“All eyes are on Sheffield now” – will the rest of the country follow after successful city referendum?

“We have had so much interest throughout the campaign from areas all over the country, people fed up with poor decision making and lack of democracy,” says It’s Our City co-chair who hopes whole country will follow in Sheffield’s ‘footsteps’ following referendum win.

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 6:00 am
It's Our City campaigners hope the committee system will be implemented in areas around the country.

It was announced on Monday, May 10, that Sheffield had voted by 89,670 votes to 48,727 to change the way the council is run in the end of a campaign that has been years in the making.

The referendum was triggered by the group, It’s Our City, after it gathered a petition signed by more than five per cent of city voters, or more than 26,000 people.

Their success means that the council will have to change the way it is run and how decisions are made, from a strong leader and cabinet model, to a modern committee system. The group says the vote will ‘restore local democracy to Sheffield, where all councillors have the right to play a real role in council decision-making’ rather than just the lead political party.

"There’s lots of eyes on Sheffield," says Anne Barr from It's Our City. Picture: Chris Etchells

It’s Our City co-chair Anne Barr told the Telegraph she hoped Sheffield will now ‘create a blueprint’ for other cities to follow suit.

The result was announced before a Leeds councillor quit Labour over alleged ‘institutionalised bullying’, and has called for a committee governance system, similar to the one that will now come in in Sheffield.

Anne said: “What a wonderful thing it would be now Sheffield has the chance to create a blueprint for a modern committee system that can be used as a blueprint for all other areas of the country if they so wish to follow in our footsteps.

"There’s lots of eyes on Sheffield now, because there’s many people watching what happens with this result.

Woll Newall and Anne Barr from It's Our City. Picture: Chris Etchells

"There’s a councillor in Leeds – and he talks about institutionalised bullying of the strong leader and cabinet there. That was amazing for us to read that.

"We have had so much interest throughout the campaign from areas all over the country, fed up with poor decision making and lack of democracy, who actually got in touch and started off asking questions about it.

"We got so many enquiries we had to get a special section on our website.”

Monday’s referendum result at the English Institute of Sport came just days after a rollercoaster local election count on Friday. That left Sheffield Council with no single party in overall control as Labour lost their majority (see pages 8&9 for local election results.)

The Broomhill area of Sheffield. Lawson Road. Picture Scott Merrylees

Now, it is up to the elected parties to find a solution for the city – and the It’s Our City co-chair hopes they will create a ‘cross-party cabinet’ until the new committee system is designed and phased in over a year.

Anne, of Nether Edge, said: "I have been reading online that there is some hope that it will be a cross-party cabinet.

“From our point of view it would be great because the Labour leadership, although many members supported us, the Labour leadership has not been moving with us, they’ve been not wanting to change, so therefore we are wondering whether they are going to put much effort into coming up with a visionary modern committee system which is tailor made to the needs of Sheffield and its residents?

"The more eyes we have on the design of that, the more likely it is to be a good one.”

The team of residents behind It’s Our City will now take time out to ‘reflect’ after four years of hard work.

That work has included talking to voters, on streets, in parks and online during lockdown, as well as delving into the intricacies of the Localism Act 2011.

They held nine brainstorming sessions around kitchen tables, held 80 open meetings and formed a network of volunteers.

They hope that the council will find a solution quickly, and that other places nationally will reach out to adopt the system – one that is ‘collaborative’ and ‘cooperative’. It’s Out City also thanked residents for voting for change.

Anne added: "What we are hoping for, our vision for the new design, has always been the simple message that we will have cross party, collaborative, cooperative working and community inclusion, where groups are really consulted and actually listened to.

“It’s like David and Goliath – you take on the establishment and it is a hard job. In spite of everything thrown in our way, we have actually accomplished it.”

Coun Terry Fox, new leader of Sheffield Labour, congratulated It’s Our City on its victory and said: “We want to use this result as a positive opportunity to improve how the council works and deliver what the people want to see from the council."

People power was also in action in Broomhill, Broomfield, Endcliffe, Summerfield and Tapton where seven years of hard work on creating the city’s first neighbourhood plan has taken place. Almost 92 per cent of people voted in favour of the plan in another referendum for around 7,500 residents on polling day, May 6.

The plan, which has been developed by the BBEST Neighbourhood Forum, gives residents more power when planning priorities for their area, such as developing green spaces, identifying locations for new homes, and influencing plans for infrastructure and retail.

Professor Peter Marsh, chair of the BBEST Forum, said: “We are delighted with the 92 per cent majority. It shows the truth about what the planning inspector said about our work – we had exemplary public engagement, so I hope it is a message that if you do that, you do get backing and some things in the city haven’t been lie that recently.

"I think it reinforces the idea of more democracy around the city, and I hope the new regime that takes over can do that and I hope it reinforces for neighbourhood planners that it is worth doing, and that you can get there and can have a useful product that will improve local neighbourhoods.”