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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







(a)         Petition Objecting to the Possible Closure of Totley Library




The Council received a petition from the Pupils of Dore, Totley, Totley All Saints and Bradway Primary Schools and King Ecbert Secondary School, objecting to the possible closure of Totley Library.


Representations on behalf of the petitioners were made by some of the Year 6 pupils who were introduced by the Head of Dore Primary School. It was stated that Totley Library was vital to the community and a necessary resource. The Library was friendly and provided books, films and the intranet to enable pupils to do their homework and was a place for people to meet with friends.


The possible closure of the library was upsetting as it provided audio books and books which were easy to read and access to personal computers. The Library was a meeting place for groups, including crafts and history groups. Other libraries were too far away, especially for people without assess to a car, including older people.


The opinions of some other children were read out. This included that new technology was not available for everyone because it was too expensive and it might be difficult for some to use to read written material. It was stated that books were much better to read and they helped with children’s learning. Children may read less if they did not have a local library and the love of reading often begins at the library. The Council was asked to please save Totley Library from closure. 




The Council referred the petition to Councillor Mazher Iqbal, the Cabinet Member for Communities and Inclusion.  Councillor Iqbal stated that the Council had made proposals concerning Libraries but no decision had been taken to close any library. The Council wished to hear from people, including young people as part of the consultation on the Library Service. There were a number of libraries that could potentially close and this was not a decision that the Council would have wanted to take. The funding which the Council received from the Government had reduced in the past 3 years and this meant that the Council had to do things differently.


Councillor Iqbal stated that he had spoken to a campaigner and to Councillor Colin Ross to see how Totley Library could be kept open and the Council was working to keep as many libraries open as possible.


The consultation concerning the Library Service would finish on 10 January 2014. Councillor Iqbal stated that it was good to hear people’s views and those of the petitioners and he asked that people complete the survey, which was part of the consultation. A final decision about the Library Service would be made in February or March 2014.




(b)         Petition Requesting that Newgate Close be Included in the Streets Ahead Project


The Council received a petition containing 77 signatures requesting that Newgate Close be included in the Streets Ahead Project.


Representations on behalf of the petitioners were made by Joan Ashton. She stated that people were of the opinion that the Streets Ahead project would improve the roads and pavements. However, there were a number of roads that were unadopted and were excluded from the scope of the Streets Ahead programme, including Newgate Close. The road did not get gritted in the winter or cleared of snow.


The Council referred the petition to Councillor Jack Scott, Cabinet Member for Environment, Recycling and Streetscene. Councillor Scott agreed that this was an important issue. Only formally adopted roads were included in the Streets Ahead programme and this appeared to be an anomaly which needs to be considered as part of the Council review. The Council was writing to the Government in relation to the funding it received for the Streets Ahead Programme and the issue of unadopted highway. The Council, during the review, would also see if other funding could be found. Newgate Close and other unadopted roads would be looked at. LED Street lights would be installed on Newgate Close in the week commencing 9th December. The issue was in the hands of the Government as much as anything else.




(c)         Petition Regarding the Actions of Stagecoach Bus Drivers on Green Lane and The Common, Ecclesfield


The Council received a petition containing 168 signatures, requesting action against the problems being caused by Stagecoach bus drivers parking their cars on Green Lane and The Common, Ecclesfield.


Representations on behalf of the petitioners were made by Claire Bolsover, who stated that buses parking at locations on Green Lane and The Common, Ecclesfield often prevented access and egress to local residents’ driveways and contributed to traffic queues at the junction near to the public house and prevented traffic flows on Green Lane and The Common. Bus drivers did not necessarily move their vehicles when they were asked to do so and there was concern that there might be an accident.  Buses stood while the driver changes took place at locations on Green lane and The Common.


The problems were causing distress to local residents, some of whom required carers and medical care. There was also noise, litter and interference with the putting out of domestic bins for collection.


Moreover, bus drivers parked their own cars on verges at the side of the road, which causes problems for residents and residents had allegedly been verbally abused when they had asked for the cars to be moved as they were causing obstruction and were sometimes parked for up to 14 hours. Attempts had been made to resolve the problems through the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE), which had informed people that the driver swaps should be distributed, rather than be concentrated at Morrison’s supermarket.


The City Council was asked to request that all driver changes for services to the City Centre take place at Morrisions and to restrict the duration of parking times on the affected area of The Common, Ecclesfield to a maximum of 4 hours.


The Council referred the petition to Councillor Leigh Bramall, Cabinet Member for Business, Skills and Development. Councillor Bramall stated that he was not aware of the matters that had been raised until the Council received the petition and he appreciated the fact that the matter had been brought to his attention. He stated that he had spoken with the operator, Stagecoach and the SYPTE and to local Councillors Steve Wilson, Joyce Wight and Garry Weatherall and he commented that the petition indicated that there were both operational problems and those associated with the attitude of the bus drivers. The issues would be looked into and Councillor Bramall stated that he would raise the matters outlined by the petition at the meeting of the Integrated Transport Authority on 5th December.




Public Questions




(a)         Public Question Concerning the Library Service




Louisa Walker asked why people were being told that it was not an option to run Totley Library as a community library, only as an independent one, which was unlikely to succeed. She asked whether the Council had explored other potential savings and ideas including the use of volunteers at hub libraries and the co-location of other Council services in libraries. She stated that she believed the needs analysis did not take into account the proximity of other community buildings. The Library was also the local polling station. There would be an effect on access for people with limited mobility, including those aged over 65 years. The bus journey time to the nearest alternative library was 38 minutes. Totley library was the City’s sixth busiest library in contrast to other libraries.


She stated that it was contradictory to close libraries when a literacy report and the Fairness Commission both pointed to concerns about the potential closure of libraries. There was no other City Council funded building in Totley and Dore and the closure of the Library would be a short term fix but with costs in the long term. The Council had a responsibility to voluntary groups and to the high number of library users aged over 65 years. She asked whether there was someone available to speak with local residents as regards the Totley Library being run as a community library.




In response, Councillor Mazher Iqbal, the Cabinet Member for Communities and Inclusion, stated that he had received an email from Ms Walker and had also spoken with a campaigner and a date was being organised to speak with residents. No decisions had yet been taken in relation to libraries and the consultation period was ongoing. The report on the future of Library Services referred to research which suggested that independent libraries were not a long term sustainable option, although the report also states that the Council would not rule out a viable proposal.




The funding which the Council receives had been cut and was continuing to be reduced. The annual budget for Libraries had reduced from £9 million in 2012/13 to £6 million in 2013/14 and would reduce further to £4.5 million in 2014/15. The Library Service could not continue as it is, having already reduced opening hours and not filling staffing vacancies. In the United Kingdom, there had been some 400 library closures.




The needs assessment took account of a number of factors and also considered judgements which had been made at Brent Council. The Fairness Commission, the recommendations of which the Council had signed up to, recognised the inequalities which existed in Sheffield and which continued to widen. The needs assessment took these inequalities into account. The Council also had responsibilities with regard to reading and writing and opportunities for children and young people in its role as a corporate parent.




Councillor Iqbal stated that it was important that the Council heard from people with regards the proposals for the Library Service, including completing the survey which formed part of the consultation. He confirmed that a date would be arranged to speak to local residents about the future of Totley Library. A decision on the Library Service would be made in 2014.




(b)         Public Question Concerning Public Transport




Adam Butcher referred to a complaint to the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive regarding bus services. He stated that people had waited one and a half hours for a service which was scheduled to run every half hour. This occurred on a cold day and although the SYPTE had responded, there had not been a response from the bus operator, First Bus. He asked how we can make sure that the best integrated bus service was available for everyone. 




Councillor Leigh Bramall, the Cabinet Member for Business, Skills and Development responded by stating that giving consideration to the needs of people with disabilities when looking at public transport was crucial. The development of Bus Partnerships was to give better services and reduced bus fares. The City had secured a grant of £18 million to invest in improvements, including at junctions to allow buses to travel through junctions more quickly and improve reliability. There were also programmes to improve bus stops and kerb access and tactile paving to help older people and disabled people access buses. 




There were a number of reasons why bus services might be delayed, which might be because a vehicle had broken down or due to more systemic problems.




Councillor Bramall stated that he would raise the problems which Mr Butcher had reported and asked him to leave details of the bus service delay to which he had referred, so this matter could be followed up. 




(c)          Public Question Concerning Winter Maintenance




Lisa Banes referred to the snow fall which was predicted and to the context of budget cuts to the Council by the Government. She asked how the Council would be able to keep the City’s roads clear and is there anything that people can do to help?




Councillor Jack Scott, the Cabinet Member for Environment, Recycling and Streetscene, responded that the Streets Ahead team were more prepared for the winter this year than in previous years. He referred to the purchase of additional gritting machines, snow ploughs and to the stock of over 16,000 tonnes of grit. Thermal mapping would be used to make sure that grit was applied in the right areas and the full grit run amounted to 620 miles. It was expected that higher areas would be gritted to a greater extent than other areas. Grit bins had been filled and new weather stations had been set up and traffic cameras would also be utilised to observe issues, such as drifting snow.




In terms of what people could do to help, Councillor Scott stated that 450 requests had been received for people to become snow wardens this year, compared to the 86 snow wardens in the previous year. He gave thanks to people for their help and support.




(d)         Public question Concerning Golf Courses




Brian Marsden asked why the Sheffield International Venues (SIV) managed golf courses at Beauchief and Birley Wood have a long term lease with the Council, whilst Tinsley Park Golf Course has only a short term, year on year, lease. SIV had indicated that, if a longer term lease was in place, they would be able to plan and invest in the Tinsley Park Golf Course. Such investment was on hold depending on the arrangements for the lease. He commented on the work being undertaken with children by Activity Sheffield, introducing them to the game of golf.  Mr Marsden requested a written reply.  




In response, Councillor Isobel Bowler, the Cabinet Member for Culture, Sport and Leisure, stated that she was not aware that the lease relating to Tinsley Park Golf Course was different to the other golf courses managed by SIV. Activity Sheffield was a Council service and she stated that she was pleased that their work with children in schools in his area was something with which Mr Marsden was impressed. Councillor Bowler confirmed that she would write to Mr Marsden.




(e)      Public Question Concerning Health and Wellbeing Board




Peter Hartley stated that there are 4 meetings of the Health and Wellbeing Board annually and he pointed out that the next meeting on 12 December coincided with the NHS Trust Board Governors meeting, which he hoped would not happen again because people might want to attend both meetings.




Councillor Mary Lea, the Cabinet Member for Health, Care and Independent Living, responded that the four public meetings of the Health and Wellbeing Board were planned in advance for the year. She stated that lots of organisations were keen to send representatives to meetings of the Health and Wellbeing Board and it was difficult to organise meetings around every organisation. The Board would try to do its best to arrange meetings when people would be able to attend.




Councillor Lea stated that she would be pleased for NHS Trust Governors to send representatives to meetings of the Health and Wellbeing Board. She stated that, if possible, she hoped that representatives of Trust Governing Bodies would also be able to attend the meeting of the Board on 12 December, to be held at the English Institute of Sport.




(f)           Public Question concerning Council Agenda Internet Pages




Peter Hartley stated that papers for agenda items 2-7 of the 3 April Council Meeting were not available to view on the Council’s webpages.




The Chief Executive noted Mr Hartley’s comments and stated that he would ask for the information available on the website to which Mr Hartley now referred, to be checked.




(g)         Public Question Concerning Financial Savings




Peter Hartley stated that he had asked the Council to defy the Coalition Government in the past and he now suggested that the Council approach other local authorities in the country and look at ways of saving money.




Councillor Julie Dore, the Leader of the Council responded that the political parties represented on the Council would put budget proposals to the meeting of the budget Council in the form of amendments. Consultation with regards to the Council’s budget had already begun and further sessions were to be held. The Council was listening to everyone about how it could ensure that services were delivered in the context of declining budgets.




With regard to talking to other local authorities, the Council was part of the Public Service Transition Network, where work would be done with the Government and local authorities to find innovative ways of making savings and delivering services differently. She stated that the Core Cities Cabinet had produced a prospectus for growth, which they have presented to the Government. Further information was available on the internet. The Council also wanted more control over finances and policies for local people. The Council had made representations to the Government with regard to the funding cuts to Sheffield, which Councillor Dore stated that she believed were draconian and unfair.




(h)         Public Questions Concerning Designated Area for the LGBT Community




Jonathan Marsden referred to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Sheffield and to the strong community within the City’s universities. However, he stated that there are not many designated venues in the City and asked whether people in the local LGBT community could have a designated area, similar to Manchester, preferably at the bottom of the Moor, near to Dempsey’s nightclub. This would provide a focal point for the LGBT community and would help to stimulate the local economy by attracting visitors. 




Councillor Mazher Iqbal, the Cabinet Member for Communities and Inclusion, responded that there was work being undertaken in relation to inclusion and equalities and the Council had published its annual report on equalities and cohesion. Councillor Iqbal stated that he was working with Councillor Neale Gibson, who had also raised the issue to which Mr Marsden had referred. Other groups in the City have also approached the City Council with regards to the identification of a designated area. Councillor Iqbal stated that he would speak further about this issue with Mr Marsden and Councillor Gibson.




(i)           Question Concerning Digital Autopsy Machine




Wahid Nazir welcomed the installation in Sheffield of a Digital Autopsy Machine. He also welcomed the campaign by Councillor Ibrar Hussain concerning access to the facility on a free basis. He asked for the Council’s opinion.




Councillor Julie Dore, the Leader of the Council, responded by thanking Mr Nazir for sharing the good news concerning the Digital Autopsy Machine and she stated that she and the Lord Mayor had attended the opening of the facility at  the Medico-Legal Centre in Upperthorpe.  The bringing of this revolutionary technology to Sheffield, by a Malaysian private sector organisation showed their confidence to invest in the City. She stated that there were bereaved families who may choose this option for particular religious and cultural reasons.


She stated that she was glad that Councillor Ibrar Hussain was campaigning for the Government to give free access to Digital Autopsy and stated that the cost of access would take time to reduce as the technology was used more widely.  In relation to sponsorship of families who wished to access the facility and found it difficult to finance, that would be a decision for the Government. Specific groups might also wish to consider sponsoring families to enable them to use the facility.




(j)           Public Question concerning Kinematic Film Company, Filming at Council Meetings and Darnall Community Nursery




Chrissy Meleady asked for an explanation of why the Kinematic Film Company, who filmed at a meeting of Council during the period for public questions, was served notice to withdraw from their television studio on Paternoster Row, from a building owned by the City Council and managed by the Council’s partner Kier. She stated that the notice to quit their premises came about following Kinematic filming on behalf of families and communities the questions asked of full Council and answers given by Councillor Jackie Drayton.




She stated that the notice to quit was issued by Kier on the instruction of Sheffield City Council out of the blue and followed them filming the questions, complaints and concerns, which Kinematic knew nothing of until they filmed at the Full Council.




These questions, concerns and complaints related to Darnall Community Nursery who had also, she stated, been issued a wrongful Notice to leave their premises, by Sheffield City Council.




Ms Meleady stated that the Sheffield Children’s Centre was subjected to having Kier turn off heating and other basic amenities. An associate of the Children’s Centre had advocated for Darnall Community Nursery (regarding them being served with a Notice) and then the Children’s Centre incurred what families and communities deem to be another reprisal, with the heating being shut off for over 6 months, despite repeated requested for an independent investigation and redress.




Ms Meleady stated that now Kinematic too have been subjected to reprisal, merely for supporting families and communities’ voices via filming, at their request, the questions and answers at the Council meeting. She formally requested an independent investigation into this and related matters relating to the Council and its partner Kier going back over many months.




She asked Councillor Dore to explain what the Council’s position was on filming in meetings of Full Council. She also asked for an explanation of the Council position on free speech and the right to be free of reprisal and victimisation for those speaking truth to power, including families and communities and those facilitating their voices. Chrissy Meleady asked what Councillor Dore will do to redress the Notice to Kinematic Films and how she would instigate the request for an independent investigation with regards to the concerns she had set out.




She also informed Council that there had been some progress and a boiler had now been ordered for Sheffield Children’s Centre and temporary heaters installed by Kier.




(k)         Public Question concerning replies in writing to questions at Council




Chrissy Meleady asked why Councillor Drayton had not responded in writing to questions asked on behalf of Reni Aminu, which had been asked at the meeting of Council in November. The questions concerned the appointment of a consultant and were as follows:-




“What best value analysis took place with regard to the appointment/commissioning of the consultant, Julie Dale, for 48 weeks work at a cost of £132,745 for her salary and the agency fees of £26,586 between February 2013 and 8 March 2013, at a time when the Council were claiming poverty and enforcing through a 100 percent grant aid cut on community not for profit early years charities. As the Freedom of Information release shows, Julie Dale was taken on to carry through the axing of the funding to these organisations.”




“What other funding was expended in support of Julie Dale’s role e.g. Personal Assistant and administrative expenses over the extent of her appointment and 48 weeks of her consultancy work etc?”




“Why has the Council not released the information requested with regard to Julie Ward in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act deadlines and why is the Council withholding the full information now.”




Ms Meleady stated that on the 25th November, the Council released information to her that identified costs for the Judicial Reviews relating to Early Years. She stated that additional information relating to the associated costs of the Consultant, Julie Dale is outstanding and information concerning the consultants terms of appointment and terms of reference for her consultancy role etc. She asked why this was and why the Council was thwarting compliance with the law in this instance.




Chrissy Meleady also asked the following questions:




Does Councillor Dore find it acceptable that Councillor Drayton or any other Councillor gives the same response to members of the public month upon month i.e. informing them in response to promises unfilled, letters not sent etc. that she/they/the Council had thought a response had been sent?




Whose responsibility is it to follow through on promises made to the public in Full Council?




Who holds Councillors responsible?




Who monitors this? How are misdemeanours addressed?




What sanctions are in place for breaches?




What role and responsibility do Councillor Dore, the Chief Executive and the Monitoring Officer hold in regard to the above?




In response to the questions from Chrissy Meleady above, the Leader of the Council, Councillor Julie Dore, responded that she was not aware that the Kinematic Film Company had been given formal notice to move from the premises at Paternoster Row. She said that she felt absolutely sure that this would not be due to the fact that Kinematic had filmed in the Council Chamber at the last Council meeting. It was likely to be for other reasons such as the expiry or termination of a lease.




Councillor Dore said she had no objection to filming in the Council Chamber at Council meetings.




She also stated that the Council has a Standards Committee through which to make a formal complaint and [you] can go to the Local Government Ombudsman if you are unsatisfied.




A written response would be provided to the detailed questions which Ms Meleady had submitted.




(l)            Public Questions concerning Leadership and Behaviour




Martin Brighton stated that the answers to his generic questions are often parried with ‘not aware of’, or ‘please send details’, when not only has all the requisite information already been sent, but when asked to review the non-answer, the request for a review is ignored. He stated that all that is happening is to ‘kick the can down the road’ in the futile hope that the issue will go away. He asked why is the Leader doing this.




Secondly, he stated that the Council, via responses to FoIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, with respect to a voluntary community group, has shown: a) that there is no evidence to support allegations and innuendo made against it, and b) the group has not only met but exceeded the Council’s recognition requirements, and c) the financial penalties were outside Council procedures and policy; and d) the Council has ignored a request for an independent qualified auditor. He asked, therefore, what is the lawful justification for continuing to impose sanction and prejudice upon that group.




Thirdly, Mr Brighton asked, if an executive writes saying that names of complainants against him shall be provided, and that files containing those complaints are held, what action will the Leader take to ensure that the undertaking is honoured and the complaint details provided? Are Councillors and Executives to be trusted to tell the truth; and are there any objections to naming and shaming?




Fourthly, Mr Brighton stated that the Council, in response to allegations, accusations or innuendo against Council officers or members, always insists upon evidence before acting. He asked what are the Council’s exceptions to this principle, where it is allowed for the Council officers to impose sanction and financial prejudice whilst publicly admitting doing so in the absence of evidence, and only on the basis of already disproved allegations, accusations and innuendo.




Councillor Julie Dore, the Leader of the Council, responded to the questions from Mr Brighton. She stated that when she said that she was not aware of something, it was because she was not aware and more information needed to be provided.




Councillor Dore stated that the other questions which Mr Brighton had asked related to a particular issue concerning a community group. She understood that the organisation does not meet the particular recognition policy and was not therefore eligible to receive certain funding.