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.)
Following our successful joint event with Sheffield City Council on proposed changes to Local Government, the Sheffield for Democracy Steering Group has drafted a response, included below.
We welcome comments and suggestions; in particular, we invite you to make your own representations. Please reply to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday 5th October 2012.
1. We held a public meeting, jointly organised by ourselves and Sheffield City Council, attended by over 50 people; our response is informed by their opinions.
2. Our response overall is to recognise the significance of the proposals, described by some as a Magna Carta for Local Government. They would create a very different basis for the relation between national and local government, which would demand a change in perspective, attitude and culture. It would mean national politicians ceasing to feel they must act whenever there was a scandalous situation locally for which they would no longer be seen as responsible (Baby P case springs to mind).
3. We also recognise that the code contains not only statements of intent but also practical measures that would ensure the moving of power from central to local, including legal remedies.
4. On both counts, we welcome the proposals. The move to local choices, which will be different In different places, as suits the local environment and preferred ways of tackling issues, instead of a one-size–fits-all approach, seems eminently sensible and democratic. Concern has been expressed over the potential difficulties that could arise when a Local Authority has inadequate revenue or resources to meet its legal obligations.
Renaissance of Local Government?
Friday 22nd June 2012, 6.00pm – 7.45 pm at Town Hall, Sheffield
In collaboration with Sheffield City Council, Sheffield for Democracy is hosting an event to discuss proposals to strengthen the independence of local government.
The last fifty years have seen a growing centralisation of power in England with local government having less autonomy and becoming more and more local administration of central government policy.
The Westminster Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform has made some radical proposals which could change this and are consulting on them. This meeting is an opportunity to hear about these changes and their implications, and to discuss how they might improve our democracy.
- Clive Betts MP,
- Howard Sykes (Local Government Association and ex leader of Oldham Council), and
- Peter Facey (Director of Unlock Democracy) will help us explore the proposed changes.
Both Sheffield City Council and Sheffield for Democracy will be making (separate) submissions and this discussion will inform our thinking.
You are invited to attend. Entry is free, however places are limited.
To reserve a place, please contact Richard Cannon either by email via email@example.com.
Further information on the draft code for central and local government can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/
Sheffield for Democracy welcomes supporters of all political parties or none. We want to engage and encourage greater participation of the public in democracy at a local level in Sheffield and encourage young people to become more interested in politics by making them aware of how relevant it is to their lives.
On 12 April 2012, we held a public meeting in Sheffield on “Open up Lobbying” which 60 people attended, to discuss and comment on the lobbying proposals. Speakers were Tamasin Cave of Spinwatch, Councillor Joe Otten, and Paul Blomfield MP. Based on that debate and other discussions between our supporters Sheffield for Democracy made a submission to the consultation on proposals for a statutory register of lobbyists, which closed last Friday.
Our report touches upon various issues related to lobbying in, including this bit regarding current political culture:
The unsatisfactory nature of the current situation, on access to influence and power, is well known and acknowledged, including by the Prime Minister, famously quoted as saying: “It is the next big scandal waiting to happen.” All three main political parties have been embarrassed at some point in the last three years by the action of some of their MPs and Lords.
The culture of lack of trust in our politicians encourages a belief that sleaze is inevitable, that ordinary voters have little if any influence, so that that voting cannot make a difference, with fewer people then bothering to vote, especially amongst those who are most needy and vulnerable. This is what politicians are hearing on the doorstep. One worry is about the disengagement of part of the population; another is the demand for extreme forms of direct democracy.
Not that all our politicians are tainted by poor practices; the majority are not, but suffer the same public disapproval which is damaging. Our media often assume this.
You can read more by downloading our Consultation Submission here (PDF, 376KB).
Last week the Coalition Government published its response to the consultation on its plans for implementing Individual Voter Registration. Members of the public and democracy groups had raised concerned about certain provisions in the proposals, which included removing the current legal requirement for people to register by introducing an opt-out. The Government have made the following changes to their proposals:
- The Coalition Government will now hold a full household canvas in spring 2014, deferring the planned canvass from autumn 2013.
- The new right to “opt out” of registration will not be introduced in its originally proposed form; People who wish to opt-out may be required to fill out a separate form or the opt-out may be dropped altogether.
- The government plans to consult more widely on whether or not to make non-registration an offence.
Unlock Democracy have been a key part of the campaign to improve the proposals and they had this to say:
This is an entirely welcome step forward and we are pleased the government has listened to the concerns it received about its original proposals. More than 750 responded to our push to get people to respond directly to the consultation, while over 2,100 people used our website to write to their MP about the issue.
Unlock Democracy has always supported the introduction of individual elector registration itself as an important tool for tackling voter fraud. Our concerns with the government proposals have always been over the pace the government planned to introduce the new system and the introduction of the “opt out” which we believe would have a negative impact in terms of both voter participation and the jury system.
Read more: Government backtracks on new voter registration rules (Unlock Democracy).
Sheffield City Council’s 28 wards are divided into 7 Community Assemblies (4 wards per assembly) which “aim to bring decision-making closer to local people”. Each assembly has a budget to spend on local projects and things like road improvements. The decisions of the assemblies are made by the 12 Councillors from its constituent wards based on reports drawn up by Council Officers and submissions made by the public.
The Labour administration in Sheffield are considering the future of community assemblies, however to the best of our knowledge there has never been a thorough review of the function and effectiveness of Community Assemblies.
We believe no decision can legitimately be made about their future without such a review and consulting the people of Sheffield – the people whom the assemblies are meant to serve.
We have launched an online survey to find out what you think about the Assemblies so that we can put a proposal about the future of Community Assemblies to Sheffield City Council to make sure that local people have a proper say in any changes. To complete the survey please select the link below.
The following is a copy of our letter to the Sheffield Telegraph regarding the future of Sheffield’s seven Community Assemblies.
In the light of renewed interest in local democracy, and communities wishing to have their say, we want to know what will happen to community involvement and participation in Sheffield. Bringing decision making closer to neighbourhoods is a good way to tackle political apathy.
In the past Labour set up Area Panels, and the Liberal Democrats set up Community Assemblies. Both models have advantages as well as disadvantages; the Area Panels were for consultation, the Assemblies for local decision making including on some local budgets. We understand the future of the Community Assemblies is now under consideration