Research Report launch……


This report describes the findings from an action research project in Sheffield and Glasgow, which examined the relationships between local governance and local activism.  The project explored the insights and experiences of local campaigners and community groups in Sheffield and Glasgow, and their work as integral to local democracy and for improvements to local governance.  

This collaborative project involved three partners.   Firstly, Research for Action who are a worker co-op undertaking research to support social, economic and environmental justice.  In Glasgow the project partner was SANE (Solidarity Against Neoliberal Extremism).  In Sheffield Ruth Hubbard, co-founder of It’s Our City! and now a co-convenor of SOS (Sheffield Oversight and Scrutiny) was the project partner.  Together, we spoke to local campaigners and community groups in Sheffield and Glasgow between November 2022 and January 2023.  We also worked together with artist Reece Thompson to produce a series of posters representing some of the project findings.  The main project page at Research for Action (where you can also find the posters) is here:

Participants from both Sheffield and Glasgow – working on a diverse range of issues – identified common experiences, themes, and demands for a more democratic local governance, as well as the prospects for more collectivised action.  We heard widely shared concerns.  These included wide-ranging issues of access to local democracy and governance, the multiplier effect of cuts, challenges for campaigners having meaningful voice and influence, and the de-prioritisation of the public interest in the fact of private and corporate capture.

Please take a look at the full report, or the summary report.

This is a crucial moment for improving our democracy; there is widespread democratic disengagement and polarisation, and a loss of public trust.  This is true on all levels (and widely evidenced), but we chose to look at local government because it is closest to people’s everyday lives, but often overlooked.  We wanted to amplify the work and perspectives of local campaigners whose contribution and importance for local democracy and local governance often goes unrecognised.

Thank you to all the campaigners and community activists who spoke to us!

The project received some funding from Lankelly Chase Foundation.

Community Campaigners Act to Call for Higher Standards From Local Council Legal and Governance Officers, press release

Friday 10th November 2023

As delegates to the Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) annual governance conference assemble at a hotel in Sheffield city centre this morning, local campaigners will be there to welcome them, and deliver two messages. 

One message comes from Sheffield tree campaigners, the other from many local campaigners across England. But the collective call to the LLG and its members is that they need to prioritise the interests of citizens and communities. That is, those who our councils are meant to serve. 

LLG is the professional body for legal and governance professionals in councils across England. Their members include local authority monitoring officers. These monitoring officers fulfil legally defined roles bound by statute. Every local authority has to have one and they are legally bound to promote good governance and to maintain high standards of conduct in local councils.

Local and community campaigners everywhere know that local governance is struggling and failing.  

Major and ongoing financial challenges, leading to some councils going bankrupt, are certainly known to be exacerbated by poor governance. But the impact of poor local governance goes much further than this. And it is local residents who are most affected by poor decision-making, failing services, and councils they cannot trust.

Campaigners say the LLG and its members must demonstrate they are not simply part of the problem, but part of the solution.  Legal and governance officers are contributing to failure because of their lack of adequate, robust, and timely responses. They are too often failing to fulfil their proper roles. 

As senior council officers from across the country make their way across the lobby this morning, they will be met by the ‘welcoming party’ of local campaigners. Leaflets are being distributed and campaigners will engage conference delegates in conversation about the issues. 

Sheffield tree campaigners ask where meaningful accountability and justice is following the years of the street tree dispute in the city. Arrests and injunctions, pursuit of people through the courts, intimidation, the misleading of the courts, were all part of the council approach to local citizens. The actions and inaction of senior council officers at Sheffield City Council were centrally implicated in the council stretching its authority beyond reasonable limits. However, there has been no sanction, follow-up, or disciplinary action taken against any individual (elected members or officers) in post at the time.   

They also ask where is the LLG in playing a vital role to prevent similar actions.  Even as the excoriating independent Sheffield Street Tree Inquiry Report landed earlier this year, there were not dissimilar situations arising elsewhere, for example, in Plymouth.  

The message from local campaigners across England is just as hard-hitting, and also wide-ranging.  They highlight a whole range of serious concerns including the misuse of legal powers, the failure of local councils to follow the regulations that apply in a number of different areas, inadequate complaints handling, and adversarial and litigious approaches to external challenge.  In all these areas, council monitoring officers have a key role to play. 

Local campaigners in Sheffield and across the country say that council monitoring officers cannot claim a concern with democratic local governance, upholding standards in public life and overall corporate health while they enable and condone marginal legality and poor practices, fail to stop abuses of power, and ignore citizen and community concerns.  

Instead of defending political interests and council machinery against the “evil locals”, campaigners say that monitoring officers must champion best practice in democratic local governance, demonstrably prioritise the public interest, and hold themselves accountable against clear standards.  Campaigners say there is great urgency needed for this reset. 

Co-ordinating the small action today was Sheffield Oversight and Scrutiny (S.O.S.), an emerging citizen-led network of Sheffield and South Yorkshire residents.  Ruth Hubbard from S.O.S. said: 

Local campaigners everywhere know the very serious challenges that councils face as a result of government policies on local government, and over a decade of cuts.  What matters is the response to this.  Too often senior council officers appear complicit, with a focus on what councils can get away with, not on championing and serving the public interest.  And they too often sit by as members of the public raise legitimate concerns but are treated with suspicion, hostility, and even contempt.  Our local councils are vital in the stewardship of the crucial services they provide and in facing up to critical challenges for the future.  Local campaigners will not sit by whilst those who are duty bound to help do not do enough.  So we welcome the LLG to Sheffield, but local campaigners across the country, and here in Sheffield, say to conference delegates that they must do more.” 


Campaigner leaflet distributed:

LLG Governance Conference, 10th Nov 2023, Sheffield: 

‘Sheffield Street Trees Inquiry Report’ (2023) 

LGIU (2023) ‘What is a monitoring officer and what do they do’ 

CIPFA (2022) ‘Advisory note one: Understanding the challenge to local authority governance)’ 


S.O.S. (Sheffield Oversight and Scrutiny) – Ruth Hubbard: 

Twitter: @itsourcity1 Whatsapp: 00447800743221