Lib Dems plan big changes

Paul Scriven
Paul Scriven

An interview with Paul Scriven

An edited version of this article appeared in the August 2008 edition of the Burngreave Messenger.

The Liberal-Democrat administration took control of the Town Hall in May’s elections, promising an end to what they called Labour’s “favoured areas” policy. Leader Paul Scriven also waded into the New Deal row and called for an investigation into the regeneration body. The Messenger went to find out what it all means for Burngreave.

After showing us the new layout of the Town Hall Leader’s office, he told us:

“You’ll see a devolution agenda, where powers that are held here in the Town Hall or by managers in services are devolved to communities so they can work with their councillors to determine where street cleaning should be taking place, how green spaces and parks can be looked after and whether Library services are fulfilling local needs.”

“We also want a better system of what we call community planning, where the community is much more involved in a bottom-up approach to planning how the council should be meeting the needs of local people.”

“We want it to be cleaner; we want the environment to be better; we want people to feel safer and we want to have more positive activities for young people.”

So, a cleaner, greener, safer Sheffield – to use Labour’s catchphrase?

“No – the title we’re using is ‘Sheffield – a place where everyone matters’”

The Lib-Dem leader says he is “passionate about social justice” but there’s no mention of communities, talking instead about "personalising services” –

“It’s not areas that are deprived but individuals within areas that are disadvantaged”.

“We do accept that there is clustering of people in areas like Burngreave of individuals who are disadvantaged and deprived.”

This line of thinking leads to the idea of market forces to bring services up to scratch. The answer, for the Lib-Dems, is “to implement competition” when they devolve 20% of the budget to area panels that can spend it outside the council. For instance,

“If the council or Streetforce can’t deliver the service to the quality, then we could say, ‘let’s look at whether we can provide it by this community organisation or a company coming in.’”

He denies that this will lead to councillors spending all their time making decisions on contracting arrangements.

The Lib-Dem plan is to replace the 12 area panels with 7 “community assemblies”. Why the need for change?

“We don’t want to have 12 area panels because some area panels only have one ward. Others have 3 or 4 wards; there’s no equity.”

“At the moment, councillors can’t determine what graffiti is cleaned, what hours the library opens, what they want in the parks – it’s just done to us. Those decisions are taken in private, behind closed doors, by service managers.”

Paul Scriven denied that moving towards a larger area conflicted with the aim of moving towards more individualised targeting of resources, saying a bigger area panel means “much more flexibility in how we use resources.”

Burngreave – a one-ward area panel will presumably merge with another area – the party plans to reveal which later in July.

“Once those plans are done, a Cabinet member will come to each area panel and discuss them.”

Maybe this discussion will be part of the “community plan”, an ambitious aim to build the views of all members of the community into a coherent way to deliver services:

“Underneath the community assembly, there will be area working and that will be about going out to mother and toddler groups, the working-men’s clubs, the old people’s clubs, where people congregate, asking them what their hopes are, asking them about their quality of life. That will lead up to an integrated community plan.”

Under his plans for community assemblies,

“The money will go exactly where people’s priorities are. Historically we might have been spending on things that weren’t priorities.”

“Community assemblies are where councillors can hold local services to account and where local people can hold councillors to account.”

“There’ll be no more hiding places for councillors.”

As anyone who’s been to any community meeting in Burngreave will know, there is always the difficulty of dealing with those who shout loudest and ensuring that those who can’t make themselves heard also get their needs considered.

“You’re making the fundamental mistake about community assemblies. The community assembly is just the tip of the iceberg. The real thing that will make this work is the community plan and going out and reaching out to people.”

Won’t it cost more in money and staff resources to carry out another boundary change and this level of community research? Paul Scriven is very clear the plans are “cost-neutral” and points out they already have 19,000 staff at their disposal.

“There is no new money coming in for this.”

We asked Paul Scriven about some of the issues going on in Burngreave now. What about the remaining families in Skinnerthorpe Rd facing demolition of their homes? Is there any relief on the cards for them? He accepted they had had a “raw deal” as their community was broken up but says:

“I’d love to. But I can’t. The scheme’s financed and funded. It’s too late. It’s all in a master business plan which has been agreed.”

After we pointed out this was about individuals, not the grand plans, he said:

“What I will do then – I’m giving no promises as I don’t want to give false hopes – I will ask my cabinet member to review it. We’ll review it but from my understanding of the project, it’ll be very hard to change.”

On Woodside, where the site has been cleared but where no developer has yet been found to rebuild:

“My commitment is this: without any promise about what the outcome will be, my cabinet member responsible, Councillor Bob McCann, will be asked to review this and see if there is any flexibility in terms of community involvement.”

On Parkwood School and the proposals to become an Academy, where the Lib-Dems have recently announced they will hold a ballot of parents at the school and its feeder schools:

“This is the first time this has happened anywhere in the country.”

“The Government can’t say that local democracy doesn’t matter.”

Paul Scriven has now been appointed to the New Deal board, but continues to express concern about management issues. He said:

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a situation where the governance has been in such chaos.” “There are management issues in that organisation that are letting down the people of Burngreave.” “The board hasn’t acted in a way that is decisive and on behalf of the people of Burngreave.”

We asked what he would do if the rest of the board doesn’t agree with him.

“Well, we are the accountable body. We do have sanctions if the board won’t take its systems properly.”

“I am not walking away from Burngreave.”

Since the Messenger went to print, the proposed areas for the community assemblies have been revealed. It is proposed that Burngreave, Firth Park, Shiregreen, Brightside and Southey all become one area.

The Council's report on Community Assemblies and Community Working is now available on the Council's website.

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