Sheffield council to be run by committee system after public rejects current model in It's Our City referendum

One of Yorkshire's biggest town halls will take decisions in a completely different way after residents voted overwhelmingly for a change to the current system.

The result of a referendum means Sheffield City Council's existing leader and cabinet system will be phased out over the next year and there will be a gradual move to decisions being taken by committees. The number, how they are made up and how they will operate still needs to be thrashed out.

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There were 89,670 votes in favour of switching to committees and 48,727 votes to keep the existing Cabinet model – almost 65 per cent in favour of switching.

Sheffield governance referendum count. It's Our City celebrations outside the count. Picture: Chris EtchellsSheffield governance referendum count. It's Our City celebrations outside the count. Picture: Chris Etchells
Sheffield governance referendum count. It's Our City celebrations outside the count. Picture: Chris Etchells
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It comes as the future of the council's leadership remains uncertain following this weekend's local elections, where Labour lost control of the authority and the group's leader Bob Johnson lost his Hillsborough seat.

The council will still have a leader but is now in no overall control, with both Liberal Democrat and Green opposition groups making big gains and the Conservatives gaining their first Sheffield councillor on two decades.

Today, the new Leader of Sheffield Labour Group says he has approached opposition parties to discuss forming coalitions.

Coun Terry Fox was selected as the new Labour Leader over the weekend and says he has reached out to the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party to start talks.

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Councillors Jack Scott and Fran Johnson also ran for the leadership but Coun Fox was successful in a ballot of Labour councillors. Coun Julie Grocutt was chosen as Deputy Leader.

The political parties will need to forge a working partnership ahead of the council’s AGM on May 19 but it won’t be easy. There are at least six different scenarios of how the parties may form a coalition. It’s understood Labour councillors will gather this week for a debrief on what went wrong during the election.

Coun Fox was reluctant to be drawn on the defeat but hinted at a couple of issues. He said: “Bob didn’t have enough time as the new Leader to put his stamp on things.

“The council did well in how it responded to the pandemic but Labour wasn’t able to enact everything it wanted to prior to lockdown.”

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He added: “I have requested a sit down meeting with both the Lib Dems and the Greens to discuss going forward.

“It’s incumbent on politicians to get an administration over the line so we can start serving the people of Sheffield and I will do everything I can to get that done by May 19.”

Depending on the coalition, both Lewis Chinchen, the new Conservative councillor, and the new Lord Mayor could play pivotal roles with casting votes.

The governance referendum was triggered by It’s Our City campaigners who collected a 26,000 name petition which was handed into the council in August 2019.

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It’s Our City, released a statement saying: “Today is the culmination of four years hard work by residents, from nine brainstormers around a kitchen table, to open meetings with 80 plus participants, to forming a network of volunteers around the city, to the 26,000 that signed the petition and now the resounding vote for change.

“Huge thanks and congratulations go to all those involved. This is a vote to restore local democracy to Sheffield, where all councillors have the right to play a real role in council decision-making to represent us.”

It’s Our City also had a swipe at former Labour Council Leaders Julie Dore and Bob Johnson, who lost his Hillsborough seat in the local elections last week.

“The city should be very proud of this and it shows how misinformed the view of former leaders of the council was, who said that people were not interested in the way our council works.

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“The result of the referendum shows how wrong they were. We expect a new modern committee system to have direct participation embedded into it, so that a range of external voices are part of city decision-making.”