Geoff Smith, Labour Councillor for Crookes, Annual Report May 2011 – June 2012
Contents: Introduction; Political and Economic Context; Local Issues; Local Funding; Local Visits and Meetings; Full Council; Budgets 2011/12 and 2012/13; Council Groups and Committees; Responsibilities 2012-13; Making Contact.
When I was elected as the first Labour councillor for Crookes in May 2011 I promised to write periodic reports about being a councillor. I wrote two during the year and this is an annual report on my first year.
To start I would like to thank the voters of Crookes for giving me the chance to be a councillor for four years. I have enjoyed my first year and have learned a great deal about the work of the Council and the communities of Crookes, Crosspool and Sandygate.
Political and Economic Context
This is about being a local councillor so I do not want to take up too much space on national issues but it is inescapable at the moment because national issues have such a local impact.
Over four years Sheffield Council will have to reduce its budget by about £175m with the threat of more cuts to come and we are only part way through this process. Inevitably this has had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on what the Council can provide. It reduces the amount of money that the Council can spend on services to local people by about a third. This is an unprecedented attack on local public services.
I call it an attack because I believe that much of it is unfair and unnecessary. I accept that the annual deficit and the overall debt have to be reduced from their current level over time but it does not make sense to try and do it all at once. The speed, nature and extent of the cuts are unjustified because:
- They are damaging the UK economy which continues to be in the longest slump since the nineteenth century with little prospect of recovery, and with high unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, and reduced real wages.
- We are not all in it together. The public expenditure cuts are largely focused on the poor and local government, with the rich enjoying a tax cut
- Northern councils are suffering much more than more affluent southern councils. The cut per person is £123 in Sheffield compared with only £5 in Windsor and £0 in East Dorset
This means that in my first year on the Council we have faced some very difficult choices and will continue to have to make tough decisions. It is impossible to make such cuts without damaging and reducing services. We have tried to make all services as efficient as possible and to concentrate resources on front line services and services to the poor and vulnerable. In the national arena we have fought Sheffield’s corner.
The people of Sheffield have not been fooled. They feel let down by the Lib Dem U turns and their support for Tory economic policies and the assault on the NHS. They know that Lib Dem attacks on the difficult decisions taken by the Labour council are pure hypocrisy. In Crookes I over turned a Lib Dem majority of over three thousand in 2011 and, although we did not win in Crookes in 2012, the Labour majority on the Council rose further to 34 with the Lib Dem representation down to 23.
I am also glad that the people of Sheffield had the good sense to reject an elected mayor. This was a rejection of celebrity politics and a vote in favour of proper accountability. It was not a rejection of more power for local government which is needed and can work under the current system; it does not require a mayor.
I have been alerted to 135 issues by local people, some of interest to just one or two people and others of wider concern. I cannot claim to have been successful every time in achieving what people want but I have tried. Where I have failed my intention has been to provide a full explanation of the reasons. Below is information about some of the issues that have been raised.
Pedestrian Crossing on School Road – route to Westways School and the Crookes Practice
This is a longstanding request which, despite the cuts, was funded from the central council highways budget. It was built in February 2012.
Parking in Crookes
Crookes received the largest share of the South West Assembly highways fund for 2011/12 having been neglected for a number of years. There will be parking bays with 2 hour waiting limits outside the shops alongside the Grindstone and a review of the parking along the rest the high street in Crookes.
Pot Holes and Pavements
Quite rightly residents have continued to complain about the state of the roads and pavements. At last this is set to change. The Highways PFI scheme promised by the Labour government will start in autumn 2012 with most of the city’s roads and pavements replaced over a five year period.
Restoration of Bus Service on School Road
Unfortunately this was one where I failed. It hasn’t been possible to persuade South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) or Sheffield Community Transport to fund this route. It doesn’t meet their criteria. I will keep looking for any possibilities.
Vernon Street Bus Shelter
This is not a new issue; I am told that the request for a bus shelter is at least 10 years old. My first request to SYPTE was rejected on the grounds that there was no money for new bus shelters and that space was too small to build a shelter. Undeterred I went back to SYPTE with a number of pertinent questions and arguments. I received a negative reply and there will not be a shelter in the near future but I am not going to give up on this one.
51 Bus Service
Passengers are unhappy with the reliability and punctuality of this service. I have passed on a number of complaints and at the time of writing I am waiting for a response to a request for a meeting with senior managers at First about this service.
Bollards and Double Yellow Lines
Cars destroying grass verges and parking at the corners at junctions is an issue throughout the ward. Bollards are an answer to the first problem but of course they cost money. Additional bollards have been placed onMarsh Laneand Stephen Hill. Double yellow lines also cost money because of the need to publish a TRO (Traffic Regulation Order) which involves an advert in the local press and consultation with neighbours. However, some more have been put in place.
Where street signs have been broken or disappeared I have helped residents to order new ones e.g. Spring View Roadand Ramsey Road.
Planning request for a telecoms mast on Wesley Hall Chapel on Crookes
I alerted a number of local residents to this. I also put in an objection on the grounds that the development was not in keeping with the Chapel being a listed building. The request was turned down on those grounds.
Former Hollies Garage Site at the bottom of School Road
Tesco bought this site with a view to building a store. The plan was turned down by Sheffield Council and on appeal. Tesco still own this site. I was concerned at the amount of litter that there was on the site so I requested Tesco to organise a clean up which they did in December and again in March. I have also asked Tesco about their intentions for the site but they have not replied yet. I will continue to chase them.
Planning request for a Telecoms Mast on Redmires Road
I objected to this on the grounds that the plan was not in keeping with the local environment and the request was turned down. However, an earlier rejection of a similar scheme was overturned on appeal to the national planning inspector and it is likely that this one will go to appeal.
Moor View (Gosney’s) Farm
This was up for sale and it seemed possible that before it was sold the nineteenth century farm house and the outbuildings would be demolished without planning permission. I joined two members of the Crosspool Forum Executive early on a Monday morning at the site when there were rumours that the demolition would go ahead. I didn’t have to throw myself in front of a bulldozer and at the time of writing the buildings are still standing and no planning application has been made.
Crookes has over 2,000 students living in houses of multiple occupation. I welcome students toSheffieldand Crookes. They are important for the future, help the local economy, undertake a considerable amount of volunteering and bring a vitality to the area. However, sometimes they cause problems.
Landlords of Student Houses
Two issues have been raised; the plethora of To Let signs and burglar alarms going off in the summer. I have had discussions with council officers about these and I am working on the development of a voluntary agreement on To Let signs and making proper registration of alarms part of the landlord registration scheme.
Bins on the Street
Some students do not seem to realise that they should move bins back after they have been emptied and not all landlords tell them. I plan to liaise with the University and the environmental team in the Council to ensure that students are aware of their responsibilities when they return in September and that there is enforcement if they (and anyone else) persistently fail to move bins.
Refund of Subscriptions to the University of Sheffield Sport Centre
This was an issue raised by the student newspaper, Forge Press. They were campaigning that students had not had sufficient opportunity to claim refunds when the swimming pool had been closed for 6 months. I supported the campaign on Twitter and in a press release that was reported in the Sheffield Star, wrote to theUniversityofSheffield, and seconded a motion on the subject in a full council meeting. The University changed its position and gave all the refunds.
Additional Dog Litter Bins
These were agreed before I became a councillor but I spent a great deal effort ensuring that they were put in the agreed places and this was finally achieved before Christmas.
I was a member of the panels that considered bids to the SW Assembly climate change and older people activity funds for 2011/12. Organisations in both Crookes and Crosspool received funds.
I was also a member of the panel which considered bids to the SW Assembly consolidated small grants fund for 2012/13. It was heavily over subscribed but I am pleased to say that there were many strong bids from Crookes and more money went to Crookes than to other wards.
Local Visits and Meetings
I have attended meetings of the Crosspool Forum, Friends of the Bole Hills, Crookes Safety Forum, and Crookes and Upper Walkley TARA. As I have said before, I am happy to attend any group, to speak or to listen.
I have also visitedSt ThomasNursery Schoolwhich received an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted judgement, the Hagg Lane Allotments, theUniversityofSheffield Student Unionofficers, and the external relations officer of theUniversityofSheffield.
I enjoyed participating in the Crosspool Festival in July 2011 and I am looking forward to a number of events in July 2012.
This is monthly. I seconded two resolutions that were carried. The first was on the need for compulsory registration to vote when the system changes from house to individual registration. The second was the request to theUniversityofSheffieldto refund users of its sports centre properly for the closure of the swimming pool for 6 months. I also spoke during the debate on Occupy Sheffield and in other debates
Budgets 2011/12 and 2012/13
Despite the challenging times, the Labour Council since taking over from the Lib Dems in May 2011 has:
- Invested £500,000 to create a new apprenticeship scheme for 16-19 year olds, providing 100 apprenticeship places.
- Reinstated 10 Police and Community Support Officer posts
- Restored £190,000 cuts to Children’s Centres
- Restored cuts to the Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust
- Reduced the number of senior staff on the Council
- Established a non party political Fairness Commission
The Labour Council will stand up for Sheffield and prioritise jobs, growth, and protecting the most vulnerable. It will do its best to protectSheffieldfrom the Tory/ Lib Dem cuts.
Autumn 2012 will see the start of the multi million Highways project which will get rid of potholes and repair roads, pavements and the streetscene across the whole city.
Over the next two years seven 20mph schemes will be introduced throughout the city – part of a long term commitment to a 20mph residential road speed limit.
There will be 100 new places on the apprenticeship scheme.
Work will be started with bothSheffielduniversities and local employers to try and develop a Sheffield Graduate Scheme to get more graduates into SMEs.
But inevitably there have been cuts as well. One early announcement was to move to fortnightly emptying of black bins. I supported this. My reasons were:
- It will save substantial amounts of money.
- Fortnightly black bin collections will encourage more recycling.
It has been suggested that the Council does not need to do this because the Government is offering to pay councils to keep weekly bin collections. However, the Government failed to provide details of the scheme until too late and it is highly unlikely to provide enough money to meet its requirement that weekly collections should continue for five years. It is also worth mentioning that 60% of local authorities have fortnightly collections already, that the Council is looking to improve the recycling service, and that houses with 6 or more people will be able to have larger bins.
Council Groups and Committees
I am on the Licensing Committee and have attended many meetings dealing with taxis, alcohol sales, shisha bars, street stalls, and music entertainment.
I was on the Economy and Environmental Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee. This has discussed the outcome of the waste management review, quizzed business leaders about what they want from the Council, met organisations providing help to particular unemployed groups; discussed ways of developing green jobs in Sheffield and considered ways of increasing short term tourism inSheffield. It also scrutinized in detail the decisions to introduce mobile CCTV for parking offences and 20mph schemes in residential areas.
I was on the Environmental Performance Working Party. It looks at how well the Council is doing and also received an impressive presentation fromForgeValleyschool students about what the school is doing to protect the environment.
I am a member of the Corporate Parenting Board which is responsible for looked after children.
As one of the Crookes councilors I am a member of the South West Assembly.
Within Labour Group I have been on Adult Social Care and Public Health working groups.
I will continue to be on the Licensing Committee and the Corporate Parenting Board.
I was elected as Secretary of the Labour Group on the Council after the May election.
I have been appointed as a Cabinet Assistant for Communities and Inclusion.
I have applied to be on the Adoption Panel.
I believe in being open about pay. As a councillor I will receive an allowance of £11,742.45 (same as for 2011-12) and as a cabinet assistant I will receive an additional allowance of £5,268.63 making a total of £17,011.08
Tel: (Town Hall) 0114 273 5588 (Mobile) 07581214783
Between 12.30pm and 2.00pm on the third Wednesday of the month (except December) in St Columba Church, Manchester Road, Crosspool.
Between 6.30pm and 7.30pm, on the fourth Wednesday of the month (except December) in the Gilbert Room, St Thomas Church (opposite Crookes post office), Crookes.
I am also happy to see constituents at other times and to receive telephone calls and emails.
Councillor Geoff Smith, Labour Group,SheffieldCity Council, Town Hall,Pinstone Street,SheffieldS1 2HH