Sheffield City Region is ready for change
There is increasingly a broad consensus in Westminster that more powers and funding must be devolved to local decision makers to stimulate economic growth in the UK. The Government started this process to key economic areas, including Sheffield City Region, in September last year in its first wave of city region deals.
Changes to the way local economic decisions are made are gaining substantial momentum and we need to make sure we continue to put ourselves in pole position so that the Sheffield City Region economy can start benefiting as soon as possible. The early signs, from conversations I’ve had with Whitehall, are that Government will be looking to be convinced of three criteria before handing down powers or funds. They want to see strong local leadership, an agreed and fair method for prioritising how funds are spent, and a strategy for future economic growth.
We are working hard to make sure that we are ahead of the game on each of these criteria…
1. Showing strong local leadership
As you know, our City Region LEP has forged a strong path in negotiating on behalf of the city region with Government. This strong private/public partnership is really important. But equally important is the joint decision making between local authorities, and I am delighted that following Council meetings across all local authorities, they formalised this commitment to form the ‘Sheffield City Region (SCR) Authority’ – which would be the publicly accountable body to hold devolved funds from Government.
This is a milestone agreement, which sends a very clear signal to Government about our local authorities’ desire to work together and strengthen their collaboration with the private sector.
2. Agreeing how funds will be spent
It makes sense that if Government are going to devolve money from Whitehall budgets to the City Region, they will want to ensure that there are the ‘mechanisms’ ready to make joined-up decisions on how it will be spent to ensure it has the maximum impact on economic growth.
At the end of March, the LEP Board met to take forward its plans for the Sheffield City Region Investment Fund – referred to as ‘SCRIF’. SCRIF gives us a framework of funding streams, to pay for essential strategic infrastructure which will increase economic growth.
The Board has endorsed a provisional list of 26 schemes which will be scored in terms of their economic impact and the number of jobs they will create. One point that we will impress on Government is that, for us, this is collaborative rather than a competitive process. Local Authority leaders have agreed the criteria for assessing SCRIF projects and we will collectively make the final decisions on which schemes to take forward, based on what is best for the Sheffield City Region as a whole.
3. A strategy for economic growth
In his Budget announcement in March, George Osborne announced that the Government will accept most of Lord Heseltine’s plan to stimulate the economy. One recommendation that the Government want to see progressed is for City Regions to have in place a clear plan for growth.
Our LEP had already recognised the importance of this, has been working with partners to identify the key priorities for economic growth in the Sheffield City Region – this takes the form of our ‘Economic Overview’.
In our Economic Overview we set out our vision for the Sheffield City Region to be the best place to collaborate, to invest, to innovate and grow a business as well as live, work, play and study. There will be a lot more work to do to develop this vision into a clear strategy and business plan for the area, but we are looking forward to working with our partners and to establish the sectors and projects which to focus our efforts.
I look forward to blogging again soon.