Ready for the next step on a devolution journey

Published 6th May 2015 at 9:05am

By Ben Still, Executive Director of Sheffield City Region Executive Team

Whoever holds power after this Thursday’s election, the Sheffield City Region will have a clear message for Ministers and MPs – we are ready for the next step on our devolution journey.

It is encouraging to see that both major parties have made manifesto promises to deliver greater powers and funding to promote economic growth in city regions. As one of only three areas in England to have a Devolution Deal, we are among the forerunners in the devolution agenda which is intended to accelerate economic growth, and put decision making closer to those affected by those decisions.

The need for further devolution to Sheffield City Region is recognised by local business and political leaders and this view is also now widely held across the national political spectrum. Politicians have long talked about the UK as one of the most centralised and bureaucratic countries in Europe and have identified the route to fixing this as giving more power to local leaders. However, relinquishing control is not an overnight process, especially as successive Governments have grown used to wielding so much power. So this looks likely to be a step-by-step journey for both civil servants and Ministers, as well as for us.

Our City Region has a clear and ambitious plan for growth which is focused on three key areas: infrastructure, skills and business support. Based on the strength of our plan, and our public-private partnership, the Government has so far awarded £350m to our City Region, which is the fifth largest Growth Deal in England. This is over 50% more than we would have received had the funding just been based on our population. The challenge for us now is twofold – firstly we must deliver these new programmes effectively at a local level, and secondly we must secure extra powers and funding to deliver our vision.

In terms of infrastructure, we are delivering a programme of fifteen key schemes that will collectively unlock over £5 billion of investment, 12,000 jobs, 3.1 million square metres of new work space and 14,000 new homes. We are also working with our partners from across the UK to ensure we are better connected for faster growth, and this includes bringing High Speed Rail to our City Region. It is essential to this success that we ensure we have a City Region with better skills, employment and education and we are doing this by creating a Skills Bank – a single, flexible fund, which will broker ‘deals’ with individual companies and provide training for up to 40,000 people in work. We also have funding to build new training facilities and upgrade our existing Further Education facilities to keep up with expected demand.

We will maximise business growth by continuing to use Government funds to boost local businesses. The City Region’s £52m ‘top-up’ to our already successful ‘Unlocking Business Growth’ programme will create over 3,000 jobs. We are also about to pilot our trailblazing ‘City Region Growth Hub’ which will simplify local business support for the many small and medium sized businesses in our City Region.

Building on our existing Growth and Devolution Deals, the City Region has a number of immediate asks of the incoming Government. We want to take steps to keep up with housing demand by increasing available housing through a programme which targets specific areas. Local business leaders tell us that the availability of work-ready employees is still a barrier to growth and we want to work with Government to find ways to further accelerate our Devolution Deal to get more people ready for work.

We want proper and real devolution of devolved funds and for the Government to focus on outcomes, not rules and processes so embedded in the civil service culture. Politicians agree that significant investment is needed in local areas for infrastructure, skills and business support. However, all political parties have promised to make further cuts to the deficit, which will mean less money available to do the things we need to do. If they really want local areas to take control of their economic futures they need to give strong proven to be successful areas like Sheffield City Region the powers we need to take control of our local economies. The measures taken so far are a step in the right direction but we need the incoming Government to take the next step towards a more comprehensive deal for our City Region.

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