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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Last year I wrote about the problems with how we currently elect councillors and England & Wales, about how First Past The Post allows parties with a minority of support to get a majority of seats, undermines accountability and contributes to lower voter turnout. I suggested how we could fix all these problems, by electing our councillors using the same system used in Scotland and Northern Ireland: The Single Transferable Vote (STV). Well after another round of local elections we have a yet another set of results which show how our democracy is being undermined by our “winner takes all” electoral system. Read the rest of this entry »
On May 3rd this year Sheffield, along with 9 other English cities (including Wakefield, Manchester and Leeds), will hold a referendum on whether to have an Elected Mayor. This would mean moving away from the current Cabinet-based council system to an Executive model with council powers concentrated into a single individual elected by voters across the city. If the referendum is successful then elections will be held in November. The referendums were initiated by the recent passing of the Localism Act in November 2011.
At yesterday’s meeting of the Steering Group we discussed the mayoral referendum and whether to support, oppose or remain neutral on the issue. It was noted that so far there had been little public information and discussion of the relative merits of either side. It was eventually agreed that Sheffield for Democracy would be a neutral party in the debate and would seek to provide a platform for discussion and to encourage participation in the elections to ensure the legitimacy of the result.
We are therefore inviting guest blogpost contributions to the debate to put forward the arguments in favour or against changing to an elected mayoral system, or even to provide a neutral view. Contributions are welcome from supporters of any political parties or none or any charity or organisation concerned with local democracy. For fairness we ask that contributions are limited to around 500 words (a single side of A4). Please email your contributions to email@example.com.