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New Sheffield advertising policy puts people and planet at its heart

A blank, unused sponsorship sign stands among some grass in front of a metal railing with trees behind
The future of advertising in Sheffield could look much different with the adoption of this new policy

A pioneering and progressive approach to advertising and sponsorship will put the wellbeing of Sheffield residents at its heart as well as helping the city’s efforts to reduce climate change.

The new advertising and sponsorship policy, which is one of the most ambitious in the country, was adopted this week by Sheffield City Council’s Finance Committee and includes restrictions on how advertising and sponsorship matters are managed.

Until now, the Council lacked a consistent process to manage advertising and sponsorship agreements and the new policy will enable clear and fair decision making that aligns with the Council’s priorities and values outlined in the new Council Plan - People, Prosperity and Planet - and goes beyond national requirements.

Under the new policy, restrictions that go beyond national legislation include:

  • high fat, salt & sugar (HFSS) food and drinks
  • alcohol
  • gambling
  • vaping
  • high carbon/fossil fuels

The policy – developed over a two-year period - will be formally adopted with effect from 1 April 2024 and a two-year review period has been set to allow for assessment of developments both within Sheffield itself as well as nationally. 

Many of the products and services that the Council has voluntarily restricted are often targeted at the most vulnerable groups in society, who are generally more at risk from harmful adverts. By removing harmful adverts from around the city, the Council hopes to have more space for those products and campaigns that bring benefits to both our health and the environment.

WATCH: Cllr Zahira Naz, Chair of the Finance Committee, and Director of Public Health Greg Fell explain why the policy has been adopted:

Terms have been included that will enable the Council to successfully negotiate commercial third-party agreements in relation to major events and long-term leases, and to support local businesses in promoting products and services.

This balanced approach allows a progressive attitude to improving lives while embracing opportunities for the city to attract the best and most commercially viable prospects.

Cllr Zahira Naz, Chair of the Finance Committee, said:

“As a committee we are delighted to approve this Advertising & Sponsorship Policy which will now be adopted Council-wide.

“National legislation does not go far enough, and this is one step we can take at a local level to limit exposure of harmful adverts on our communities.

“The overall aims of this policy are to support residents in making better choices that will support the improvement of their health and their environment, while it will contribute to long-term benefits and savings for the Council.

“This is not about taking away people’s choices but empowering them to make their own informed decisions without the influences of brand power shaping what we do, how we think and how we consume and if we are going to be bombarded with ads let’s do what we can to make sure these contribute to better outcomes for local people and our environment.”

Much of the concern around advertising currently relates to the number of adverts that appear in areas with lower incomes and other social constraints.

A recent study by AdFree Cities – who have also endorsed this policy – looked at the ‘unavoidable impact’ of advertising in Sheffield. They found that:

  • 56% of outdoor advertising in the city is in the three most deprived deciles vs 8% in the three least deprived deciles
  • The most deprived decile has 32% of all outdoor adverts
  • 44% of outdoor adverts are in the three most polluted deciles of the city (with 0.33% in the three deciles with the cleanest air)
  • The five wards with the most outdoor advertising (with 58.2% of the total) have 32 times as much advertising as the five wards with least (with 1.8% of the total)

While the policy does not cover the number of adverts in more deprived areas as this is managed by national planning regulations, what it allows the Council to do is limit the harmful content that appears on them.

Greg Fell, Director of Public Health at Sheffield City Council, said:

“Health is often framed as a personal thing – if only we took more personal responsibility. But we know what’s upstream of that. We know corporations spend huge sums of money to shape how we spend our money. That matters, because that has health consequences. It sets norms.

“There’s a really high level of public support against adverts that are causing public harm, especially to our kids. That is happening in Sheffield, right now.

“It’s a really important step in the right direction that the council has taken.”

Consideration has been given to how policy restrictions will result in saying no to some income opportunities, but a supporting marketing plan will actively promote opportunities to reach acceptable businesses and support will be available to help brands create acceptable adverts under the new policy terms.

Where existing contracts are in place, adopting the policy restrictions would be encouraged but not enforced. All new contacts would be agreed under the terms of the Advertising and Sponsorship Policy.

You can view the new Advertising & Sponsorship Policy at the Finance Committee's latest meeting agenda page.