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.)
This is a brief report on the Steering Group Meeting of Sheffield for Democracy, held at the Old Queen’s head, Sheffield on Sunday 20th May 2012 between 3pm and 5pm.
Lobbying and House of Lords reform
We began our meeting with an update on both Lobbying and House of Lords reform. The group believes that the current proposals on lobbying reform are too feeble. It was noted that House of Lords reform was included in the Queen’s Speech.
Lack of proportionality in local election results
As mentioned in a previous post, Vicky Seddon has written a letter in the Sheffield Telegraph about the recent local election results and Proportional Representation (PR), which appeared in the paper 10/05/12. If local elections were carried out using a system of Proportional Representation they would better reflect the wishes of the voters and give us a much broader-based Sheffield City Council. The exact outcome of a local election using PR may vary according to which system of PR is chosen and number of candidates in the multi-member wards and also people may change how they vote under PR, with some voters having less need for tactical voting. Northern Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system for its local and Assembly elections, as does Scotland (since 3rd May 2007, which came about due to the devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament). The London Assembly, Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament all use the Additional Member System (AMS) for their elections. European Parliament election in England, Wales and Scotland use a Closed List System, whereas Northern Ireland uses STV to elect their region’s representatives.
Sheffield had the biggest vote against having a directly-elected Mayor, 65% against & 35% for. Doncaster voted yes to retaining its existing directly-elected Mayor (62% for & 38% against). Bristol voted for having a directly-elected mayor (53.3% for & 46.7% against). (Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Wakefield voted against having a directly-elected Mayor).
Public meeting on local government
There was an update on the arrangements for a future public meeting on changing the relationship between local government and Parliament, to make local government more independent of central control. More information about that will be published in due course.
We had a recap on Community Assemblies from Alan Kewley. It was suggested that Community Assemblies:
- haven’t come up to expectations and need reform to do the job better;
- vary in terms of structure and public engagement depending upon the area;
- need more powers to make their own decisions on spending, etc.;
- need to have smaller ward-level forums, which were part of the original proposals but never put into practice.
Electoral Registration and Administration Bill
We had an update regarding the latest proposals for individual voter registration rather than the household voter registration that we have at present. Current proposal for Individual mandatory voter registration instead of the previous idea of individual voluntary voter registration is welcomed. A household canvass is to take place in spring 2014, deferred from Autumn 2013, in order to ensure more people are registered. The constituency boundary changes to create more equal electoral districts will take place in 2015 and are in the same bill.
The next meeting will be on Sunday 8th July at 3pm at the Old Queen’s Head, Sheffield.
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
The following is a copy of our letter to Councillor Ms Julie Dore, Leader of Sheffield City Council, regarding the future of Sheffield’s seven Community Assemblies. Copies were also sent to Councillors Mick Rooney (Labour), Shaffaq Mohammed (Liberal Democrats) and Jillian Creasy (Green Party).
Dear Councillor Dore,
We understand that the future of Community Assemblies is under consideration.
I am enclosing a summary of comments from our supporters who have had experience of the work of the Assemblies: it is based on the experience of 5 out of the 7 Assemblies, and represents views from across the political spectrum. You will see that they make two points very strongly: first that the future of the Community Assemblies should not become a political football between the two main parties; second, that any proposals for change should seek to develop the good intentions of both main parties to involve local communities in decision making (albeit using different models) and should protect the positive aspects of networking and close working that is developing in some areas.
Sheffield for Democracy has today published a report on its supporters’ experiences with the seven Community Assemblies in Sheffield. This report has been drawn up in parallel with an ongoing public consultation it is holding about the wider Sheffield public’s experiences and comes as Sheffield for Democracy have issued open letters to leaders of the political parties on Sheffield City Council.
The key message of this report is that people do not want the future of Community Assemblies to become a political football between the two main parties.
The current Community Assemblies should be seen as a starting point for discussion, with room for development and change, and not things as they are being defended at all costs. No one who had experience of the Assemblies felt that they should be disbanded. Several supporters believe that it would be a great loss if the Assemblies were disbanded or curtailed to the point where Council business was merely reported rather than discussed.