Bishops back ‘fair deal’ call in Sheffield

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News: Sheffield Telegraph online 24-hours a day.

A CAMPAIGN embraced by leaders of different parts of Sheffield society will be launched tomorrow (Friday) to urge the Government to give the city a ‘fair deal’ on the grants it receives.

Backed by politicians, faith leaders, including the Anglican and Catholic bishops, representatives of the voluntary and community sectors, trade unions and the new police commissioner, it aims to make the Government think again in the wake of public spending cuts that, it is claimed, are taking a heavy toll on the city, especially on poorer residents. A ‘people’s petition’ is being launched in communities and online.

‘Fair Deal for Sheffield’ seeks to highlight the “unfair distribution” of the Government’s cuts on urban areas such as Sheffield, compared to wealthier areas which campaigners say are receiving much lower reductions in funding.

Organisers say it is a non-party initiative designed to generate maximum public support - but opposition Liberal Democrats claim it is being driven by the Labour Party, disputing statistical comparisons with more prosperous places.

“They should stop using our city as a political battering ram,” said local Lib Dem leader Coun Shaffaq Mohammed.

The move comes as the council comes under pressure over some of the effects of its £50m cuts package - with protests such as those over the proposed cuts to children’s services and the proposed closure of Stocksbridge Leisure Centre.

Sheffield Central Labour MP Paul Blomfield MP said: “The fact that MPs, the major faith leaders and key representatives of the voluntary and community sectors have come together is very significant and underlines the deep concerns across Sheffield about the disproportionate impact of Government policy on our city.”

Labour council leader Julie Dore said: “The Government has no idea about the impact that their unfairly targeted spending cuts are having on our major towns and cities.”

Weight has been given to the campaign by support from the Anglican Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev Steven Croft, and the Catholic Bishop of Hallam, the Rt Rev John Rawsthorne.

Bishop Steven said: “The great cities of the north of England are places of enterprise, hubs of industry, thriving communities and centres of culture and learning. All of our northern cities, including Sheffield, deserve and need a fair share of our central government resources to thrive and flourish in the future. I urge the Government to reconsider the unfair effect of the spending cuts on Sheffield as a whole and on the poorest in our communities and to take action this year to redress the balance.”

Bishop John said: “It is more than clear, from our day to day experience as well as from the statistics, that the Government faces major questions of fairness in regard to its treatment of Sheffield and other northern cities. I hope that this petition will be overwhelmingly supported by our citizens.”

Ian Drayton, who chairs Sheffield’s Third Sector Assembly, said: “The voluntary and community sector supports some of the most vulnerable people in society and we are seeing the impact of Government cuts on them, as well as experiencing that impact ourselves as contracts and funding dry up.”

Also spearheading the campaign are the regional secretary of Yorkshire and the Humber Trades Union Congress, Bill Adams, and South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright.

Labour politicians say, for example, that Sheffield residents are losing £139 per person in Government grants compared to £12 in Richmond-upon-Thames.

But Lib Dems counter that Sheffield will have £160 more to spend per household than Richmond. They also produced figures to indicate South Yorkshire Police had £60 extra per head in funding compared to Surrey Police and that the fire service is facing a 4.1% cut while it is 5% in Hampshire.

Coun Mohammed said like warnings of a post-Soviet meltdown, “this latest announcement is another in a long line of PR stunts, which do nothing for the people of Sheffield.”

Labour should take responsibility for their own decisions, he said.

“We should all come together to try and offer solutions on issues like keeping the Don Valley Stadium open and making sure isolated areas, like Stocksbridge, don’t lose valuable resources. Nobody wants cuts, but we have a responsibility to deal with them given the dire state of the nation’s finances were left in.”