BOTH Sheffield’s main political parties at the Town Hall will lose long-serving and influential councillors today (Thursday).
The Liberal Democrats’ first council leader in the city, Peter Moore, and former deputy Labour leader Joan Barton are retiring as the city elects a new batch of representatives.
Coun Moore – the Lib Dems’ longest serving councillor in Sheffield with 22 years’ continuous service – made local political history in 1999 by overseeing an end to 75 years of almost uninterrupted Labour control.
After leading the opposition group in the 1990s, he persuaded voters that there was an alternative, and embarked on a mission to make the Town Hall respond more effectively to what the public wanted.
The attitude of “listening more to the people” was continued by a chastened Labour group when it returned to power three years later.
“I shifted the emphasis to being more customer focused and it runs to this day,” said Coun Moore. “It is important we serve the people who pay for it all.”
Yet achievements in helping individuals can be the most satisfying, he said. “When somebody says, ‘You are my last resort’ and you work on their problem, which may seem small to the rest of the world, but is the most important thing in their life, and it can mean taking on the council and the officers until you resolve it.”
After the Lib Dems lost control, Coun Moore returned to the backbenches, and is now retiring as a councillor for Graves Park.
For 14 years, he has been a member of the European Local Government Committee, helping to ensure the voice of local government is heard when decisions are taken by the European Commission. That positions ends when he no longer a councillor.
He does not intend to put up his feet in retirement, saying: “I have got all sorts of irons in the fire”.
Joan Barton’s long service at both the strategic level and grass roots were recognised this year by a national award for her “outstanding contribution to local government”.
She has always seen herself as a team player, representing Firth Park since 1978 and exerting influence as deputy party leader, chairing the Labour group and the education committee and being deputy chair of housing.
It was the right time to retire, she said. “I have done 34 years, I am 64 and I want to do other things while I have the energy.
“I honestly can’t believe where all the years have gone. It’s been very interesting and I really hope I have made contribution to make Sheffield a better place.”
Her main regret is very much a grass roots issue – trying to protect the city’s grass verges from inconsiderate motorists. “I don’t think they are any better,” she sighed.
A more general concern is the growing concentration of power in fewer hands, whether it be a council leader and cabinet or an elected mayor.
“I don’t like the way local government is moving. I am totally opposed to an elected mayor. We have always talked about working with the community and making decisions from the bottom up. Now we have a situation where a small number of people are making the decisions.
“I feel the backbenchers of the future will become a cross between community workers and scrutineers. It’s a real shame. We are moving away from the representation of local people.”
Married to former Labour councillor and Euro MP Roger Barton, she is looking forward to retirement. “It doesn’t have to mean sitting in the armchair watching TV. I have lots of other things to do – gardening, reading, travelling – we have got a motor home – and spending time with the grandkids. And I am still going to be active in community organisations.”