Sheffield referendum: Voters opt to change system after ‘David and Goliath’ struggle

13 May 2021

Campaigners have hailed a referendum victory which will change Sheffield City Council to a committee model of decision-making as like winning a ‘David and Goliath struggle’.

A petition formed by It’s Our City triggered the vote after collecting signatures of support from more than five per cent of the city’s voters, who then backed the move by 89,670 votes to 48,727. 

It means more of the city’s 84 councillors will have a say on important decisions, whereas, currently – under the ‘leader and cabinet’ model – most decisions are made by a group of 10 cabinet councillors chosen from the majority party by the Council Leader.

Anne Barr, co-chair of It’s Our City, said: “We’re overjoyed with the result. What’s enormously gratifying is that it’s not just a win, it’s an overwhelmingly empathetic win.

I’d like to stress what a David and Goliath struggle it’s been. However, the result today shows communities together can make powerful changes.”

The council is now in no overall control following Labour’s defeat at the local elections, meaning a coalition is to be formed.

Simon Duffy, director of the Sheffield-based independent think-tank Centre for Welfare Reform, said: “Sheffield has won the double, both with going to no overall control and this referendum result. The city is on the edge of a new chapter.”

According to It’s Our City, more than 80 per cent of candidates standing in last week’s local election supported the change. However, former Council Leader Bob Johnson in the Labour Party has spoken out against the change on Twitter in the lead-up to the referendum.

Speaking of the vote, Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “A committee system would cripple Sheffield politically and economically, weakening its ability to make strategic, long-term decisions and diluting its capacity to affect real change for local people.”

But Mr Duffy disagreed and said: “Sheffield must be the groundbreaker for democratic reform in the whole United Kingdom.

“The massive challenge, of course, will be for the councillors to reach out, beyond narrow party interest, and work together to define a new democratic constitution for the city.”

The current system will remain for the next year while there is a gradual move to committees.

Credit: Now and Then magazine

Credit: Now and Then magazine

Written by Jinqian Li

A 2nd-year journalism student at Sheffield University

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