This has been a year of highs and lows.
Here in the Sheffield City Region there has been a great deal to celebrate. We’ve made positive strides in improving our transport network aided by the appointment of Dame Sarah Storey as our Active Travel Commissioner; who’s doing a fantastic job in encouraging and enabling more people to walk and cycle.
Across the Region, we’ve ensured transformative projects get off the ground; from Barnsley’s Digital Media Centre 2 to Grey to Green in Sheffield, the new Gulliver’s resort in Rotherham and the revamped Wool Market in Doncaster.
I recognise that while we’ve driven changes which will make a difference to the people who live, work and invest in our region, for many this has been a challenging year. There are families still recovering from last month’s devastating floods, and my thoughts are with them during what will be a difficult Christmas. Meeting residents impacted by the flooding who are stoically piecing their lives back together again has been a humbling experience.
Earlier this year, I was similarly humbled to meet Richard Ratcliffe to offer my support to the campaign to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. My thoughts remain with Nazanin and her family, as she spends yet another Christmas without freedom.
As we enjoy the company of loved ones, we should all take a moment to think of those who are not so fortunate. Those who rely on the support of food banks, those who are homeless and who are in desperate need of help. We should think of the people who will work through the festivities; NHS workers, firefighters and police officers, and our Armed Forces personnel who will continue to protect us and our country’s interests at home and abroad.
Volunteers will be giving up their own Christmases and spending time away from their families to work for organisations like Samaritans. These unsung heroes play a significant role over the Christmas season in particular when mental health issues can sadly become acute for those affected. Research by MIND shows that eight out ten of us feel under more pressure during the Christmas period. We need to look out for each other and be prepared to lend a helping hand for those who are struggling.
Looking ahead to 2020, many of us will be making resolutions. As Mayor of the Sheffield City Region I’ll be pushing ahead with my priorities – improving our environment, economy, transport, and promoting our region’s cultural offer. I’ll be working hard with leaders to bring increased powers and resources to our region, with the aim of further boosting our economy, improving our infrastructure, and ensuring we have a transport network fit for the 21st century.
I’ll be continuing my campaign to get compensation for passengers who are still forced to travel on Pacer trains on our rail network. Public transport is vital, and I’m glad more than 7,000 people responded to our independent Bus Review. I’m looking forward to receiving the findings of that Review from Clive Betts MP, and putting the panel’s recommendations into action.
Early in 2020 we will be launching a public consultation on our new Strategic Economic Plan (SEP). The SEP will define how we plan to grow our economy, improve the prosperity of our people and our businesses, and make the region a better place in which to live, work and invest. This is a top priority for the Region, for me, and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and will guide our work in the years to come.
We will also hear whether our £220m Transforming Cities Fund bid was successful, which has the potential to fund game-changing active travel and transport improvements across South Yorkshire and we will start the search for our first Culture Commissioner, as part of my aim to promote our cultural offer. This will be an exciting piece of work, and I hope we can amplify the creativity and innovation our region has in spades.
The most pressing issue next year, and indeed the years that follow, is the environment. After our declaration of a Climate Emergency in November, the work we deliver around our energy strategy and in tackling climate change is of profound importance. This challenge is being faced by us all, and I will be ensuring protecting the environment is at the forefront of our plans and activities.
Like my late friend Jo Cox, I will never concede to the notion that what divides us, is more important than what we have in common. All who serve the public have a duty to work for and with the whole country, and to remember that its future is in their hands.
They bear the great responsibility of seeing that the forces dividing us are confronted, rather than fed – and that we work to bring people together, not force them apart. The dangers we face are real. And the eyes of history, will be upon us all. There’s a lot of work to do but a lot to look forward to.
I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.