Sunday – Met with Somali women (mostly from the Places for People estate in Broomhall) to hear about local issues. The main thing is still their cold, draughty houses and difficulties with the contact centre/repairs service.
Monday – in the Town Hall, doing case work. I have a constituent doing an informal placement with me – she is doing some admin work in return for me showing her how the council works. As ever, explaining things makes me see them with fresh eyes. And she is amazing – working in a care home while she studies for a second degree.
Tuesday – a home visit to a Somali woman on the Lansdowne Estate (council, not Places for People), also cold, despite the cladding work. She is in a ground floor maisonette, you come in the front door and immediately go downstairs, as though to a cellar. She wants to move. Her English is minimal, my Somali is non-existent.
In the afternoon, a constituent comes to me at the Town Hall – he has a fruit and veg van and wants to contribute to the review of the licensing terms (which were tightened up to protect corner shops). In the evening, Cycle Forum, where we discussed – amongst more positive things – how the Transport Authority failed to support a massive campaign to have bike carriage included in the Tram-Train Pilot. A couple of councillors failed to attend and vote in favour, this despite cross party and local MP support for the project.
Wednesday – budget briefing: we are firming up our proposals and seeking information about how much each percentage rise in council tax brings in, what we lose in terms of the “freeze grant” (known as the Pickle’s shilling), what level of rise triggers a referendum and how much that would cost … so much for localism. I agree to arrange a further briefing re adult social care. Let off steam in the afternoon by collecting more manure, this time with a bunch of friends, from a wonderful pile in the driveway up to the stables off Stephen Hill. Well rotted horse muck, like moist chocolate cake. Visions of well fed potatoes and tomatoes. What will the weather bring this summer?
Thursday – very heavy day, all day on a Dismissal Appeal Panel, madly doing a few emails and urgent phone calls in the lunch break. It was good working with the other two Members and the officer from Human Resources as we found our way through the long, complex story and tried to work out what had happened and how to judge it. In the evening, a meeting called by Sheffield for Democracy. The speakers were Alex Runswick, Unlock Democracy’s excellent director; Stephen Twigg, Labour MP; and a stand-in for Nick Clegg who, on this occasion was Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed, the Lib Dem Group Leader.
Topics ranged from Lords reform, to PR, to the Gagging Bill. As had been pre-arranged, I was invited to speak from the floor and concentrated on local aspects of democracy – and on what Sheffield City Council might do to push the (real) localism agenda and be more democratic within the existing constraints. Peter Garbutt backed me up with good comments on national issues. At least one party member complained that I wasn’t on the panel but I pointed out it wasn’t a competition. I did ask Vicky Seddon, the local chair of Sheffield for Democracy if Hendersons make miniature bottles of relish for small parties (the other speakers got a present of Hendos in recognition of their attendance and of its recent honourable mention).
Friday – quick meeting with an officer in Democratic Services about twinning and “friendship links” with foreign cities, on behalf of a local group who want to set something up. The council won’t do much pro-actively but would support a community initiative. Back to them (and me!). He pointed me to some useful resources – ever helpful and polite. Met a friend for lunch: she does regular consultancy work for the NHS and has just been told she has to register with Capita and pay them 16.5% of her earnings for the privilege.
Saturday – day off (slept in, worked on the allotment, ate with friends in the evening).