Local Area Committees approved during fraught council meeting, after “eight wasted years”

Written by Emily Staniforth

Sheffield’s local communities are to be given back the power to make changes in their own areas.

Sheffield City Council is to re-establish Local Area Committees (LACs) across the city “eight wasted years” after they were abolished.

The proposal for seven new LACs was headed last Thursday by Labour councillors who called the motion the “first huge step in empowering our communities.”

However, some Liberal Democrat councillors, who also supported the introduction of the scheme, were enraged, claiming to have proposed similar schemes over the last eight years only for them to be turned down.

The phrase “eight wasted years” was used first by Cllr Andrew Sangar and continued to be repeated throughout the debate by annoyed Liberal Democrat councillors.

The extraordinary meeting was held over Zoom

LACs used to exist in Sheffield but were abolished by the Labour ruling administration at the time in favour of Local Area Partnerships (LAPs). LAPs did not have devolved powers and were therefore limited in their ability to respond to the needs of their communities.

The new committees will serve individual communities within the city from May 2021. They will have their own budgets and elected decision-making authorities to ensure communities can make decisions which best serve their unique interests and needs.

The aim is to shift power away from the Town Hall in an attempt to engage and empower Sheffield citizens to have a greater role and direct say on key issues in their communities.

Sheffield Town Hall

Cllr Alison Teal, Green Party, said she was angered by the proposal and called the motion a “sham” as she, along with other members of the Council, were not consulted and neither were many Sheffield residents who the changes will directly affect.

She also suggested the rush to get the new system approved was politically motivated due to the proximity of the decision to the local council elections which will be held in May.

Her Green Party colleague Cllr Kaltum Rivers also expressed disappointment at the rushed proposal, adding community leaders were disappointed they had not been listened to.

However, Cllr Tony Damms, Labour, heralded the introduction of LACs as “a step forward by giving members of our communities a voice.”

At the meeting, leader of the council Cllr Bob Johnson said they would be doubling the ward monetary pots and giving an extra £100,000 to each LAC to tackle graffiti, fly-tipping and littering in their area.

Sheffield skyline

This caused confusion among other councillors, with Cllr Ian Auckland, Liberal Democrats, highlighting the point of the scheme was to give communities the ability to decide where their budgets were spent.

Despite Labour councillors having to contend with an “opposition of mardy bums” according to deputy leader Cllr Terry Fox, the majority of the council agreed more power at a local level was good for Sheffield communities and voted the proposal through.

Cllr Auckland said: “The local approach is about repairing confidence in politics and part of the solution to restoring trust in local politics.”

Written by Emily Staniforth

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