On election night in Sheffield, we had a painful evening, losing hard-working local councillors and good friends. They were defeated by a protest vote against the tough decisions forced upon the Government by the financial mess they inherited from Labour.
When we entered the general election, we understood the seriousness of the financial crisis the country faced. We knew that whoever entered Government after the election faced a difficult first few years. Yet, as Liberal Democrats we took a brave decision to enter a coalition in the national interest and we must stick to our five year commitment. One thing the people of Sheffield do not want is a return to the 1980s.
I know first hand what it was like to grow up in Sheffield in the 1980s. My father, a steelworker, was made redundant by the actions of the Thatcher Government. Just like thousands of other Sheffielders we suffered during the ensuing battles between the savage Tory Government and the dogmatic local Labour Council led by the likes of David Blunkett. A sad moment in Sheffield’s history that – although it helped to shape my political outlook – should never be repeated.
In Sheffield, we face a tough task in regaining control of the council but we have a local record of which we can be proud.
Education results at all age levels have been catching up to the national average, putting the years of poor performance under Labour behind us. We have seen significant reductions in crime, and whereas Labour wanted to build on our parks, under the Lib Dems the number of parks with ‘Green Flag’ awards has doubled.
Sheffield has gone from being the worst place to do business in South Yorkshire to the best, and power is back in the hands of local people and their councillors through new Community Assemblies.
What’s more, the people of Sheffield don’t want to see Labour taking the ‘Manchester approach’, which is to decimate local services and blame the Coalition. Our group showed that cuts can be made in a way that keeps council tax down and protects front line services.
Yet although people acknowledged a good local Lib Dem record, many are clearly worried about the national picture. Perhaps at a national level, there were things that could have be handled better but at a local level we also need to sell the achievements in coalition that we have made.
But most importantly we need to retain our role as campaigners for our communities. When the people of Sheffield gave Liberal Democrats the privilege of running their city, they saw on one hand, a arrogant and bloated Labour council who ignored the concerns of local people, and on the other, local Lib Dem councillors who worked hard for their community and were strong voices for their area.
It was as hard working campaigners for our local wards that we built our reputation as strong councillors. It is in this role that we will regain the trust of voters and rebuild our support in the city we love.
It has been a privilege to serve as a councillor and it’s humbling for a boy who moved to Sheffield from Kashmir, aged 4, to become Leader of the Lib Dems in the city. With a strong team around me, I’m ready for the challenge ahead.
Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed is the new Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Sheffield City Council.