Northern Lights: The very Sheffield questions that came my way in Twitter hotseat

Main Stage
Main Stage

A couple of weeks ago I was let loose on the Council’s Twitter feed. The rules were simple. No question was off-limits. I would do the answering with no “spin doctor” filter. That’s it.

As ever, predictions failed to materialise.

What struck me was the balance and range of questions that came up but more so the thoughtful, constructive and caring tone behind most of the points being made.

Of course there were the subjects that tend to be high profile, namely trees and bins. Other questions though were less obvious either in their approach or subject matter.

One topic that came up was people clearly taking and suffering from spice – a horrible drug – on our streets.

The prediction was that this would come up and “what’s the Council doing about it” would be the demand.

Not so. Instead, and in typically Sheffield fashion, the approach was what can we all, as a city, do about it.

How can we use the skills that live in this city?

I likened this to how can we create a social movement to deal with a social issue. Great question, great offer so let’s see what happens, and given that the issue of spice is much less widespread in Sheffield than many other cities, we have a chance to catch it earlier and deal with it.

Then, again in classic Sheffield fashion, the questions suddenly turned to the countryside, and in particular goshawks (which fortunately for me, a short while ago I learnt was a bird).

Apparently they are struggling on our side of the Pennines, and poaching is blamed. A new one for me but not one that I can now let rest.

Social care came up – are we going to be able to fulfil our obligations?

The answer is “yes” partly because helping those in need has been the top priority of this Council throughout tough financial years and partly because we are not Northamptonshire. We have made different decisions.

Suddenly the questions then shifted to the gender pay gap.

Gratifyingly the tweet recognised that the pay gap in Sheffield City Council is the smallest amongst our local councils and is massively better than many private sector comparators.

But it is not good enough and I won’t offer any excuses. My answer said this, and also said that gaps like this close by sustained and remorseless effort and attention. That is what we are doing, and will continue to do.

And there were other questions.

Car parking on pavements, support for children with special educational needs, why does the Council need a Chief Executive for which see my response in The Star of last year. All came up and all got a response.

What struck me was the balance and range of questions that came up but more so the thoughtful, constructive and caring tone behind most of the points being made. Because of that it felt very Sheffield.

However, one topic that came up the first time I took over the Twitter feed some months ago, but did not come up this time, was music. This was a shame because it did not give me chance to reflect on Music City Sheffield, and, in particular, this year’s Tramlines.

Tramlines was 10 years old this year and no one can doubt that this was the best one so far. It is probably fair to say that it has been on a bit of a journey in recent years as it outgrew the city centre and searched for the new format. This year it found it and if any other city wants to look for a blueprint of a vibrant, energetic, inclusive and safe celebration that brings an entire city to life then look no further than Tramlines.

For me, what is most pleasing is that Tramlines is about Sheffield doing it for itself.

We are a music city that has always kept itself fresh – music in Sheffield is about now, not nostalgia.

Ten years ago a group of people in the music scene of Sheffield talked to us about the idea and we backed it. Crucially, though, we kept out of the way when it came to the programming – you really don’t want the Council choosing your music!

It worked and for the weekend of Tramlines all that music that is happening in Sheffield comes out and shows itself either in a bar or club or on the street or on the main stage.

The sadness though that Sarah Nulty, one of the guiding lights of Tramlines, was no longer with us for the 10 th anniversary cannot go away.

Too talented and too young to be taken so soon. Tramlines showed absolute determination to remember her.

So questions about social care and goshawks, gender pay equality and a social movement to tackle the scourge of spice, trees and bins and the most authentic music festival of any city. All very Sheffield.