At the forefront of the Northern Powerhouse

Published 21st January 2015 at 1:46pm

As we head into 2015, it is clear that, despite the UK’s enviable economic status, continued recovery is unlikely to be straight forward, and certainly can’t be taken for granted. However, I am more confident than ever that, whatever the outcome of the election in May, we are on a path that will ultimately lead to more sustainable economic growth and a stronger Northern economy.

The Sheffield City Region has a critical role in the “Northern Powerhouse” – a northern economy that punches its weight in the world. In the last decade, our City Region was one of the fastest growing economies in the north, laying the foundations for yet stronger growth over the next decade. However, our City Region and North clearly have far more to contribute to the UK economy and we are not currently living up to our potential.

In 2014, Government and politicians from across the main parties finally realised that this potential was real and strengthened their resolve to build a Northern Powerhouse and end the era of ‘top down government’ by giving local business and political leaders the powers to make the key decisions that impact on their local economies. Through some great work over the past year, including our Devolution and Growth Deals, we have been able to put our City Region at the forefront of this movement.

Our position, alongside Manchester, has been made possible because of the strength of our ten year Growth Plan. This was the result of months of hard work from hundreds of partners, from all sectors, and set out bold ambitions of what we want to achieve – 70,000 new jobs and 6,000 new businesses. This gave us the solid foundation for the deals later in the year – deals in July and December that were made with the clear knowledge that both the private and public sector were backing us all the way.

In July, we agreed with Government a £320 million Growth Deal, which will create over 28,000 jobs and training for 40,000 people. This funding will support over £600 million worth of infrastructure projects, create a £130 million Skills Bank and extend our successful business investment programme with £50 million to create 4,000 new jobs.

Despite being only the ninth largest LEP, our Growth Deal was the fifth most substantial of the 39 LEP areas across England, which is testament to the strength and focus of our ambitions. However, despite being a strong deal in relative terms, the size and scope of what we negotiated doesn’t equal the scale of our ambitions as a City Region. We recognise that this is going to be a long process over a number of years.

In December, we took another significant step forward, striking a Devolution Deal with Government, only the second they have done. This Deal is less about money, but more about influence over how existing funds coming into the City Region are spent. It was never going to a Scottish style devolution deal, as they have a Parliament and have been doing this sort of deal for decades.

For us, this new level of influence within Whitehall will act as a catalyst to deliver our Growth Plan quicker and more efficiently. It hugely improves our ability to deliver our immediate ambitions on skills, employment, business support, transport and housing. It does this by opening up direct discussions, at a City Region level, with Ministers and senior civil servants, to provide the right kind of funds to get our Growth Hub going now, to enable us to push ahead with crucial infrastructure projects, puts pressure on Government agencies to work with us in equal partnership and helps us utilise Government assets in the City Region more effectively.

Not only does our Devolution Deal make us more capable of delivering our strategic plans more successfully, but it will also make us stand out from other places, show the strength of our private-public partnership and flag our commitment to bring growth into the City Region. This Deal marks just the start of the conversation with Government and puts us right at the top table, when it comes to future devolution deals from this or any Government in power post May 2015. It also ensures that the Sheffield City Region is central to and will play its part in the future plans of all political parties to invest in the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

I am proud of what the Sheffield City Region has achieved not only in 2014 but over the last four years. Devolution is a long and complex journey, but one in which our City Region is leading the way. Our successes are the result of the close and successful working relationships between our private sector-led Local Enterprise Partnership and our newly formed Combined Authority. Everyone needs to understand that it will take local leaders a lot more time, effort and negotiation to begin to reverse the decades of centralisation and funding constraints by Government. I believe that, if we continue to work together, we can achieve this for the Sheffield City Region and Yorkshire as a whole and I look forward to working collaboratively with my Yorkshire LEP colleagues and other local partners as we take the next steps in what will be a period of political uncertainty and consequent economic instability.

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