Major steps to take control of our economy

Published 28th September 2015 at 1:01pm

By Councillor Sir Stephen Houghton CBE, LEP Board Member and Chair of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority

This month, the North’s biggest economic powerhouses, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield City Region, each took major steps toward taking control of their economies.

The UK is still one of the most centralised economies in Europe, but local leaders in Sheffield City Region and across the North are working with Government to shift the balance and build a northern economic powerhouse that can compete on a global scale.

If successful, Sheffield City Region’s deal will enable local leaders to take greater control over decisions that impact our economy. It makes a number of bold proposals to Government to take control of powers and funds so we can deliver 70,000 new jobs and create 6,000 new businesses over the next ten years in Sheffield City Region.

We are looking to secure a long term deal with government to give us real control over the projects that matter to people and businesses locally. We are asking for powers and funding to ensure that young people in our city region can get access the skills they need to secure good jobs with local businesses. As part of this we want to be able to provide more support to local businesses to ensure they have access to the funding and know-how they need to deliver training which is tailored to their growth plans.

We are negotiating with Government to take greater control of powers and funding over our transport network so we can enable better connectivity inside the Sheffield City Region and also better connect our area to other Northern cities like Leeds and Manchester. We’re asking for powers to ensure that more high quality homes are built and so that Sheffield City Region can meet the housing needs of our growing workforce. Our bid asks government to strengthen the funding and planning powers available locally so we can double our housing delivery to 7,000 homes per year.

Local leaders have made proposals for devolution of powers and funding to our economic area – Sheffield City Region. Similarly, our neighbours in Leeds City Region have put forward a proposal based on their economic geography. We’re asking for City Region-based powers because we recognise the benefits of working within an economic geography which is based on where our residents live and travel to work.

I recognise the importance of Yorkshire as a strong region with a solid and unique sense of identity, culture and history and I can understand why this paper has given so much attention to debating whether all areas in Yorkshire should come together to form a single bid. Whilst, like many Yorkshire people, I am extremely proud to be from Yorkshire, I believe that plans to rebalance the economy of the North must be based on what will work to deliver the economic growth we need locally.

I have to admit that it did come as some surprise to see the number of competing proposals which had been submitted across the region. My surprise was clearly shared at the top level of Government, as on a visit to Leeds this month the Prime Minister was caught making an unguarded remark about local differences in our region. Of course, we don’t “hate” each other but I do believe that local differences are part of what makes Yorkshire so great. The number of proposals received from our partners in Yorkshire, Humber and Lincolnshire reflects how, within an area which has a population similar to many small countries, there are competing interests and different ideas.

The government has made it clear that in return for further devolution, any future deals will require areas like ours to create an elected mayor. Local leaders in Sheffield City Region have just recently established a Combined Authority and are proving that, alongside the LEP, we can work together make robust and accountable economic decisions locally. Therefore, any plans to add a mayor to our decision-making boards won’t be made lightly and will be made to complement our existing set-up. Any decisions will be made in consultation with local businesses and residents.

Local leaders are looking for a significant deal with government, which will bring the best possible benefits for local residents and businesses. For local leaders to reach a deal with government, the size of the prize will have to be great enough to satisfy the huge ambitions of our local partners and local business community.

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