The Sheffield Guide believes Council Leader Julie Dore should no longer delay stepping down and should resign immediately.
Calls for Julie Dore to resign
In the aftermath of last week’s damning report into injustices committed by Sheffield City Council during the protracted Street Trees fiasco, there have been calls for Council Leader Julie Dore to resign.
Of course, many of those calls have been from political opponents. No matter how justified such statements are, they are often overlooked when seen as having a political agenda.
However, The Sheffield Guide has no such political standing, affiliation or interest in party politics so can view things from an objective basis. After discussing the issues with many other city residents — some of whom voted for Julie Dore and the ruling Labour party previously — I fully believe that the weight of opinion shows that the Council Leader’s position is untenable.
Therefore I call on her to do the right thing and step down with immediate effect.
“Transparency goes to the heart of trust in decision making. It is at the heart of good administration. We consider one of the root causes of the significant loss of trust the Council suffered in carrying out its Streets Ahead policy […] lies in its lack of transparency, openness and on occasion, honesty.”Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Investigation into a complaint against Sheffield City Council
Julie Dore’s role in the Street Trees Controversy
Since the report into the Council’s injustices was published last week, Julie Dore has been conspicuous by her absence.
However, she has long been a central figure in the tree felling controversy. As Council Leader Cllr Dore oversaw the Council’s policies and strategy.
Cllr Dore often made public defences of the flawed Streets Ahead programme and was a key figure in a court case to try an imprison protesters after the Judge, Mr Justice Males, adjourned proceedings until lawyers could confirm the Council Leader’s support of the legal action.
“This is a serious application. The council seeks to commit Sheffield citizens to prison for contempt […]
“I would just like to be reassured that this application is brought on the instructions of democratically elected councillors. Do you have the instructions from the leader of the council to make this application?”Judge Mr Justice Males, Sheffield City Council v Crump & Others
The Council’s barrister confirmed that Cllr Dore “positively agreed that proceedings should be brought”.
Additionally, Cllr Dore has repeatedly cut a belligerent and uncompromising figure in Full Council meetings when residents of the city have attended to ask questions of the Streets Ahead programme directly to her and her cabinet.
Repeated failures overseen by Julie Dore
Last week’s report from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman doesn’t stand alone.
Separately, the Forestry Commission also recently published a report that heavily criticised Sheffield City Council’s felling of street trees, concluding the authority may have committed an offence but stopping short of prosecuting.
“~600 trees were felled by Sheffield City Council and Amey which may have required a felling licence. As no felling licence was in place, an offence under section 17 of the Act may have been committed.”The Forestry Commission, Sheffield Tree Felling Investigation Report
Flawed, embarrassing and shameful policies — and the draconian enforcement of them
The Council have since changed their approach to street tree felling. Whilst welcome, this has occurred several years too late, after many trees were unnecessarily felled and after — in my opinion — embarrassing and shameful acts including attempts (some successful) to criminalise peaceful protesters (including pensioners), misrepresenting expert advice and involving the police in enforcing draconian laws and bizarre ‘dawn raids’ on trees in leafy suburbs.
Julie Dore defended each of these actions and as Council Leader throughout the entirety of the programme was ultimately responsible for them. She had plenty of opportunity, over a number of years, to change her Council’s approach and failed to do so until forced — instead choosing to double-down on the frankly bizarre and wasteful policies.
And all this is before we go into costs — millions of pounds have been spent on the Streets Ahead programme. Hundreds of thousands of pounds — of taxpayers money — has been spent enforcing those flawed and now abandoned policies. Our Council often (rightfully) points out its coffers are dry and funding is limited so there is absolutely no justification for such frivolous and ultimately unnecessary spending.
How many social care needs could have been attended to with the money frittered away over these horrendously misguided schemes over the years?
“We welcome the council’s prompt position that it accepts the findings of our report. But it must now consider our report at its full council or cabinet – or other appropriately delegated committee of elected members – and tell us within three months the action it has taken, or proposes to take.
“At that point we will decide if we are satisfied with the council’s response to all the recommendations to put things right in our report. This is a standard requirement when we publish public interest reports.”Spokesperson, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman
I fully believe that a proper public inquiry should be held into the behaviour and failures of Sheffield City Council over the street trees issue (a viewpoint supported by the likes of The Yorkshire Post).
Not just about the trees
I am absolutely not an advocate of ‘Cancel Culture’ and in principle I believe it is wrong to call for someone to lose their job for simple mistakes. With that in mind and coming initially from that neutral position, in this case I feel the call for Julie Dore’s resignation is absolutely warranted.
Many ‘mistakes’ were made and defended in the case of the Streets Ahead controversy, but that is not an isolated incident.
Cllr Dore has been Leader of the Council since 2011 and has overseen a number of failures that have caused embarrassment for Sheffield and arguably reduced the reputation and standing of the city nationally and internationally.
Chinese Investment Fiasco
Julie Dore was front-and-centre in 2016 when announcing a 60-year £1billion investment into the city from a Chinese firm. It was to be Cllr Dore’s legacy — significant investment into Sheffield for generations.
“The projects funded by this investment will be determined by Sheffield city council, and the 60-year commitment secures a stream of investment into our city for the next generation, and means a whole range of projects become viable because of the long-term nature of the relationship.”Cllr Julie Dore, Leader of Sheffield City Council (Speaking in July 2016)
The first scheme posited for investment would have controversially seen Sheffield’s art-deco Central Library building redeveloped into a 5-star luxury hotel.
However, investment funds never arrived. It turns out the investors — Sichuan Guodong Group — did not even sign their 12-month exclusivity agreement, yet alone a Heads of Terms document. It seems the council prematurely announced — with bold quotes from Council Leader Julie Dore — the investment before anything meaningful had actually been agreed.
An investigation by Asia Times into the ‘deal’ uncovered significant concerns, including highlighting due diligence issues surrounding which company the deal was actually going to be with and alleged problems with those companies.
“It’s unclear who exactly the English city’s deal was with, or if it is worth the paper it may or may not have been written on”“Another UK-China ‘deal’ on ice amid secrecy and confusion”, Richard Cook & Liu Hsiu Wen, Asia Times
The plan to redevelop Central Library was shelved and the Council eventually pulled the plug on the fruitless China deal after three years of little progress in May 2019.
Again, hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money was spent on chasing this deal including trips to China, including for Julie Dore herself.
The Council will point to the excellent New Era Square development that is nearing completion from Chinese developers, but I note that project was entirely separate and distinct from the embarrassing failed Chinese investment trumpeted in 2016.
Further complaints upheld by the Local Government Ombudsman
The street trees issue isn’t the only complaint against Sheffield City Council upheld by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
Data from the ombudsman shows 89% of Complaints brought against the Council in 2018/19 were upheld. Significantly higher than the average.
Since April 2019 the Ombudsman has recommended two-dozen service improvements to Sheffield City Council after reviewing complaints. It also notes that the Council regularly delays the issuing of responses.
“Unfortunately, this year, two-thirds of the Council’s responses to our enquiries were late. While most of those late responses were received within a few days of the deadline, eight took more than 25 days. Delayed investigations can add to the frustration experienced by complainants. I ask the Council to reflect on this and take steps to improve its liaison with my office.Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman letter of 22 July 2020
Issues reported on by the Ombudsman include incorrectly assessing disability blue badge applications, leaving a boy without proper education for 18 months and wrongly forcing a vulnerable woman to fund her own care among other issues.
Whilst complaints will always happen, Sheffield’s statistics are worrying. The number of complaints, reports and service improvement recommendations are significantly higher than those of most comparable Northern Councils, including Liverpool, Manchester, Kingston upon Hull and Newcastle.
“Our starting point has been to consider the guidance we publish on the “Principles of good administrative practice”. These include the principle of being “open and accountable”. We say this includes being open and clear about policies and procedures and ensuring information provided is clear, accurate and complete. We consider good practice includes being transparent. We find numerous examples of where the Council did not meet this standard.”Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Investigation into a complaint against Sheffield City Council
Leadership issues over many years
Julie Dore has been Leader of Sheffield City Council since 2011 but little improvement seems to have happened to even basic everyday functions of the Council under her tenure. Sheffield City Council’s leaders have previously been accused of being ‘in thrall’ to it’s Officers and the statistics above appear to support that hypothesis.
In these respects I welcome the retirement of Sheffield City Council’s Chief Executive John Mothersole (who should not escape similar criticism for issues and failures over his tenure) last Christmas and look forward to any impact the incoming Chief Executive, Kate Josephs, can make to improve Council operations.
Julie Dore had indicated she would step down as Council Leader in Local Elections this last May. However those local elections were postponed due to the pandemic and Cllr Dore has continued in position. Considering the latest damning Ombudsman report and continued failures of Julie Dore’s leadership of the council I believe her position has now become untenable and she should immediately step down.
Stepping down now will allow for the remaining Cabinet, Councillors and local Labour party to properly assess their options and appoint a new leader to create a fresh environment in time for the new Chief Executive Kate Josephs to take up her position and work from an untainted clean slate in January.
I’m sure Cllr Dore has always had the best intentions and has worked hard in her position. Unfortunately good intentions and hard work don’t substitute accountability for failures, especially in a leadership position. Likewise, there are many fantastic officers who work at Sheffield City Council who deserve to do their jobs to the best of their ability unencumbered by the long shadow Julie Dore’s presence is now casting over them.
A ‘Strong Leader’ should take responsibility
One major issue in the way Sheffield City Council has been run by Councillors has been the ‘Strong Leader’ model utilised.
This model means that Julie Dore is the key figure of decision making — the ‘Strong Leader’ — at the Council. Indeed most decisions are made by Cllr Dore and her Cabinet of just ten other Councillors. The remaining 74 elected Councillors have no power and very little say in any decisions being made.
The huge disparity was highlighted by It’s Our City campaigners who raised a petition containing over 26,000 signatures calling on the Council to ask citizens of the city how it should be run. This is a powerful indicator that people are not happy with the way the Council has been run.
Sheffield City Council will now be forced to include a referendum on the ‘Strong Leader’ model in the next Local Elections.
Julie Dore has long been a staunch advocate of her ‘Strong Leader’ model. I suggest that a truly strong leader should be fully accountable for failures of the organisation they are leading.
Likewise, I suggest that other members of the Cabinet, Councillors and the local Labour Party should be holding their ‘strong leader’ to account. For no real or meaningful accountability to come from the city’s leaders in the face of such a damning report last week, on top of the many other issues raised, is a true collective failure that massively misjudges the mood of Sheffield’s residents.
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