WHEN thousands of Liberal Democrats came to Sheffield last month for their national spring conference, it was in recognition of the city being regarded as a flagship authority for the party.
That status will be under threat at the local elections on May 5 when Labour attempts to break the Lib Dems’ three-year hold on the town hall.
With no overall majority on the council, the Lib Dems face a stiff test against a background of widespread discontent over the Coalition Government and enduring opposition to Nick Clegg on his home territory.
It would come as no great surprise if Labour regained control of what it once regarded as one of their heartlands.
But in typically bullish fashion, city Lib Dem leader Paul Scriven insists: “It’s still all to play for.”
He believes that the party’s local record over the past three years can tip the balance.
“When I knock on doors, people are talking about local issues. They say you are doing a good job for the city and we don’t want to stop that.
“There are tens of thousands of silent Sheffielders who understand that very difficult decisions have to be made to get the country’s finances back in balance. If they get out of their armchairs, they will vote overwhelmingly for the Liberal Democrats. They are the key to the election.
“It’s alright putting up two fingers to the Coalition Government and telling Nick Clegg what they think of him but do they really want to wake up on May 6 and go back to the type of council Sheffield had three years ago, back to the 80s when the Labour council decided to declare war on the Government and the city was brought to its knees?
“What’s the point of sending a message to the Government when you end up with a Labour council with no leadership and no vision? All Labour seems to be doing is opposing.”
Coun Scriven said people may agree or disagree with his policies “but they know I have offered clear and decisive political leadership”.
The Lib Dems are campaigning on the back on their record on forging closer ties with the business community, devolution of power to communities, improved exam results, being fair to all neighbourhoods, better recycling and financial competence.
Although £80m has been cut from the budget this year, it has been done without the “slash and burn” approach of some Labour authorities, added Coun Scriven.
“This council has come along way in three years. We used to have a town hall that wasn’t listening, wasn’t saying sorry when it made mistakes, was too controlling and business felt locked out. Young people were languishing at the bottom of exam results tables.
“There is still a long way to go but there has been a quiet revolution in this city which has changed the way the city is governed.”
lNational Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes visited Sheffield to present councillors with the party’s Council Group of the Year award.
Mr Hughes said Sheffield was “regularly held up as a shining example of how other local authorities should be dealing with tough budgets.
“It’s no accident that Labour-controlled councils like Manchester are closing libraries, Surestart centres and leisure centres whereas Lib Dem councillors in Sheffield have managed to protect these valuable community assets from closure.”
lA third of council seats are up for election on May 5. The current composition is Lib Dems 41 seats, Labour 40, Greens two and Independent one.