Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership

£325 million deal for business growth

Published 6th August 2014 at 11:28am

Guest blog from LEP Board member Paul Houghton

A few weekends ago, when newspaper front pages were filled with photos of cyclists climbing the “Cote de Wincobank”, Sheffield City Region had a second reason to celebrate as local leaders closed a multi-million Growth Deal with Government.

On a visit to a thriving manufacturing business in Sheffield, fellow Local Enterprise Partnership board members David Grey and Councillor Julie Dore and I met with the Deputy Prime Minister to shake hands on the fifth biggest Growth Deal in the country.

Our Growth Deal will see Government hand £325 million to the Sheffield City Region over the next six years. This deal is the result of months of hard work from a diverse mix of people. I’m proud to say I am part of a team which helped to secure funding to create over 28,000 jobs and training for 40,000 local people.

I joined the Sheffield City Region LEP board just over a year ago. My main role is to lead the group designing a platform of consistent business support across the City Region which will underpin private sector growth over the next decade. This isn’t a million miles away from my (other) day job, in which I am a partner at professional services firm, Grant Thornton. We work with dynamic organisations, from individuals and small companies through to national government and FTSE 100 global corporations, to do things better, smarter, faster – to achieve business growth and generate wealth. I lead our Sheffield team of 100 game-changing people, and we work alongside our Leeds office (together over 300 partners and staff) to deliver to clients across Yorkshire.

An important part of my work at Grant Thornton is staying ahead of changes in the way businesses operate and the opportunities available to growing companies. When I joined the LEP, it was at a time of tremendous change in political and economic thinking. The economy was just about to turn the corner and business confidence was picking up. Around the same time, the landscape of the way in which businesses were supported was being challenged as Lord Heseltine’s “No Stone Unturned” report questioned the Government’s traditional ways of working.

Until recently, the accepted status quo was that important economic levers should be in the hands of mandarins and Ministers in London. Lord Heseltine and more recently Lord Adonis have challenged that idea. The need for change has been exposed as an urgent necessity since the financial crisis because Government can no-longer simply borrow and spend its way out of financial difficulty. They need to take action to rebalance the national economy and create private sector growth. This means changing the way in which funding is skewed to the South East, with Government investment per head on transport, for example, being more than double in London than in Yorkshire.

Ministers and civil servants are realising the need for economic growth in core cities outside London, and this means handing down budgets and powers to business leaders and local government to invest in infrastructure, growing businesses and skills. This devolution agenda has become the “in thing” for political parties of all colours – expect it to be a recurring theme through the party conference season and when any Minister travels north ahead of next May’s general election. However, with vast budgets and decision making come great responsibility, so Government will only hand back power and money to those who are ready.

Our successes over the last few years with the Enterprise Zone, the Regional Growth Fund and our Skills-Made-Easy programme, have shown that our LEP can deliver outstanding results on economic programmes. Our message has been loud and clear: Sheffield City Region is ahead of the pack and Government can rely on us to deliver more economic growth – faster.

The Growth Deal is only the start, and everyone involved recognises that further devolution is needed to enable more local growth. Although localism is the exciting political issue of the moment, with all the parties vehemently agreeing that it is the only way forward, we need to stay single-minded on our own agenda. As politicians will no doubt develop (and argue over) their proposals over the coming year, we will stay focused on supporting business growth – which is at the heart of our LEP.

This article was originally written for the Yorkshire Post and appeared in print in the Business section on Tuesday 5 August 2014.

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