A look back at Julie Dore's time as leader of Sheffield City Council

Whether it’s tree felling, devolution or referendums, there’s no doubt Council Leader Julie Dore has been at the helm through a turbulent and controversial decade.

Wednesday, 15th January 2020, 11:20 am

She is standing down in May after 20 years as a councillor, nine of them leading one of the biggest authorities in the country.

Her time has coincided with deep and sustained budget cuts from 10 years of austerity and she weathered a revolt from her own Deputy, Cabinet member and colleagues.

Sheffield was thrust onto the international stage with the mass tree felling programme as part of the controversial Streets Ahead contract with Amey.

Coun Julie Dore
Coun Julie Dore

Almost 10,000 people joined Sheffield Tree Action Group (STAG) to campaign against the mass removal of the street trees. Campaigners went to the High Court for a judicial review to halt the chopping.

Peaceful protesters were then arrested during a dawn chainsaw massacre of trees, under the Trade Union Relation Act normally used if there is industrial action.

Green councillor Alison Teal was one of several protestors arrested and threatened with prison.

STAG, the council and Amey are now working together on a new approach to managing trees but there have been more protests, this time from a new campaign group.

It’s Our City campaigners have challenged the council’s Cabinet and strong leader model, saying a committee system is more democratic.

They collected a 26,000 name petition which has prompted a citywide referendum in May.

Coun Dore, aged 59, has said previously: “I fully accept as a council we should always look for continuous improvement and engagement. I don’t personally object to a committee system but I want to look at what the issues are and what the barriers are.”

The It’s Our City petition was the catalyst for some of Coun Dore’s closest allies to openly turn against her. Within hours of the petition being handed in, Deputy Council Leader Olivia Blake sensationally quit to support It’s Our City.

Cabinet member Lewis Dagnall, who is married to Coun Blake, also resigned and three more councillors came out against the leadership.

It came just three months after Coun Terry Fox challenged Coun Dore for the party leadership. He has since become Deputy Leader.

There’s also been a stalement with fellow council leaders in South Yorkshire over devolution. The four leaders of Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster still cannot agree a deal, despite Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis being elected in May 2018.

In the background to protests and political disagreements, there’s been ever decreasing budgets and ever increasing cuts to services thanks to government austerity.

Since 2010 the council’s budget has been cut by £460 million and Coun Dore has been vocal about the impact.

She said last year: “Austerity has devastated council funding by continuously slashing government grants over the course of a decade.This has put councils across the country on the brink.

“These figures are shocking and have led to a reduction in services across the council at the same time as the impact of austerity has meant there is greater need for our services than ever and the costs of providing them are growing significantly.

“The Government is completely out of touch with the impact that its decisions have on real people’s lives and the real costs of austerity such as the avalanche of food banks and growth in homelessness.”

Former Labour Council Leader Jan Wilson was able to garner support, funding and ministerial visits thanks to a New Labour government.

By contrast, Coun Dore arrived in the aftermath of a credit crunch. She’s battled a Conservative government and siesmic budget cuts, all under the shadow of Brexit.

Despite an economic downturn, Heart of the City 2 is flourising, bringing new investment, companies, shops and jobs to the city centre.

She has always strived for equality, often saying she is proud Sheffield is a City of Sanctuary, and pioneered a Fairness Commission highlighting the gulf between the richest and most disadvantaged areas of the city.

Coun Dore was brought up on the Wybourn before moving to Arbourthorne to start secondary school. Growing up in a large family, she often discussed politics with her relatives.

At 16 she left Hurfield School and joined the Young Socialist Party before she became a member of Labour at 18 and trained to be a quantity surveyor.

After marrying and having two children, she stood in her ward’s by-election in 2010, amidst a difficult time for Labour when the Liberal Democrats dominated seats.

“I never wanted to be a politician. A lot of people aspire to be politicians from early ages and progress through it as a career but I’ve never had that aspiration. I already had a young family and a career I loved. Politics for me was about changing people’s lives and making a difference,” Coun Dore said last year.

She’s always been passionate about being a grassroots ward councillor and will no doubt miss that aspect.

She once said: “Arbourthorne is full of people who are salt of the earth, it’s a genuinely working-class area full of characters. It has its challenges but there are some really good people.

“It makes it easier when you are embedded in the ward because more people know you and your family, you are more accessible and they believe you are one of them.

“I enjoyed being a ward councillor very much because you make changes to lots of individual lives as you do lots of case work and can get involved in policy making.”

Coun Dore lives in Gleadless with her husband of 32 years and two sons. A lot of her personal time is spent caring for son Tom, who has autism.