SheffieldPolitics Review of the Year: 2010

2010 has seen Sheffield become a second home for national politics, as well as placing the actions of the local authority under a much bigger microscope. SheffieldPolitics takes a timely look back at how it all panned out.

As the dust settled from 2009’s last big battle, over the closure of Abbeydale Grange School, January saw all three main parties join forces in opposition to the Labour Government’s plans to increase council house rents.

The leaders of the council’s Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green groups have signed a joint letter asking Prime Minister Gordon Brown to reverse the policy.

Lib Dem council leader Coun Paul Scriven said: “This isn’t about meaningless party politics, this is about trying to avoid financial hardship for many tenants across Sheffield.

“If the Government accept our case and change their mind it will save tenants hundreds of pounds.”

Coun Chris Weldon, Labour’s housing spokesman, said: “Labour will of course sign this letter, as we’re interested in getting the best deal for Sheffield tenants.”

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg was already fighting off amorous advances from his political rivals:

“I am being love-bombed,” Clegg says, grinning, a phrase used by the Tory party chairman, Eric Pickles, to describe courtship of political opponents.

“Without being truculent about it, I made it very, very clear right from the beginning that I was not interested in that kind of politics. History tells me that it would be daft for the Lib Dems to get involved in dalliances.”

Clegg insists it would be wrong to start “playing footsie” with his opponents before voters have had their say. “There will be no backroom deals. It is really the people, the voters, who count. It is not for politicians to speculate now how they would cobble together an administration if there is a hung parliament.”

In February, Sheffield’s Councillors rejected a pay rise to show solidarity with staff facing a pay freeze:

An independent panel is recommending basic councillors’ annual allowance of £11,742.45 is unchanged.

But it is proposing large increases in additional payments made to councillors with extra responsibilities.

The recommendations advise a £12,000 rise for the leader, which would bring their total allowance from £18,167.68 to £30,206.24, with £54,212 to be split between the other nine members of the Cabinet team.

But Sheffield Council leader Coun Paul Scriven said: “At a time when the council is going the extra mile to keep council tax increases low, it’s important we don’t see a big increase in the amount paid out to councillors.

“The Liberal Democrats don’t intend to approve the significant pay rises for senior councillors that the independent panel recommend.
“Personally, this means I won’t receive the £12,000 pay rise the independent panel recommends. I believe, if senior politicians talk tough on cutting down costs in the Town Hall to keep council tax low, we need to lead by example.”

The city celebrated it’s inclusion on the shortlist for European City of Culture, but the council’s media team were under fire for “misleading” the public with claims about housing investment:

The Lib Dem-controlled authority issued a press release announcing £111 million of investment in housing over the coming year.

But the majority is money which has already been announced over previous years – when Labour councillors were in power.

The investment over the 2010/11 financial year includes £59.1 million to carry out Decent Homes programme renovation work at 2,900 council houses – secured five years ago.

The council has also announced £2.87 million towards a scheme to rebuild housing at Scowerdons, Weakland and Newstead estates, in the Frecheville and Hackenthorpe areas, also secured a few years ago.

Coun Chris Weldon, Labour housing spokesman, said: “It’s misleading – the Lib Dem council appears to be recycling announcements of funding we secured years ago.

February also saw Mr Clegg visit Cambridge, and put his autograph on a bit of paper. Probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

 

March saw the the first of countless estimates of job losses due to council funding cuts from the BBC, who warned of “up to 1000” redundancies in the next five years.

In Westminster, Labour were rushing to pass the last of their legislation as parliament drew to a close. The Digital Economy Bill, which was controversially passed with minimal scrutiny in the “wash up” drew much criticism, as well as some creative protests:

When veteran Central MP Richard Caborn announced he was to retire from parliament, it’s unlikely he would have imagined his last days in the job quite as they turned out. March saw him caught in a “cash for influence” sting arranged by Channel 4’s Dispatches, after he offered access to his considerable Westminster connections for £2,500 a day “plus expenses”.

Come April, the general election campaign was in full swing. Sheffield, unique in being home to a party leader and having a battleground constituency in its’ boundaries, was getting a lot of attention, and some high profile visitors.

Eddie Izzard announced his plans to run for office, while offering support to Central Labour candidate Paul Blomfield. There were no end of cabinet ministers pounding the streets, notably one Ed Miliband. SheffieldPolitics spent a day on the doorstep with Ed, then Climate Change Secretary, who talked to us about Labours plans for electoral reform, and his reaction to the election debates.

Baroness Williams meets a balloon seller on Fargate

Baroness Williams meets a balloon seller on Fargate

As May dawned and election day loomed, the city’s last campaign visitor also gave perhaps the most inaccurate prediction of the year. Veteran Liberal Democrat Baroness Williams categorically pooh-poohed the idea of her party joining a coalition that did not have full proportional representation as a strict condition.

 

 

Last week David Cameron accused Mr Clegg of trying to “hold the country to ransom” after insisting that reform be a pre-condition for offering support to any party in a hung parliament.

Baroness Williams, 79, said: “It’s not the country. The country’s completely lost faith in the first-past-the-post system. They did some time ago.

“It’s absurd to think that the country is devoted to first-past-the-post when they clearly aren’t. I would say if anyone’s been held to ransom, it’s Mr Cameron.”

Of course, we all know what happened next. Paul Blomfield beat Paul Scriven to parliament by 165 votes, but the Lib Dems maintained council control, despite losing their majority.

And despite hundreds of students being turned away from polling stations in his constituency, Nick Clegg was re-elected as the honourable member for Sheffield Hallam.

A story broke in June which would dominate politics in Sheffield for the rest of the year, the cancellation of the government loan to Sheffield Forgemasters. Shortly after, the new government outlined it’s strategy of cuts in its first budget, which drew the first of an unprecedented number of public protests in the second half of the year.

In July, the council narrowly approved £6.5m in budget cuts, during a heated assembly of the full council.

Far from the sombre faces put on by George Osborne and the cabinet on budget day, the Lib Dem cabinet appeared in more jovial spirits this afternoon. After pointing out that the country was paying out £80,000 a minute in interest, three councillors (Colin Ross, Shaffaq Mohammed and Simon Clement-Jones) openly joked about their three minute “quarter million pound” speeches. Their humour was met with uproarious laughter from the Lib Dem side of the chamber and stony faces opposite.

August saw the sad death of former Leader of the Council Jan Wilson, who had been suffering from lung cancer.

Council Chief Executive John Mothersole said, “John Mothersole, Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council said: “We are deeply shocked. Jan will be sorely missed. She was an inspiration to us all. She was totally committed to working for Sheffield and was recognised for her dedication by being awarded a CBE in 2006. Her work with Yorkshire Forward was also celebrated. As well as being admired and respected locally, she was also much admired regionally and nationally.”

August also saw Cllr Scriven take Sheffield Futures to task over their planned redundancies, claiming their funding cuts do not justify the number of job cuts. Questions were also raised about the lack of transparency surrounding an emergency loan to struggling museum caretaker charity MuseumSheffield.

Sheffield’s Labour group elected a new leader, Julie Dore, at the beginning of September. A few days later, just before visiting Sheffield to launch the Local Enterprise Partnership, Nick Clegg announced he was to sell his constituency home, prompting questions about whether he would keep his promise to return any profit to the taxpayer.

On his return, Mr Clegg was greeted by a noisy protest outside the Town Hall, and by cries of “Judas”

A busy month, September also saw the Liberal Democrats announce that they had reduced the number of council “fat cats”, but they were shaken just days later by the defection of Councillor Ben Curran to the Labour Party. There was much noise about data theft and police investigations, but it ultimately came to nothing. Cllr Curran crossed the floor and the Liberal Democrats no longer had a working majority in the council.

October was the month that Sheffield City Council finally stood up to their party chiefs in Westminster, rebelling to condemn the proposed rise in tuition fees. This was the story that would dominate the news through November, as students, schoolchildren and teachers, angered by the Browne review and by the proposed scrapping of EMA repeatedly marched on the Town Hall. Each demonstration was larger and louder than the one before.

And finally, as if to give us the Christmas present we all needed after such a depressing year…in December, this happened:

Gloomy as the year may have been, you couldn’t ever call it boring. Most other reviews of the year tend to end with predictions for the year ahead, but looking back on this year’s surprises, twists and turns, it’s probably best just to go along for the ride. These are uncertain times, and here’s to more uncertainty in 2011.

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