The council’s governance committee, meeting tomorrow (November 22), will discuss a report that outlines the main challenges that the council faces in its ambition to increase involvement.
The main challenges are named as the need to create a vision for better involvement of Sheffield citizens that is then embedded into its work and developing and improving its work to engage people and help them to participate in what the council is doing.
A report to the committee says: “Citizen involvement and participation is essential to local democracy and thriving communities, helping to make better decisions and the policy we develop, increasing confidence and trust in the decisions, connecting knowledge and lived experience of people to create better solutions to city’s opportunities and challenges, and building greater collaboration with communities and across communities.”
The damning Lowcock Report on the street tree-felling scandal, the highly critical Race Equality Commission report and disputed issues such as the city centre Clean Air Zone and the travellers’ site at Eckington all serve to highlight a lack of public confidence that the council can be trusted to listen to people and take action accordingly.
These have had huge political repercussions in the city, including the continued lack of overall political control on the city council, Labour ousting former leader Terry Fox and subsequent defections from Labour to form the Sheffield Community Councillors group.
The council was also forced to drop its ‘top-down’ cabinet system of working following a citywide governance referendum in 2021 promoted by the campaign It’s Our City. Sheffielders voted for a committee system that aims to give more say to all 84 members of the council in all parties.
The council has been working with the national participation charity, Involve, since 2022. Involve has highlighted two issues, based on feedback from Sheffielders that it spoke to.
It said that the lack of an “ambitious and coherent vision for public
participation” means that the council struggles to tell people why
it sees the issue as valuable and does not clearly understand its role in supporting involvement in the city.
Inconsistency in engagement and involvement also means that “opportunities to fully connect valuable citizen insight in policy and decision making” are missed.
The report says: “We need to be ambitious – prioritising citizen involvement and participation as a critical part of SCC’s strategic mission and change as an organisation.”
The work of the council’s six Local Area Committees (LACs) could be improved to engage people better, as well as make it clearer how the LACs interact with council policy committees to influence decision-making.
The report points out: “Community involvement and participation go far beyond our governance and the function of the committee system; it is critical to building trust with communities, to improving our understanding of the challenges the city is facing, to spotting opportunities, and actively listening to and involving different voices and perspectives in developing stronger and better solutions than we can on our own.”
It adds that the key strategy and resources committee needs to have a major role in this work, rather than leaving it to the governance committee.