Thursday, 5 March 2015

Reasonable Questions.

Below is a copy of the email I sent on 18th February, on behalf of Blacka users, to the Head of Parks and Countryside at Sheffield City Council. I've not yet received a reply, but a message from the cabinet member suggests that I will - eventually.

Dear Chris,

A recent message from Richard Harris ( SCC ‘Ecology Officer’) said my questions to him have been referred to you.

As you know I’ve been keen to see proper scrutiny of the work of SWT (now SRWT) in relation to Blacka Moor. I have raised a number of concerns over the years. I’ve struggled to receive a satisfactory account of what is in place to ensure that there is meaningful accountability both in the work that SWT plans and performs on Blacka and also of staff at SCC who have a role in coordinating with or monitoring the work of SRWT.

SCC takes the role of charitable trustees of Blacka Moor which was gifted to the public in 1933 by J G Graves. It seems only reasonable to expect that SCC takes this role seriously and that arrangements are in place to ensure that things are working well.  Whenever I’ve tried to get more information on this I get nowhere. I have to assume that SCC officers simply accept that SRWT is performing at a level even surpassing perfection itself and that there is no concern whatever about any aspect of the management. I have also to assume that this is communicated to elected members, in cabinet and in relevant scrutiny roles and that none of them have raised any concerns or even put forward a single query.

This must be strange considering the number of instances where there has been challenge to SRWT from myself and others.  You mentioned in reply to a request for information from me in March/April 2014 that:
“Council Officers retain a regular dialog with Sheffield Wildlife Trust regarding Blacka Moor and other sites that the trust manages on the City Council’s behalf.”

Yet I’ve been unable to get meaningful details of the content of these dialogues. There is one exception to this: Last year I raised with Stuart Turner the usefulness of the Sheffield Standard Assessment in relation to Blacka Moor which I described in a session of the Place Keeping Through Partnership event as inadequate and said I thought some regular users of Blacka might think it ‘a travesty’.

You may remember a Freedom of Information request I sent in about the role of the council as charitable trustees and the need for transparency and accountability. In your response you conceded that some things were not in place. You also told me that monitoring was done through Karen Lewis. When I spoke with her she said it was in fact through Richard Harris who is the ecology officer and meets SWT personnel at a group called Living Don. When I pointed out to him some things that were important he said, in effect, that these were outside his remit.

I would like to know whether SCC through you or through Cllr Bowler or some other responsible officer or elected member or committee has been communicating any concerns, or making indeed any queries at all, about SRWT’s performance. Is it indeed the case that SCC as a body implicitly believes and takes the word of SRWT on everything in relation to Blacka Moor which would surely be a unique situation in the story of outside agencies managing council assets?

As an example, but a significant one, an aspect of SRWT’s performance that I wanted to know about was the decision made by SWT to abandon its Reserve Advisory Group Meeting s while regularly  telling members they were just about to resume. I wanted to know whether anyone in SCC knew about this – yourself perhaps? And if so whether any concerns were expressed that Sheffield citizens were being calculatedly misled.

I hope you will be able to find time to respond to my concerns which you know I’ve been trying to raise for some time now.

Additionally I would like to know something about public engagement in relation to Sheffield Moors Partnership. When this partnership was first mooted at an official council meeting of the South West Community Assembly a resolution of the assembly was voted on in relation to stakeholder participation. Are members of the public engaged in any way?


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