Please watch this excellent video by C G P Grey from his Politics in the Animal Kingdom series of explanatory videos about elections and politics. This gives a good summary of the main problems with FPTP and why we are campaigning for reform of our political system.
The following is a copy of our response to Sheffield City Council’s consultation on the future of the seven local Community Assemblies.
1. What do you think will be the impact of the Community Assemblies structure being replaced with a Ward-based Model/Area based infrastructure?
We are aware that Communities Assemblies have been of mixed effectiveness, and our view is that a structure at ward-level is likely to be more effective – indeed, for local involvement, likely to be the highest level at which community allegiance can be effectively harnessed to decision making. A good number of the existing ward forums work well, but in some, there are no such forums, so they would need to be developed, or to find some way (as with some currently) to coordinate the opinions of various local groups (tenants, friends of park etc). Ward-based forums could potentially involve more people as they are seen as more relevant, closer, to a locality , but the massive reduction in support staff would mean (presumably) fewer meetings, so less continuity and engagement if (say) they can only meet 2 or 3 times a year.
However, we are of the view that there needs to be something between Cabinet and Ward Forums. If the Ward Forum comes up with a shopping list of priorities, where does that go for decision? Obviously our elected representatives have a role here but we would like to see some kind of scrutiny function, including some from the Forums, with maybe a “Sheffield 100 Forum” or “Citizens’ Panel” being re-visited.
What we fear is the loss of the knowledge of how the system works and who to contact about what, as happened when Community Assemblies took over from Area Panels. And for how long might the new structure continue before being itself reorganised. A commitment to the long term would be welcomed; constant change rather than gradual evolution of structures, is debilitating of effort and knowledge. But it would mean the different political parties pulling together; if this could be achieved, it would be a huge step forwards.
The constitutional framework of any structure that replaces the Community Assemblies must be put in place, so that it does not end up with Ward Forums suggesting things that the Cabinet then turns down, to the frustration of all.
2. What do you think might be the impact of the discretionary grants budget being reduced?
Our view is that some of the money goes towards supporting small and sometimes informal organisations and projects where there would be a dramatic effect, including a collapse, without it, and in other cases, goes to enhancing the existing work in a way that is not crucial to the survival of that organisation or project. We would like to see an emphasis on support for those organisations that would otherwise not survive.
3. What is your view about the grants being allocated to wards, targeting areas with the most disadvantage?
All wards should have a minimum grant level. Some of the most deprived areas can already access additional funds, from City Council, Government, or Europe, but have to know how to apply, to be able to keep clear records and to be formally accountable. Many small organisations do not have the resources to be able to do so, and we would support small amounts of money, in addition to the minimum grant, being made available in these wards proportionate to the level of disadvantage.
4. What are your views about the abolition of the current 7 Community Assembly Support Teams and replacing this with a smaller centrally managed Officer Support Team?
We regret the loss of the local teams, some of which are excellent and have served their neighbourhoods well, being responsive to their needs, and have highly skilled community managers who have formed good links with their communities, and have kept their communities informed of what is happening. However, we recognise the financial straits the Council is working within, and understand the rationale for moving to one central support team. We understand that this is likely to mean a more restricted ability to organise meetings and to follow up contacts and even decisions, which will be a loss. Also for those active in their communities, there will be a loss of expertise and effectiveness as they have to re-learn who to contact for what, and also to scale down their expectations of what is possible.
5. Are there any other comments you would like to make about the proposals?
To reiterate points we have made previously about not wanting to see the future of Community Assemblies and Ward Forums become a political football. New proposals should be widely discussed and consensus sought, with real attempts to include all councillors including those of the opposition parties, with a commitment not to change them year after year, to the frustration of both staff and communities. We are expressing our interest in participating in the further consultation planned from April when our above suggestions could be discussed in more detail.
This is a response to the consultation from “Sheffield for Democracy” c/o Vicky Seddon. We note that there is no space on your Page 3 for organisations like ourselves to identify themselves, giving the impression that our views are not welcome. This is a weakness of this consultation, and given that there is no other space to include our identification, I am doing it here.
Sheffield for Democracy and Sheffield City Council held a public meeting, as part of Local Democracy Week, to discuss the future of Community Assemblies in Sheffield. Over thirty people attended the meeting, which was chaired by Vicky Seddon and had a panel which included Councillor Mahzer Iqbal, who is currently responsible for Community Assemblies, and David Baker, who helped establish them.
We have finished compiled a report of the proceedings of that meeting and a summary of the discussions and suggestions made by members of the public. We would appreciate any comments you may have about the report’s findings.
(You may need to install a PDF viewer such as Adobe Reader to open it.)
Vicky Seddon, Coordinator of Sheffield for Democracy, gives this personal view of the hustings held on 5th November.
72 people turned out to hear all five candidates tell us why they are standing to be Commissioner, in a meeting jointly hosted by Sheffield First Partnership, “Sheffield for Democracy” and the Star Newspaper. All thought that an elected commissioner was not the right thing to have, or that the process had been badly handled, but they thought that, given there was going to be one, they were the right person to do it. Many of the comments we had received before the meeting also disagreed with the whole process, seeing it as imposed by central government, who hadn’t even bothered to put it to us in a referendum like the ill-fated proposal for elected mayors.
David Allen the English Democrat referred to the ancient office of Constable, who should be out on the beat preventing crime. He saw the two main tasks as altering the precept (i.e. financing police) and the ability to discipline or dismiss the Chief Constable.
Jonathan Arnott, the very energetic ex- General Secretary of UKIP, had much experience of working in community organisations, and working with young people, had a grandfather who was a policeman and a father who was a magistrate. Keeping the streets safe was his main priority. He wanted 24 hour police stations in Doncaster, Barnsley and Rotherham, as in Sheffield. He intended to appoint a known Lib Dem as his deputy.
Nigel Bronson, Conservative, had been a police officer for 30 years, and a total of 38 years in public service, so believed he was well qualified. This was a job selection process; he was not running a political campaign, and was not going to make promises that could not be kept. He had wide experience of “Safer Cites” programme including in high crime estates. If other agencies did their bit, the police could get back to tackling crime.
The Lib Dem Robert Teal’s pitch was that you could trust him. Policing by consent was crucial, as he had discovered in his role as magistrate. If trust was lost, people stopped reporting crime. However, he was not going to make pledges that could not be kept. He would offer clear leadership.
Shaun Wright , Labour, listed his experience; magistrate, ex shop steward, now councillor in Rotherham, Vice Chair of SY Police, Rotherham’s Children’s Trust. His vision was to make SY a safer place to live, learn and work. Priority was in protecting vulnerable groups: women (from domestic violence), children (from grooming and abuse), the elderly and drug users .
Wright’s record in Rotherham on the grooming issue was criticised by other candidates. Arnott challenged other candidates to say who they would appoint as deputy; none complied. All were asked whether they would support the call for an independent inquiry into collusion and dishonesty over police statements on Orgreave where 95 miners were charged with affray and all acquitted; all were in favour but said that SY police could not afford such an inquiry; funding needed to come from national purse.
Questions from the audience
Questions asked included whether this was a move towards Americanisation, and the extent to which the candidates would continue their allegiance to their political parties rather than exercise their own judgement. They all said they would not take instructions from their parties.
Candidates made a distinction between operational matters (responsibility of Chief Constable) and their role, with strategic perspective. Arnott insisted that more bobbies on the beat would general more confident and was what people want; Bronson and Wright said that one of the challenges was dealing with such popular demands in the face of research evidence e on the most effective use of resources.
Peter Bradley of Sheffield Cathedral, chaired the session very fairly and ensured a reasoned debate. On leaving, some people told me they were still unsure whether to vote for a candidate, or to abstain or spoil their paper because they disagreed so strongly with the process.
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Hustings
Peak Lecture Theatre,
Sheffield Hallam University (The Owen Building),
This is your chance to hear and put questions to the candidates.
- DAVID ALLEN – English Democrats
- JONATHAN ARNOTT – UKIP
- NIGEL BONSON – Conservative
- ROBERT TEAL – Liberal Democrats
- SHAUN WRIGHT- Labour
This is the only open invite event that we know of in Sheffield, and likely to be popular, so arrive in good time! Please let us know if you will be attending by signing-up for the event via the Unlock Democracy website: http://action.unlockdemocracy.org.uk/page/event/detail/publicmeeting/jt4
|Time:||Monday, November 5, 2012 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM GMT|
Many events are being held as part of Local Democracy Week, which runs from Monday 15th October to Sunday 21st October and below is a list just some of the events which make up the Sheffield Speaks programme during Local Democracy Week.We’ve indicated which are open to the public and provided links to further information.
Entry to all open events is free.
Monday 15 October
- Speakers’ Corner in front of the Town Hall: 10.45am-2.00 pm, hosted by Sheffield City Council and Churches Together
- to book your 60 second slot, please call 2734072
- Councillors visit Youth Clubs – organised by the South Community Assembly, Councillors visit different youth clubs, every evening of the week
Tuesday 16 October
- Speakers’ Corner at Hallam Square: 12.00 -1.00 pm Tuesday
- Primary School visits and activities at the Town Hall
- Illuminating Our Democracy? The Role of Free Speech and a Free Press– lecture and discussion led by John Steel, lecturer in Journalism Studies at Sheffield University – Council Chamber, Town Hall 6.00 – 8.00 pm
- Open to the public – for more information, please call 2734072
Wednesday 17 October
- Primary School visits and activities at the Town Hall
- Youth Forum Launch (Woodthorpe/East): Woodthorpe Youth Centre, Chadwick Road
- Open to the public – for more information, please contact April Ellis (Locality Involvement Lead – East) at email@example.com or telephone 0114 201 2782
- Dragon’s Den at the Young People’s Building – Council officers pitch their ideas for community engagement for young people to judge
- Health & Community Care– an opportunity to listen to and participate in the Council’s Scrutiny Committee’s meeting on these key issues: Town Hall 2.00pm
- South Community Assembly Community Roadshow – public services and local organisations welcome engagement with the community: Common Ground/St Peter’s (Woodstock Road) 4.00 – 6.00 pm
- Open to the public – for more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 2053281
- Northern Community AssemblyMeeting – the Northern Youth Forum presents its community action plan: Ecclesfield Primary School 6.30 pm
- Open to the public – for more information, please contact email@example.com or telephone 2037153
Thursday 18 October
- Speakers’ Corner at Hallam Square: 1.00 – 2.00 pm
- Our Sheffield – older people visit a local primary school to discuss their city with a group of eight year-olds in an initiative organised by the Sheffield Star
- Cabinet in the Community at South West Community Assembly– the Council’s Cabinet goes out into the community at Banner Cross Methodist Church, Ecclesall Road South: 5.00 pm Cabinet in the Community / 7.00 pm Community Assembly Meeting
- Open to the public – for more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 2037212
- Police Commissioner Hustingsorganised by Sheffield Third Sector Assembly / Voluntary Action Sheffield for local groups involved in community safety and crime reduction
- Open to voluntary and community groups – for more information, please contact Paul Harvey at email@example.com or on 0114 253 6614
- The Sheffield Past, Present and Future debate- Town Hall 5.00-7.00pm – organised by Sheffield 50+ and Sheffield Futures; in Local Democracy Week, can young and older people agree how best to make their voices heard?
- For more information, please contact Julie Berrisford on 0114 273 5426
- Participate – a talk and discussion organised by the Workers’ Educational Association about why people do or do not participate in the democratic process (the taster for a course starting in January 2013): Town Hall 6.00-8.00 pm
Friday 19 October
- Speakers’ Corner at Hallam Square: 1.00 – 2.00 pm
- City Talks – The Great Debate – a day of debate at the Town Hall designed to give 11-18 year-olds the opportunity to express themselves, exchange views, gain confidence and boost engagement, organised by the Council’s Every Sheffield Child Articulate and Literate programme
- For more information, please contact ESCAL on 0114 293 0984 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday 23 October
- Community Assemblies: the Way Forward?- A meeting organised by Sheffield for Democracy, for community organisations and activists to share ideas on how community assemblies might develop: Town Hall, 6.30-8.30 pm
“Community Assemblies – the Way Forward?”
A meeting organised by Sheffield for Democracy, for community organisations and activists to share ideas on how Sheffield’s Community Assemblies might develop.
This event is part of the Sheffield Speaks! programme, an initiative by the Speakers’ Corner Trust to help promote the importance of democracy and to encourage greater local participation.
This event is free and open to all. There’s no need to book in advance.
For more information please contact Vicky Seddon on email@example.com.
Local Works is an Unlock Democracy project to encourage communities to make the most of the Sustainable Communities Act. In an email to supporters they announced a campaign to get local people to encourage their council to opt-in to the act.
In June, we reversed the government’s plans to weaken the Sustainable Communities Act and got them to make regulations that strengthen it.
The Sustainable Communities Act will only help you and your community IF your council now chooses to opt in and use it. But it is not compulsory for them to do so.
There have already been some great results from the Act: For example people in Sheffield have used the Act to protect local Post Offices from closure and increase their usage.
Other results from the Act have been for rate relief to help small businesses and promote local jobs; allowing rates collected from renewable energy schemes to be reinvested into the local area and ending the practice of excessive building by developers in residential gardens.
Our communities continue to decline at an alarming rate – one in six shops lies empty. The results above show we can use the Act not only to stop that decline, but to actually reverse it.
The Act is the only mechanism that can make government take action to help our communities. It has seeded the potential for real change. However, that potential will only be realised if our councils get involved too. So I am asking for your help.
When your council gets involved, you and your community can then put your own ideas forward for new government action to reverse community decline and create truly sustainable communities.
Your council, if it uses the Act, has a duty under it to not merely consult local people but to try to reach agreement with them on what proposals for action will be submitted to central government.
From the Unlock Democracy website:
Unlock Democracy and the Electoral Reform society would like to invite you to a conference with a twist; this time, you, our activists, will be invited to tell us who should speak and what theyll be speaking about.
We’re planning a day that’ll be jam-packed with speakers, workshops, discussions and meet and greet sessions.
On the 20th of October, activists for democracy from all around the country will gather in Birmingham to share ideas, tips, and thoughts about how we can all make our campaigns more successful.
Unlock Democracy and the Electoral Reform society know that our activists are in the best place to know what their needs are, and how we can cater to them. Thats why we really want you to get engaged in helping us to help you.
The next meeting of the Sheffield for Democracy Steering Group will be on Sunday 23rd September, from 3pm-5pm at The Old Queens Head public house, Sheffield.
All supporters are welcome to attend.