National signs point to a tighter Labour grip on city

Sheffield Town Hall
Sheffield Town Hall

THE campaigning is under way and, at the end of it all, the indications are that Sheffield will stay firmly in the hands of Labour after next month’s council elections.

After seizing power last year from the Liberal Democrats, signs point to a bigger Labour majority on May 3 when one-third of the seats at the Town Hall will be up for grabs, at the same time as a referendum is held on the principle of the city having its first directly elected mayor.

The Lib Dems are defending seats they won at the height of their popularity in the city in 2008, so it was always going to be tough to maintain that level of support on the council.

They lost seats to Labour last year amid the backlash from the party forming a coalition government with the Conservatives .

City Lib Dems hope that much of that national sting has now been removed, and that they are now being seen as a party holding back some of the “excesses” of the Tories and notching up some of their own successes in Westminster.

However, the latest national opinion polls suggest that they remain in an electoral mire - and that even deputy leader and Hallam MP Nick Clegg could be in trouble at the next general election.

In Sheffield, the Lib Dems believe they can make the greatest headway by urging voters to concentrate on the record of the Labour council over the past year.

They have been persistent and vociferous opponents of the switch from weekly to fortnightly black bin collections, and their campaign includes a promise to retain the weekly collections, along with a free, city-wide collection of green waste.

They say they would save three dementia centres under threat of closure, reverse big rises in parking permit fees and say Labour is returning to a strategy of favouring their traditional heartlands in the north east of the city.

But the local Labour Party is looking to increase its Town Hall majority of 18.

It says it has minimised the damaged cause by “devastating” Government spending cuts - £170m over the next four years. Over the past year, it has created an apprenticeship programme, reinstated police community support officers and put money back into the voluntary sector and children’s centres and ensured that Highfield and Pitsmoor Adventure playgrounds stay open.

Its latest manifesto promises to double the number of apprenticeships to 200 and to continue efforts to keep communities safe and to protect frontline services .

One of the most high profile contests will be in Broomhill where Labour is aiming to claim the scalp of former Lib Dem council leader Paul Scriven after winning one of the ward’s three seats from the Lib Dems last year.

And unless last year’s voting trends are reversed, the Lib Dems could be vulnerable in places such as Hillsborough, Stannington, Walkley, East Ecclesfield, Crookes and Mosborough.

How far the pendulum swings depends to a large extent on Labour’s ability to persuade voters to register a protest against the national government.

One intriguing question is whether the Conservatives, who are fielding candidates across the city, can at last begin their comeback in what used to be their traditional territory in the south west of the city, notably in Dore and Totley.

Sheffield Green Party will again stand candidates in all 28 wards, aiming for re-election in Central ward and, in particular, to make its presence felt in the contest in Broomhill.

Turnouts in local elections are traditionally low. It remains to be seen whether the referendum on the idea of an elected mayor encourages more voters into the polling booth.

The current composition of the council is Labour 50 seats, Lib Dems 32 and Greens two.