'Who is my councillor' website launches in Sheffield to tell voters where candidates stand on the big issues in May 6 local elections
The founders of the whoismycouncillor.co.uk website in Sheffield said it would help voters who otherwise would have to "hold out for an elusive knock on the door by canvassers.”
Eight out of town political parties in Sheffield have participated in the website and every candidate across all 28 wards in the city council elections has a profile page.
More than 50 candidates have completed the full survey - including information about them and their ideas, positions and priorities for the city - with publicly available information gathered for many more.
Those behind the website say Covid-19 has caused a gap between candidates and voters left by the lack of physical hustings and less doorknocking, meaning internet use has surged.
The idea for the site was sparked after conversations with voters across the city, who were frustrated by how difficult they found it to learn about the people behind the names on their ballot papers. Another reason cited for low turnout is disillusionment with national politics.
Co-Founder Eleanor Holmshaw said: “Powerlessness and disengagement are horrible things to feel, with research showing a correlation between lack of knowledge around politics and low turnout, particularly in younger people. Not having enough information is repeatedly cited as a reason young people give for not voting.”
She added: “The reality is political parties include people with hugely different positions and ideas. It’s important to know what individual candidates think, and not vote based on perception of a national party.
"Local and national politics are very different. Sheffield has the potential to be a city which makes exciting decisions and sets an example of how well democracy could work.”
Political parties normally launch their manifestos with a group photo, posters and interviews in the city centre but this year it was a more subdued unveiling due to Covid restrictions. And the global pandemic means Sheffield’s local elections will be very different this year.
Helping the city to recover from the impact of Covid will be top of the agenda for all the parties following its devastating impact on the economy, jobs, education and health services.
But while politicians are wrestling with those major issues, voters still want action on grassroot problems such as fly-tipping, antisocial behaviour and housing repairs.
There are some key seats across the city which are worth keeping an eye on as Labour has a precarious majority – if it loses seven seats, the council would go to no overall control. Last year’s local elections were cancelled due to Covid so the candidates due to stand then have rolled over to this year.
MP for Sheffield Hallam Olivia Blake, whose vacant seat on the council is one of those being contested, has called the new website “a valuable new initiative to be developed in Sheffield, which I hope will help make it easier for people to get in touch with their representatives and local election candidates."
As well as council elections there will also be a referendum to decide whether the authority should be run by a 'leader and cabinet' model or an alternative 'modern committee' system. And there will be elections for South Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner, with Labour's Dr Alan Billings attempting to win re-election.