'They have carte blanche now': Sheffield politics gets shaken up again

Plus, the rest of our weekly briefing

Dear Tribune readers — we decided to delay our weekly briefing by a day so we could include the result of the referendum on how Sheffield is governed.

That news came through yesterday afternoon, and the campaign to move the council to a “committee system” won by a massive majority. We take a look at what that means and bring you all our usual recommended reads, things to do and photos from the city.

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The big story: Sheffield votes for change

The top line: Sheffield has voted to change the way its council operates by a huge margin, becoming the first major city anywhere in the UK to reject the ‘strong leader model’ of local governance in favour of a ‘modern committee system’.

  • Now the hard part begins: how will the new system operate in practice, and how will a council with no clear leadership (after Labour lost control last week) design it within the allocated year?

The background: In June 2018, a new group called It’s Our City! launched an ambitious attempt to change the way the council operated. Born out of the long-running tree scandal which pitted many residents against city leaders, campaigners said the change would make the council more democratic by involving more of Sheffield’s 84 councillors in the decision making.

  • The result: Coming so soon after Labour lost control of the council after a decade in power, the result is a devastating verdict on the way the council has been run for the last 10 years. The leadership’s decision to fight the referendum campaign tooth and nail, losing cabinet members and votes in the process, has backfired in spectacular fashion.

The victors: To get almost 90,000 people to vote to change something as arcane as a city’s governance system with a 2 to 1 margin is a major accomplishment. This is what the campaign said straight after the result was announced:

As there is no party with a majority in the council, a new more cooperative approach is required from all political parties. A new council leader must be elected and, now that the referendum has succeeded, it is vital that they are someone who has supported the call for change and is enthusiastic about leading a cooperative process to design and pilot the new system.

What happens next? The council has one year to create the new system, but there is no rulebook for how this must be done. More than 30 councils have adopted modern committee systems since 2012, but It’s Our City! say Sheffield’s must be designed to fit the city. Campaign leader Anne Barr told local democracy reporter Molly Williams:

We’re hoping that there is going to be vision and a real political will to get the best system that Sheffield can get. They have carte blanche now. There is no ‘one size fits all.’ We issue a challenge to Sheffield City Council — give us the best system possible.

The big question: In an era in which no party has overall control of Sheffield City Council, can politicians in the city come together to create the new system or will the rancour of recent years continue?

This week’s weather

Covid-19 Update

  • Cases: Sheffield’s case rate — the number of positive cases per 100,000 people — is creeping up again. The current rate is 47, up 8.3% on last week and well over double the current England average of 21.4. 

  • Hospitals: Just 24 patients are now in hospital in Sheffield with Covid-19, a fall of 5 from last week. Of these 3 are currently on ventilation, a fall of 2 from last week. Just one death linked to the virus has been recorded in the city over the last seven days.

  • Vaccines: As of May 6, almost 400,000 vaccine doses had been given out in Sheffield. This includes 279,916 first doses and 117,153 second doses. Across South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw, more than 1 million doses have now been administered since December.

Book of the week

View from the Hill by Mick Jones

As we mentioned in a previous newsletter, Park Hill flats exert a powerful hold over the city of Sheffield. Photographer Mick Jones was a student at Sheffield College of Art in 1969 and 1970 and produced a portfolio of work based on the flats and the people who lived in them.

Mick’s work captures Park Hill in its heyday, before the huge social housing project deteriorated in the 1980s and 1990s. As a resident himself, he was photographing people he knew — and it shows. As does his love of the brutalist structure itself, a building he describes as being like ‘heaven on earth’.

Kids are seen playing football in the complex’s central court while others climb on the concrete balustrades. The view from the building’s lofty position above Sheffield also features heavily, using the city’s unique topography to brilliant effect.  

The book can be bought from the usual online booksellers or from the 1889 Books website. Mick also posts many of his photos from the time to his Instagram page, and is due to host an exhibition at the Bubba Bar at SteelYard Kelham in Neepsend later this year.

Five things to read

  1. A worrying story from the Star about a racist attack on a Chinese student on Fargate in Sheffield. As The Tribune highlighted last week, Sheffield has important links with China in terms of investment and education, links businessmen Jerry Cheung says could be damaged by this incident. Star Facebook reporter Lisa Wong also spoke to people from the east and south-east Asian community in the city about their experience of living here. Police say they are ‘fast-tracking’ the case as a hate crime.

  2. The 2020/2021 season is now officially the worst year in Sheffield’s storied footballing history, after both major teams were relegated. This i newspaper piece, written before Wednesday’s fate was confirmed, looks at the huge amount the club and city stand to lose from relegation. The double disappointment also means the Steel City derby will again be missing from the sporting calendar, much to the relief of South Yorkshire Police.

  3. As traditional media companies withdraw from covering local politics, the BBC-funded local democracy reporting service has really come into its own. Last week’s council elections proved this with excellent coverage and analysis coming from Sheffield’s two dedicated Local Democracy Reporters, Lucy Ashton and Molly Williams. Lucy produced an indispensable look at how the council might look after Labour lost its majority on Friday while Molly crunched the numbers on turnout.

  4. As the Sheffield local elections proved, green politics are most definitely on the march. In this Yorkshire Post piece, Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis says more investment in green industries in South Yorkshire could create thousands of jobs. “We’re investing in electric buses, walking and cycling, the Northern Forest, and much more — but we need help,” he said.

  5. A lovely story about a Sheffield artist who has created a comic book starring his ‘bolshie and brave’ seven-year-old daughter Roisin. Made of Steel features city landmarks including Sheffield City Hall and the now-demolished Tinsley Towers, while the main character is named after Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut. Artist Jim Connolly remembers being disappointed as a child that Sheffield didn’t have its own superhero, an oversight he says he is now happy to have rectified.

    Picturing the past

A reminder of simpler times for lovers of the beautiful game can be seen in this fantastic colourised photo of Sheffield United making their way down to Wembley for the FA Cup Final of 1925. They beat Cardiff City 1-0.

Five things to do

  • Taking place throughout May is Sheffield’s Festival of Debate, the UK’s largest annual political festival. The festival — which is now in its seventh year — featured dozens of online talks and workshops on issues as diverse as the future of the high street and the nature emergency. An undoubted highlight of this week however will be Jackie Weaver of Handforth Parish Council fame presiding over a Question Time session for local MPs, activists and commentators from South Yorkshire and beyond.

  • Since 1998, annual event Open Up Sheffield has given art lovers an opportunity to see the city’s artists and craftspeople at work in their own studios. More than 100 artists have opened up their workspaces this year, Covid-secure tours of which are available by contacting the artists directly. Highlights this year include Louise Walker who specialises in taxidermy-inspired knitting (better than it sounds), furniture-maker John Thatcher and basket-maker Rachel Hutton.

  • Sheffield’s Millenium Gallery will open again next week with a new exhibition focusing on legendary British photographer and stage designer Cecil Beaton. To whet your appetite, the curator of what will be the gallery’s first show for months will be hosting a talk live on Facebook on Wednesday, May 12 at 1pm. The talk will look at all aspects of Beaton’s life, from his discovery of ‘the magic of the camera to his first tentative steps into a magical world of writers, bohemians, socialites, and aristocrats’.

  • The Sheffield Chamber Music Festival returns this week as an online-only event due to Covid. Between Tuesday May 11 and Saturday May 15, you can enjoy performances of music by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Stravinsky live-streamed from either the Crucible theatre or one of six other partner venues around the UK. The shows can all be enjoyed in real time but are also available on demand until the end of May.

  • For art lovers, the Covid enforced closure of galleries has been particularly difficult to cope with. Fortunately, Sheffield is blessed with an abundance of fantastic street art decorating walls, flats, shops and parks in almost every corner of the city. A website - Street Art Sheffield - was set up last year to document as many of the current and former murals as possible, with over 250 locations identified so far. The website also has an Instagram page where you can keep up with the latest finds.

Sheffield is probably one of the most modernist cities in the world. To reflect this we’ll be featuring pictures of fantastic brutalist and modernist architecture from around the city in the newsletter in coming weeks. The Sheffield Modernist Twitter and Instagram accounts are great as is Martin Dust’s Instagram, but if you have photos you’d like to share of the city’s 20th century buildings, please email editor@sheffieldtribune.co.uk.

Mini obituary

Tributes have been paid to Douglas Parker, one of Sheffield’s last remaining D-Day veterans, who has died aged 98. Douglas, of Intake, served in what became the Yorkshire Regiment, taking part in the assault on Sword Beach in 1944.

After surviving D-Day, Douglas fought through France and later took part in Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful Allied assault on Nazi positions in the Netherlands. After the war he became a window fitter in Sheffield, marrying his wife Maureen in 1952.

Douglas leaves sons John and Stuart, five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

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