Speech delivered at Chamber Means Business event on 06/09/18
Yesterday (6 September) I spoke to the Barnsley and Rotherham Chambers. Read my full speech below:
Let me begin by thanking Andrew and the Chamber team for extending the invite to speak at this Chamber Means Business event. After 100 days in office the honeymoon period, if ever there was one, is over. It’s been an exciting, if challenging, first three months. It is fair to say that there is much to do!
But – there are plenty of reasons to be hugely positive. As you should be about your Chamber. This is a Chamber that is going from strength to strength – like the economies of Barnsley and Rotherham your membership is growing. Under the stewardship of your President Lisa Pogson, the Chamber has achieved record membership growth and retention levels. I am reliably informed that at the last count you have 1,140 members and it is good to know that this success story is being recognised nationally through the British Chambers of Commerce. I wish you the very best of luck in November.
And I can assure members that through Andrew and the team you are well represented – and your voice is being heard. As Chamber members you should not underestimate my intention to champion your cause locally, regionally and nationally.
And there is much for us to champion. You do not need me to tell you, but both Barnsley and Rotherham have so much to offer the region. For the first time in a generation we’ve seen growth in high value advanced manufacturing roles.
That brings with it a resurgence in demand for business and professional services, for digital, creative and marketing skills, event planners and distributors – which in turn creates demand for high quality housing, leisure and retail centres.
This is cause for positivity and optimism. This weekend I’ll be at the Penistone Show with my family and I’m sure that many of you from Rotherham will be at, or supporting the Rotherham Show at Clifton Park. The Penistone Show draws people not just from across the region but nationally to see some of the very best of what South Yorkshire offers. This, I think, is a hugely neglected part of our story.
We’re also now seeing the start of an urban centre regeneration programme that will transform our places; whether that is the Glassworks scheme in Barnsley or delivering Rotherham’s town centre masterplan, I know that local political leadership, and that of my Mayoralty, is committed to delivering that regeneration programme.
Alongside this physical regeneration I know that the Chamber and my own Sheffield City Region Growth Hub play an important part in support to businesses. We’ve helped a host of businesses from across the patch including Nikken, Barblades and Cumulus Energy Storage – all local manufacturers looking to invest in their business to improve productivity.
This is a good tangible example of the support the LEP brings – alongside the shared public and private sector forum discussing some of the big economic challenges. LEPs remain a key part of the Government’s ambition to empower local areas to drive their economies forward and I intend to play full part within it.
I am particularly pleased that, sitting alongside business leaders and the public sector, the LEP Board also now includes Trades Union representation as well as from the two Universities. In the last couple of weeks we’ve announced six new Board members – whom I hope will continue to refresh, energise and invigorate the Board’s work.
But – whilst we must always be positive there are some deep rooted and structural challenges that our economy faces.
Woeful transport connectivity, a weak culture of innovation, low levels of investment in workforce or improvements in productivity and a skills and education system that serves neither individuals, businesses or communities well.
Quite simply our local transport system is not fit for purpose. Astonishingly, we are one of only a few parts of the country that has seen the share of people using cars increase.
On the rail network it cannot be right that services to London are better than those between Doncaster, Rotherham, Barnsley or Sheffield. It cannot be right that an airport that connects this region to the world’s airport hubs of Amsterdam, Dublin and Paris is so poorly connected by public transport that the residents of Wombwell, Dinnington, Wales and Goldthorpe cannot get there unless by car.
How can it be that in the late 19th and early 20th century a tram network served the centres of Barnsley, Sheffield and Rotherham as well as connecting places like, Swinton, Wath upon Dearne, Wombwell and Thurnscoe…..but our current system only stretches as far as Meadowhall.
And yet, it will come as no surprise to you that planned transport spending in London is almost five times more per capita than in Yorkshire and the Humber.
On skills and education we must not sleep walk into irrelevancy. As the 21st century takes shape around us, it will be our education system that holds the key to overcoming three of the largest challenges that the UK is facing: increasing automation; falling productivity; and the cognitive challenges of the information age.
These are as pertinent to the region as they are the national economy. And we must respond accordingly.
On productivity we have real challenges. Only businesses in Cornwall, Lincolnshire and the Black Country invest less per worker in R&D than businesses here in the Sheffield City Region.
That is our uncomfortable truth.
In March 2019 Britain will exit the European Union. It is going to be a rocky few months as we come to the crunch in defining and agreeing the final terms of our exit – but also what our future trading relationship will be.
Whichever side of the debate you are on it is absolutely critical that you as businesses have certainty on what will happen from day one of Brexit. I don’t see how you can make those important investment and recruitment decisions without this certainty.
And Brexit is not the only issue with which we must contend. An ageing population, job and process automation and the digitisation of our economy and not forgetting trade wars all pose challenges to our economy.
Growth in our region and the ability to respond to these challenges is constrained not by the availability of land, or labour, or Brexit, or our location, and certainly not by our talent or potential. It will be constrained by a lack of leadership. Of vision. And by the absence of a plan.
The most successful regional economies have a clear vision, based on their story, with powerful advocates and ambassadors telling that story each and every day. Securing investment, fighting their corner and projecting confidence wherever they go.
We have not had that here in Sheffield City Region.
The most successful regional economies have integrated, structured schools, college and university systems. That work as one. Serving the needs of their communities and businesses. Controlled locally.
We have not had that here in the Sheffield City Region.
The most successful regional economies have a strong sense of place, identity and complementary specialisms that work as one to be greater than the sum of their parts.
That are connected by an integrated, long term plan for transport connectivity – that doesn’t rely on the bolting on of pieces here and there.
We have not had that here in the Sheffield City Region.
And we have not taken our communities with us. And undermining all of this has been the absence of a strong clear voice telling the story about our region and fighting our corner.
So, in order to change this we must acknowledge…..
First. That Westminster cannot and never will be best placed to deliver a response to these challenges. We must own them.
Second. We are a region at the very heart of the United Kingdom, superbly connected to the national rail network, close to Manchester, York, Leeds and London with multimodal connectivity through road, rail and air and connectivity to the international sea ports of Hull and the Humber.
Third. We have a set of potentially globally significant assets.
Doncaster Sheffield Airport, the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District, global manufacturers and superb small businesses supplying the world, with the National College for High Speed Rail, with a growing digital tech sector and two Universities deeply rooted in our economic and social fabric.
These are our opportunity.
Fourth. We can draw our workforce from right across the North and East Midlands. Instead of being an exporter of talent each and every day we can retain and import talent.
Fifth. We have a superb quality of life offer. Our proximity to national parks, a mix of urban and rural settlements, and a strong cultural identity and access to the arts and culture scene can make us a target destination – the countries’ best kept secret.
But to misquote the late great Eric Morecambe – we may be playing some of the right notes. Just not necessarily in the right order.
And because of that our economic potential is not being harnessed to form a sum that is greater than its parts.
I intend to change this. Vision. We must have a vision and a clear, positive and credible story to tell the world. This is why since my election in May I have been focused on developing a vision for a Global Innovation Corridor that builds on the advanced manufacturing and engineering strengths we have here in the region.
This would help to create a truly connected set of business to business interactions. That connects the region more effectively to the UKs fastest growing airport and that attracts new global investors and connects businesses such as yours with the opportunities of being part of global supply chains.
We must tell that story wherever we go. We must be relentless in telling this story regionally, nationally and globally. For too long the confidence that was ripped out of our communities by that long industrial decline of the 1980s and 1990s has inhibited us on the national and international stage.
That is why I will personally be taking this story about our place around the world to seek new investment, build new partnerships, attract new businesses and lay the ground for your businesses to enter new international markets.
Transport – earlier this summer I submitted an ambitious bid to the Government’s Transforming Cities Fund to access potentially over a £100m of funds in the next four years to kickstart that major transport investment. And the first thing I did as Mayor was to take my seat on the Transport for the North Board – to make sure that South Yorkshire has a loud voice on their major transport investment programme.
For too long we have been overlooked – or worse – ignored. That will be the case no more. Over the coming months I will be finalising a new Transport Strategy for the region. This strategy will be the first time we’ve had a serious look at the needs of our communities, the first time we’ve had a serious long term view of how this region needs to be connected internally so your employees, your families and you can get into and between the urban centres of Barnsley, Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster – or to major employment and housing sites such as those at Waverley in Rotherham.
That will be the blueprint for unlocking national, regional and local investment.
Skills – we must have a root and branch review of our skills system to understand how we can build a fully integrated, locally responsive system that works for our young people, for businesses looking to invest in their workforce and one that builds a lifelong culture of learning. That will mean empowering individuals to take responsibility as well as enabling businesses to tailor provision to need.
Devolution – and to bring all that together we must unleash the benefits of devolution and the opportunity that this Mayoralty brings to grow our economy. We do not yet have an agreed way forward on drawing the funding and powers down that can help grow our economy. That is an unacceptable position for businesses and communities to be in.
To make that happen we must reach agreement between the four council leaders of South Yorkshire and myself on the issue of devolution. I am working on it.
To conclude, I have a mandate from the communities of South Yorkshire to deliver change. To end the status quo. To inject leadership, vision and ambition. To focus not just on the urgent, the pressing and the here and now – but to lift our heads above the near horizon.
Take the long view. Set a strategy and then focus on delivering it. I serve as Mayor because I believe, ours is a region whose best days are in front of us – not behind us. I am confident we will get there and that the benefits of devolution will start to flow; helping you as businesses to grow, to access new markets, to recruit the best staff and for you to live in a region where you can reap the benefits of being connected to all of the region’s major assets.
You should have confidence that I’m busy getting on with the job. There’s much to do and with your support I am confident we’ll be able to achieve it.
Thank you for listening, thank you once again for the invitation and thank you for your support for our region.
Have a great rest of the day.