Question 1, related to SCC’s incorrect claim of ‘Co-Design’
I note the point at 8.3 of the minutes of the meeting of 30th June. I contacted both officers involved as soon as I saw the two reports, to identify my concerns and to ask the wording be withdrawn as otherwise I would feel I had to make a formal complaint. The reports made claim to some “co-design” and that “communities steered and shaped the key building blocks” for changed governance arrangements. I also contacted three other stakeholders to check my understanding, and they concurred with my view that the statements were grossly untrue.
So, I want to thank the officers involved for reporting honestly on this issue and point of disagreement at the last Governance Committee, for acknowledging the language used was excessive, and for apologising.
I also recognise the original statements made might reflect officer hopes and their understanding and expertise as to what would have been best approach and practice for the governance change exercise, but that the Governance Committee expressed no political will or leadership to adopt these approaches. As well as rejecting meaningful and shared work on shaping the new governance arrangements, I also note that this Committee repeatedly rejected the suggestion that the first review of the governance changes be seen as a joint exercise with stakeholders.
So [QUESTION] I trust and ask that there will be no repeat over-claims further down the road that the review exercise is somehow about co-design, or about communities steering and shaping key building blocks?
Question 2, on the 6-month review of the new committee system
I note Item 7 of this meeting is on Planning for the 6 Month Review of New Governance and that this appears to be a verbal report.
[QUESTION A] Does this even provide an adequate opportunity for members of the public and stakeholders to pose questions about the governance review plans?
The Committee did, however, also receive an early report at its last meeting on 30th June on planning for the review. Webcasting was broken for this meeting so it’s difficult to have a full picture of the discussion. However, at para 5.4 a number of quantitative metrics were suggested to inform the review. I apologise for being blunt but I thought the proposed metrics were wholly inadequate (I am happy to explain this to anyone who asks).
[QUESTION B] Is the Committee interested in suggested alternative metrics that relate to its governance principles? (I do not want to do the work this involves if you are not and as my experience over the last year has been of giving huge amounts of time, energy and input to little or no effect, and in trying to do justice to 20000 governance conversations in Sheffield.)
Question 3, on the lack of citizen and stakeholder involvement
The governance change exercise undertaken last year did not incorporate or address citizen and stakeholder aspirations and agendas for more democratic local governance under a modern committee system. There was no evident will from elected members to discuss the local democracy Sheffield aspires to be, or to draw on all the ideas and expertise of citizens and stakeholders about the different aspects of this and the range of ways our local governance might be democratised and operationalised. When raised in public questions or at the limited extractive consultation sessions, for example, most of these issues were then ignored or repeatedly rejected by the Governance Committee. So the overwhelmingly legal and technical exercise undertaken was very limited, albeit involving much work. Where additional work and discussion has taken place e.g. on co-chairing, and on member development, and on lengths of meetings – whilst important these largely reflect the internal or insular, technical and procedural concerns of elected members and officers rather than those of citizens and stakeholders.
So at this point citizen and community agendas for democratised local governance remain largely untouched and unaddressed, and are not evident or operationalised in the new council constitution.
ONE of these issues is clarity about, and exercise of, citizen rights (including organisational and administrative issues and public access to information). Or even the ways in which citizens rights might be extended.
Whilst extending citizens rights was not addressed through governance change and remain extremely limited, I have observed the following over the last four months:
Great variability in practices for the treatment of public questions (some people giving speeches, others being told to hurry up even with comparatively short questions, some members of the public participating in the meeting, some questions not even read out if people are unable to attend, delayed answers/written answers being promised even when relatively simple questions have been submitted in advance.
Some late committee reports, sometimes even after deadlines for submitting public questions have passed.
I have not seen the quality of answers improve overall as much as I would have expected to see (there are some notable exceptions) despite the shift to members of the public submitting questions in advance. The issue of ‘not answering questions’ is also still there.
Uncertainty by some chairs and committees when a Chair from one party answers a question and perhaps with other party members wishing to add to these answers. Some public questions turning into substantive committee discussions (but where issues are not on the agenda) – e.g. a 45 minute committee discussion at last Transport, Regeneration and Climate Policy Committee in response to a public question.
Systems for receiving written replies – I have never had to not follow up for a written reply and this is now also evident in some LAC meetings – “I was promised a written reply in March and I have not received anything.” – this leads to public frustration
Inclusion of statutorily required Independent Members of Committees via webcast, but no apparent equivalent access for members of the public to ask their questions (that could also help deal with some equality of access issues/extend reach to members of the public).
The poor quality of webcasting (as also mentioned by a member of the public at the last Governance Committee), and the fact it sometimes does not work at all e.g. last Governance Committee and North East LAC 26th July.
[QUESTION] As part of its governance review will the Committee at least consider a small dedicated look at this one issue – citizen’s rights and improving access to information and participation – even if it is within the very limited footprint of the citizens rights that apparently exist within the constitution – and to develop an improvement plan.
Question 4, on the work for SCC done by the ‘Involve’ organisation
Some other unaddressed citizen, community and stakeholder issues are much bigger and more chronically embedded in council structures and cultures e.g. this Committee has repeatedly rejected integrating stakeholder input in committee decision making. And the expectation that all committees will use the limited toolkit to support decision-making is obviously misplaced – as far as I can see there has only been one mention in one committee of the toolkit and nor did this mention lead to a decision to actually use this.
Clearly the council has ongoing issues in relation to its relationship with citizens, communities and stakeholders (who are sometimes critical) and for its own decision-making and local governance. I imagine the Street Tree Inquiry will comment or make recommendations in this area and I note that this is also an issue for Sheffield Race Equality Commission.
In the meantime – and since the governance change – we have seen the emergence of a number of difficult community-based issues. These include – but are not limited to – Hillsborough and Tramlines, the Rose Garden Café and the governance of our parks and other important community assets, the Norfolk Park Resident Parking Scheme proposals, and the implementation of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. These issues have emerged largely in the context of the systematic failure of this Committee to address citizen and community governance concerns through governance transition. One common issue that almost always arises across multiple issues is the exclusion and lack of voice, involvement and influence in early decision-making and in formulating plans.
At some point elected members will have to acknowledge to a greater degree some of the chronic challenges it faces for local governance.
In the meantime [QUESTION A] what happened to the Involve final report. This Committee received a rather generic interim report but the last I heard the final report was going to come out for comment to a range of stakeholders who had participated in some consultation (for comment) and then the final report was to come to this Committee. Where is that report?
[QUESTION B] How much did the Council spend on Involve and are the outputs and outcomes known? I always felt this money – given the expertise in the city – might have been spent in Sheffield (especially now we have a community wealth building policy) but what has been the value of Involve to the city and its citizens and communities?