack in Gaza could be complicit in any acts of genocide being committed by Israel.




Sheffield Council could be included in this complicity. Sheffield is part of South Yorkshire Pension Authority, and the Border to Coast Pension Partnership. Sheffield Council is indirectly investing in arms companies that are selling weapons to Israel, currently being used to kill thousands upon thousands of Palestinians, which the ICJ is investigating as the crime of genocide. These investments include the following companies: Airbus, BAE systems, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Rolls Royce and other companies, all of which are involved in making military weapons such as fighter jets, bombs and drones, and selling them to Israel to use against the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza, and also in the West Bank. South Yorkshire Pension Authority also invests in Barclays and HSBC, banks that fund these companies in the production of weapons.




These investments are potentially making Sheffield Council complicit in war crimes and genocide. Pension holders have repeatedly requested that Sheffield seeks ways to divest from these companies.




As Sheffield Council is part of wider pension arrangements involving a number of other local authorities, I am fully aware that Sheffield Council is unable to divest from these companies without achieving wider agreement with these other authorities. 




Will Sheffield Council make a statement about these investments and possible complicity in war crimes and take it forward to the South Yorkshire Pension Authority and the Border to Coast Pension Partnership?




What other steps will Sheffield Council take to work towards SYPA and Borders to Coast reducing their potential complicity in war crimes against the Palestinian people?




In response, Councillor Tom Hunt, (the Leader of the Council and Chair of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee) stated that a positive and constructive conversation had taken place a few weeks previously when Ms Smith and other members of the Sheffield Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid had met with himself, senior officers and Members.




Councillor Hunt advised that he fully recognised the significant concerns Ms Smith and others continue to raise about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. He had heard these concerns directly when he visited the “Justice Now” demonstration held outside the Town Hall in January and spoke with protesters. He explained that a report was due to be submitted to the meeting of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee on 21st February, which would provide an update regarding the Council’s actions relating to the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine and this would be informed by his discussion with the group on 19th January.  He was also keen to have a further meeting with the group before the Committee’s meeting.




With regards to South Yorkshire Pension Authority (SYPA), Councillor Hunt stated that he needed to be clear that the Council did not administer or have any direct influence over how the pension funds were invested. The funds belonged to the employees and ex-employees, who were members of the pension scheme, and the scheme was administered on their behalf by SYPA.




Councillor Hunt added that members of the Pensions Authority, have to act in the best financial interest of members and beneficiaries of the pension scheme at all times when they are acting in their capacity as members of the Pensions Authority. Although the Pensions Authority Members were appointed by the Council, they were not representatives of the Council, and the Council could not direct or influence how Members of the Pension Authority took decisions relating to the administration and management of the pension fund. Those Members had a responsibility to follow the requirements set out in various pieces of legislation and, independent of their position on the Council, had to make their decisions based on what they felt was genuinely in the best interest of the pension fund.




Question from Val Johnson




Question - After the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), it is now accepted that Israel is committing genocidal actions in Gaza and will be held to account for this in due course. Interim instructions issued by the ICJ to prevent genocidal actions by its army have been ignored by Israel.




Meanwhile, in the West Bank, close to 8,000 people, including women and children, have been placed in Administrative Detention (i.e. without charge or trial), hundreds have been shot dead, invasions of refugee camps by the Israeli occupation forces and attacks by violent settlers are daily occurrences.




There is a global outcry against these outrages, which is reflected in our city.  Having responded with alacrity to the invasion of Ukraine, issuing a statement of “unity and solidarity” with the Ukrainian people, will the Council now issue a statement in which Sheffield stands in unity and solidarity with Palestinians, and endorses and supports the legal processes underway to hold Israel to account at the ICJ?




In response, Councillor Tom Hunt, (the Leader of the Council and Chair of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee) stated thata report was due to be submitted to the meeting of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee on 21st February, which would provide an update regarding the Council’s actions relating to the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine. This report would be informed by a recent meeting with the Sheffield Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid.




Councillor Hunt continued that the ICJ’s interim ruling set out urgent provisional measures that, in his view, must be followed. He felt it imperative that Israel comply with the orders of this ruling in full, and he supported those pressing for these orders to be implemented. He stated that he had been clear throughout the conflict that justice and international law must be upheld and, as such, he fully supported the legal process underway at the ICJ.  He also stated that he felt the loss of civilian life in Gaza and the humanitarian catastrophe was heartbreaking, and that the UK Government should be doing all it could to secure a sustainable ceasefire, and the resumption of peace talks.




Questions from Annie O’Gara




Questions - On January 26th, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that South Africa’s charge of genocide against Israel was sufficiently plausible for the case to be heard in full. In its interim ruling, the Court instructed Israel, inter alia, to “refrain from any acts that could fall under the Genocide Convention”, “to ensure its troops commit no genocidal acts in Gaza” and “to take measures to improve the humanitarian situation for Palestinian civilians”.




None of this has happened.  174 Palestinian civilians were slaughtered in the 24 hours following the Court’s ruling; shelters are still being bombed; hospitals are still besieged; aid convoys have faced protests by crowds of flag-waving Israeli citizens; 80 bodies, which had been stolen by Israel from a vandalised Gaza cemetery, were sent back from Israel in a lorry, now so badly decomposed that their identification and dignified reburial – as humans with names - was impossible. The list goes on.




All of us - including our youngsters - are seeing this live-streamed on social media and faithfully reported on Al Jazeera.




In relation to this, the Coalition has been told that some Sheffield schools are failing their pupils on a number of levels:




·        The ICJ ruling on genocide should be a curriculum element in all schools given its importance and rarity, because active citizenship means understanding the rule of law, both UK and international.




·        Young people should be guided to reliable reference points for forming their own opinions, such as internationally respected human rights bodies like Amnesty International and Human Rights watch.




·        Youngsters need to talk and test their views, whatever those views, in a safe environment, with teachers.




Is this sensible pedagogy dominating? No.  Many students, distressed by what they see on social media and asking what is being done about it, are further distressed by a silence on Palestine imposed by some schools, a silence which stands in sharp contrast to fulsome support and open discussion of Ukraine’s invasion by Russia - youngsters know double standards when they see them, and so do their parents.




Does the Council recognise that legitimate discussion on Palestine is being suppressed in our city’s schools?




What mechanisms are there for concerns to be reported to the Council by parents, youngsters, and teachers?




In response, Councillor Dawn Dale (Chair of the Education, Children and Families Policy Committee) stated that she would like to meet with the questioner and would also send a full written technical response regarding the National Curriculum.




Councillor Dale advised that she shared the concerns of many in the city regarding the heartbreaking situation in Gaza. In her view, the news that was being reported from Gaza was devastating and the humanitarian crisis was growing in severity. She added that she agreed with Councillor Hunt’s comments when he said that the urgent provisional measures set out in the ICJ’s interim ruling must be followed, that Israel must comply with the orders in full, and international law must be upheld.




Councillor Dale added that she agreed that what children were seeing on the media was traumatic and distressing, and that they needed safe spaces to discuss their concerns and fears, so they could make sense of what they were seeing. They should not be expected to navigate these feelings about the conflict on their own.  She explained that following the Full Council vote on the Israel – Palestine Conflict, the Council had been proactive in its options to support young residents, and discussions had taken place to develop and advocate different opportunities for them to participate in.




Councillor Dale stated that the Council, working with partners, has recognised that it needs to respond to three emerging issues for young people and the youth sector.  One was the ability for young people to be able to express their authentic self with creative youth voice options, and she reported that the Council has been working closely with voluntary, community and faith sector partners who are currently producing resources to work with young people to help them understand the conflict in all its contexts and enable young people to consider their own social and emotional responses to it.  She stated that the Council had also made a commitment to open dialogue with schools to look at supporting additional resources around the conflict that can open up safe spaces within school for young people to have a voice. She commented that this work was at an early stage and resources were awaited from partners which would then be fact-checked before being offered to schools.




Councillor Dale also emphasised the importance of having a workforce that is safe and well, and enabled to work with the experiences of young people that are related to the conflict.  Accordingly, the Council, through its partners, will offer to provide mental health first aid for practitioners.




She commented that she would encourage any young person or parent with concerns to raise them directly with the school, its governing body or Chief Executive. 




Councillor Dale concluded by undertaking to request Officers to send a copy of her response to all schools in Sheffield so that her views on the matter were understood.




Question from Izzy Price




Question - The Tyndall report recommendations are for the whole city rather than just the Council. Had these been followed by the Council we should have reduced emissions by between 40 - 50% by now. The Council recently announced it has reduced its emissions by 3% since 2019.  How will this reduction be increased in 2024?




In response, Councillor Ben Miskell (Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee) explained that the Tyndall report was an important document that laid the foundation for the work that the Council was undertaking to tackle the Climate Emergency, including its 10-point plan for Climate Action.  He advised that the Council was ambitious to meets its targets, but in his view, the Government had failed to provide adequate funds to tackle the climate emergency.




Councillor Miskell added that, within that national context, Sheffield’s progress was comparable with other core cities and there had been notable successes, including cross-party support for climate action the Council had taken, such as introducing Climate Impact Assessments, the creation of the Ten Point Plan for Climate Action, and ensuring major schemes like Connecting Sheffield and the Clean Air Zone progress.  He did, however, acknowledge that the city and the Council did need to progress much further, but that, ultimately, the city needed the support of the national government to do so.




Councillor Miskell also stated that the biggest challenge for the Council was its council homes estate, which contributed nearly 90% of the organisation’s greenhouse gas emissions.  He advised that there had been a 27% reduction in emissions from the non-domestic estate, and 32% reduction from its streetlighting, but with housing being such a large proportion of the Council’s emissions inventory, the reporting did not reflect the progress made in other areas.




He concluded his response by confirming that the Council does remain absolutely committed to addressing the climate emergency, and needed action from the Government to match that resolve.




Questions from Ci Davis




Context - Growth of 3% per annum is considered normal; this doubles the size of the economy every 24 years.




Over 50% of total CO2 emissions have occurred since the Rio Summit 1992. At current rates this will be over 75% by 2050, the date set for global Net Zero.




As there has been very little decoupling of GDP from energy or resource use, even if ‘hoped-for’ technologies to meaningfully reduce atmospheric CO2 can be developed, the timescale will almost certainly be too late to meet the 2-degree climate target, let alone the 1.5-degree target, and the impact upon all the other planetary boundaries will not even have been addressed.




The impossibility of infinite growth on a finite planet cannot be refuted. Yet the Council is aiming to meet its Net Zero Commitment by 2030 within this Growth-Led economic model. Any challenge to the model is something all politicians find almost impossible to consider – and yet there is a lot of evidence to suggest preparation for reduction of industrial production must be contemplated, whether we like it or not.




Questions - In this context, would the Council outline the scientific and economic assumptions, with evidence to support those assumptions, that are being made to suggest that there can be an absolute decoupling of the city’s emissions from the city’s GDP?




Further, could the Council clarify whether it considers that Council commitments to both citizens, particularly the most vulnerable, and the environment, is possible without sustained levels of economic growth in the region of 3% p.a?




If the Council is unable to provide reliable evidence that Net Zero can be achieved with the planned economic growth, and given the political sensitivity of considering alternative economic models, would the Council consider investment, of a relatively small amount of money, to support an independent summit to consider how a post-growth/de-growth/donut/steady state economy could be developed in Sheffield, along the lines of the 2023 EU Beyond Growth Conference?




In response, Councillor Ben Miskell (Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee) stated that he was pro-growth and believed that it was through clean economic growth that society can create the shared wealth needed to tackle the climate emergency. He added that growing the economy locally meant that the Council would have more money to fund projects to tackle poverty and injustice and bring more jobs to the city.




Councillor Miskell stated that he believed that the city was living with the fallout of the reckless economic policies of the former Prime Minister, Liz Truss, which had hurt people in the city economically and made the job of tackling the climate emergency more challenging.




He commented that, in his view, the city should welcome Labour’s Green Prosperity Plan, and a Labour government which would seek to sustain the highest growth in the G7, as he believed that Plan would deliver for Sheffield’s citizens.




Councillor Miskell stated that the Council would not consider hosting or supporting a conference that was anti-growth.  He added that the ambitions for Sheffield were pro-growth and pro-jobs to lift people out of poverty, whilst attracting the sustainable industries of the future and tackling the climate emergency.



Questions from Graham Wroe




Prior to asking his questions, Graham Wroe emphasised that we were in a climate emergency, with last year being the hottest on record, and scientists reporting that this year will be hotter still and forecast to breach the 1.5-degree target.  He believed that, despite the Council having declared a climate emergency five years ago, it still was not acting as if there is an emergency.




Questions - In 2019 when the Council declared a Climate Emergency, Extinction Rebellion asked you to prioritise Climate Information and Action in Council Communications. For instance, we wanted Climate Action to be clearly visible to any casual visitor of the Council Website, and we wanted the Council Leader to use the annual Council Tax letter as an opportunity to educate the public about the dangers the planetary crises, such as the climate and nature emergencies, present us with and what the Council is doing to mitigate them.




There is still no link from the front page of the website to information about climate change, and the Council Tax letter usually contains half a sentence referring to Climate Change. There is a wealth of information on the Council website, but it is not in a format that anyone apart from climate nerds like me are likely to read. The page about Net Zero still links prominently to COP26 events, so obviously hasn’t been updated for 2 years. This is not acting as if there is an emergency. When will the Council start to do this?




Sheffield’s resilience to extreme weather needs to improve as global heating continues, and extreme weather events become more frequent and more extreme.




What preparations have been made for the next extreme heatwave? Are the Council aware of which council houses and care homes are particularly vulnerable to overheating in a heatwave?  What provision will there be for people in such accommodation the next time thermometers reach 40C? Rotherham has a Heatwave Action Plan.Is Sheffield developing one?




Section one of the Upper Don Valley Flood Alleviation Scheme is now complete, which is good news. But with sea levels rising and the likelihood of heavy storms increasing, we need to continue to improve flood defences, both natural and engineered. Which parts of the city are now most vulnerable to flooding? What progress has been made in natural methods of flood alleviation, to stop water running off the moors so quickly? When will beavers be reintroduced to the city? What flood prevention measures will be progressed in 2024?




The incidence of wildfires is also increasing. The Fire Brigade need more resources to cope with this, as well as for the floods and storms.  Will the Council lobby the Government for an increase in the Revenue Support Grant to help the Fire Brigade keep us all safe?




In response, Councillor Ben Miskell (Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee) stated that the relevant Council webpages were updated regularly. The most recent update had been February 2024 and further updates were imminent, to include the bimonthly Environment Newsletter, which was also sent out to over 5,000 recipients. He advised that he encouraged anyone who was interested to sign up to receive the newsletter and to encourage others to do so. Councillor Miskell added that climate change was frequently included in the annual council tax letter.




In relation to dealing with extreme weather events, Councillor Miskell advised that, like other emergency situations, these were led by the Emergency Planning Shared Service, which was a joint service between Rotherham and Sheffield. He explained there was an extreme weather plan, which the team put together based on the national plans and guidance, and in addition to this, service areas also had operational plans on how to respond if there was a heatwave. 




Regarding flooding, Councillor Miskell advised that there was a lot of work taking place and that the Sheffield Flood Protection Programme prioritised investment in areas of greatest risk. This was why the Lower Don Valley was addressed first with the scheme that was completed there in 2017. Councillor Miskell added that he would write to Mr Wroe with more detail, as the list of plans and actions was too numerous to outline in full during this meeting.




In respect of wildfires, Councillor Miskell advised that all services would be required to develop a service-based climate adaptation risk assessment and action plan, during 2024.  It was expected that this would consider the risk posed by wildfires, along with other climate risks such as increased flood and heatwave events.




Question from Ruth Owen




Question - Meat and dairy production in the UK accounts for 50% of our methane emissions - and scientists say we must cut methane by 45% this decade. A recent analysis of UK diets showed that plant-based diets result in 75% less greenhouse emissions, water pollution and land use than diets with more than 100g of meat per day. They also cut wildlife destruction by 66%, and water use by 54%. UK diets and production are currently unsustainable. If everyone had the same production-to-consumption ratio as the UK, we would need another planet the size of Mercury to feed the world.




Please could Sheffield Council follow the lead of 25 towns and cities worldwide, including Edinburgh, Norwich, Exmouth, Haywards Heath, and Lambeth, by endorsing the Plant Based Treaty and developing a plant-based food strategy to help to normalise and expand access to plant-based foods.




In response, Councillor Ben Miskell (Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee) stated that the ‘Fairer, Healthier, Greener’ Food Strategy for Sheffield focussed on the Council’s key priorities around addressing the climate emergency, better health and reducing inequalities. This included a commitment to use the Council’s influence to create environments where healthier and more sustainable food choices were possible, easy, affordable, culturally appropriate and abundant; and to safeguard our food system by ensuring it produces nutritious food, restores nature, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and was resilient to the effects of climate change and other global shocks. Councillor Miskell added that the Strategy outlined a number of priority actions which the Council intended to take to meet those commitments, and the actions in relation to carbon emissions could be found on pages 18 and 19 of the strategy document.




Councillor Miskell explained that a public consultation was planned which would gather public views on what the areas of priority should be for the Council in relation to food access, security, sustainability, and policy, and that the consultation would also explore the reduction of meat consumption and increasing the availability of plant-based food provision. He added that the consultation was necessary due to the contentiousness of the subject.




(NOTE: At this point in the proceedings, at the suggestion of the Lord Mayor (Councillor Colin Ross) and with the approval of the Council, the one-hour time limit for petitions and public questions was extended to accommodate the remaining questions from a further three members of the public.)




Question from Zak Viney




Question - As raised within this meeting today, Sheffield City Council is trailing behind on its decarbonisation goals following its declaration of a climate emergency in 2019. Whilst I appreciate and empathise that the Council will have not received sufficient support from the national government to address these targets, I believe, with the stakes so high, for the prospectus of future generations globally, that these are failures we should not be willing to accept.




So, I come to this meeting today to not merely complain, but propose a policy change to address this target, whilst also increasing health and wellbeing, reducing light pollution, and making our public realm a more attractive place to be.




My suggestion is that Sheffield City Council introduces an immediate ban and removal of digital billboard advertising. Now, you might think this sounds novel, or a nice to have, but hear me out. Picture one clear channel advertising board, usually placed on the side or in the middle of a pavement, impeding pedestrians, the disabled and distracting motorists. Just one board consumes as much energy as 3 family homes, with larger units consuming as much electricity as 11 family homes. Not only is this exceedingly wasteful, but this advertising is often concentrated in areas of socio-economic depravity, advertising things that people living there may not be able to afford, or products which are damaging for public health, such as junk food, gambling or alcoholic products.




Councillor Miskell has recently been sent details of the impact of outdoor advertising in Sheffield by the campaign, Ad-Free Cities, and invited to Westminster to hear the details of the full implications of this issue.




Could Sheffield follow in the wake of cities such as Bristol, Grenoble, Lyon or Amsterdam, and introduce strict regulations on outdoor advertising, a win for people's wellbeing, the public realm and the Council’s sustainability goals?




In response, Councillor Ben Miskell (Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee) stated that the Finance Committee was due to consider a new advertising and sponsorship policy at its meeting on 18th March 2024.  This policy would draw on best practice around the country to ensure that the Council had an ethical approach to the advertising of products and services.




Councillor Miskell explained that the large and small format digital sites that were in place around the city all had planning consent and thus had been assessed regarding their impact on visual amenity and highway safety.  In relation to energy use, he reported that the providers of these billboards had sustainability plans in place, including using 100% renewable energy, and switching off sites between midnight and 5:00 a.m. to reduce energy usage.




Councillor Miskell commented that the Council had very limited control over other operators of advertising sites, which were usually much larger installations. He added that only a minority of large format sites in the city were part of the City Council’s contractual arrangement with providers and, in relation to small format sites, barring compliance with highways regulations and limited planning obligations, telecoms providers were free to erect advertising screens that included a telecommunications element, such as an ability to make phone calls or access the internet, wherever they wished.



Question from Clara Cheung




Question - In the UN Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review in January and February of 2024, there was a significant rise in the number of UN Member States submitting Questions, from 9 in 2009 to 36 in 2024, indicating increased global scrutiny of the human rights record in the People’s Republic of China (China), especially concerning international legal obligations.  The UK representative at the UN particularly urged China to stop the persecution and arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and Tibetans.  He also asked China to repeal the National Security Law in Hong Kong as recommended by the UN and cease prosecutions, including of the HK media owner, Jimmy Lai.   




The new Partner City Policy, approved by the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee of Sheffield City Council on 20th November 2023, stated that:




“It is without doubt that international partnerships can bring many benefits to the Council and residents of the city, but only if they fit within the Council’s priorities and are vibrant and active... The Partner City Policy needs to have sufficient flexibility to enable relationships to be reviewed and potentially relinquished, if the arrangement no longer fits with the Council’s priorities or has the potential to cause reputational damage.”




It is obvious that Sheffield City Council will have reputational damage, if it keeps endorsing a regime that seriously violates human rights (which is acknowledged by our UK representatives at the UN).  




So, my question is: when will Sheffield City Council terminate its twinning relationship and trade agreement with the cities ruled by the People’s Republic of China regime?




In response, Councillor Tom Hunt (the Leader of the Council and Chair of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee) stated that the next meeting of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee, to be held on 21st February, would consider a report setting out the current status of all twinning, friendship and other agreements and relationships that Sheffield has with other places around the world, including those in China.




Councillor Hunt explained that, in line with the recently approved Partner City Policy, this would include considering which relationships should be brought to an end, which should be maintained, and which should be deepened, and he added that the representations which had been made by the public in recent months would be taken into consideration in the drafting of the report to be submitted to the Committee.




Questions from Julie Pearn




Questions - In the 1980s Sheffield declared itself an apartheid-free zone and the City Council banked with the Co-operative, an ethical choice.  Barclays Bank was a ‘pariah institution’, shunned by a generation because of its huge investments in the apartheid South African economy and its military.




In 2014, the Council switched all its banking to Barclays Bank.




In 2018, the Council adopted its ethical procurement policy. This included tests against contracting with companies guilty of Gross Misconduct, specifically breach of International Human Rights.




In March 2022, environmental activists urged the Council not to renew its contract with Barclays, as the biggest European investor in fossil fuels.




Nevertheless, the Council went ahead and renewed its contract with Barclays in September 2022.




Once again Barclays Bank is outstanding as a supporter of apartheid, now in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.  The Bank holds over £1 billion in shares in, and provides over £3 billion in loans and underwriting to, 9 companies whose weapons, components, and military technology, are being used by Israel in its attacks on Palestinians.




This includes General Dynamics, which produces the gun systems that arm the fighter jets used by Israel to bombard Gaza, and Elbit Systems, which produces armoured drones, munitions and artillery weapons being used now by the Israeli military in both Gaza and the West Bank.




The historic ruling at the International Court of Justice at The Hague on 26th January 2024, means Israel is on trial for genocide and third-party states are liable if they are complicit in, or do not act to prevent, genocide. Specifically, the Genocide Convention has been incorporated into UK law by the International Criminal Court Act of 2001. Barclays, by providing investment and financial services to these arms companies, is liable for supporting acts of genocide and the City Council, by banking with Barclays, is supporting a complicit company.




My question to the Leader of the Council: Can you give a verbal report now of the due diligence carried out according to the tests and measures against Gross Misconduct in the Council’s ethical procurement policy, before the decision was made to renew the Council’s banking contract with Barclays in 2022?




Will the Council undertake to review its contractual commitment to Barclays, look at alternative banking options, and in the meantime arrange a meeting with Barclays to explain it will be necessary to change in the light of legal and moral obligations?




In response, Councillor Tom Hunt (the Leader of the Council and Chair of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee) stated that, as mentioned earlier in the meeting, a report would be considered at the meeting of the Strategy and Resources Policy Committee on 21 February, about the Council’s actions with respect to the ongoing conflict in Gaza.  Councillor Hunt explained that the report would include discussion of the Council’s existing contractual relationships and would also ask the Committee to note that Sheffield City Council does not have any relationships with companies that had been identified by the UN Human Rights Council as supporting or enabling illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories. 




Councillor Hunt added that in relation to Barclays, the Council’s contract was procured in line with its ethical procurement policy, which allowed the Council to ask for, and take into consideration, how the contract would generate social value within the city and more broadly.  However, it did not allow the Council to take into account non-commercial matters that are prohibited by the Local Government Act 1988, and this would include the set of issues that the questioner had raised. 




Councillor Hunt also advised that the Council was conducting a review of its ethical procurement policy as part of developing a wider commercial strategy for the organisation, and he would ensure that the concerns raised by the questioner and by other campaigners would be considered as part of that review.  He added that when the Council’s banking contract came up for renewal, it would be procured in line with the law and with the Council’s ethical procurement policy.






(NOTE: The questions which had been submitted by David Cronshaw, Michael Mullin and Sam Wakeling, but which had not been asked at the meeting due to their absence, would receive written responses from the Leader of the Council (Councillor Tom Hunt) or from Councillor Ben Miskell (Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee), as appropriate, and be published on the Council’s website.)