Letter: There must be a clear and strong link between the LACs and the Town Hall

This letter was written by Mike Reynolds, Former chair of SW Community Assembly

Friday, 25th June 2021, 8:40 am
Sheffield Town Hall. Picture Scott Merrylees

I am very pleased to see that there is cross-party agreement in principle over devolution of power from the Town Hall to local communities, by means of the Local Area Committees (LACs).

As chair of the South West Community Assembly under the Liberal Democrat administration of 2009-2011, I would like to reflect upon the experience and offer a couple of suggestions.

My first suggestion is that there must be a clear and strong link between the LACs an the Town Hall centrally by means of a ‘Communities Committee’ as one of the new committees now being formulated. Each of the chairs of the LACs would sit on this committee plus – this is important – one or two experienced councilors not chairs of an LAC in order to create a balance between LAC chairs and other experienced councilors. That way the needs of a local area can best be harmonized with the plans and policies of the city as a whole, and tensions ironed out.

My second suggestion - and this is where I think we can do better than we did on the old Community Assemblies – is that we must involve residents as stakeholders more than we did in the decision-making process. We need a more bottom up approach than we had before. Here are two ways that this can be done. Maintain close connections with the various local forums– e.g. Ecclesall Forum – Friends’ Groups, TARAs, etc., and involve them in LAC discussions and meetings. What’s more, if a certain number of residents are really concerned about some issue – housing, schooling road safety, whatever – they should have the right to call a meeting to have it discussed and decided at the LAC. Ther number of residents needed to trigger this procedure should be kept as small as possible.

It is very good to see the commitment to devolution in principle. Now it must be made to work in practice. Sheffield, under the current political situation of No Overall Control, has an excellent opportunity to do so. Power to the people!