It is one hundred days since I was elected Mayor of the Sheffield City Region (SCR).
In that time, I’ve worked hard to find innovative ways to drive our area forward. There is much to be optimistic about.
The Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District spanning Rotherham and Sheffield, the National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster, the Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park in Sheffield and Doncaster Sheffield Airport; are superb assets with great potential.
Along with Barnsley’s Digital Campus, they form the anchors of a plan to create a ‘Global Innovation Corridor’ (GIC), which will boost our economy through advanced manufacturing, engineering and health innovation technology.
The GIC offers us a vision for the future. That’s important because for too long our region has failed to tell its story.
So for people who don’t know our area, it’s been too easy to dismiss South Yorkshire as a place whose best days are behind it. A post-industrial region mourning its past; where young people have to move from to find opportunities.
That’s not the case and it’s a perception I’m determined to shift. By telling a positive story we will boost our profile and attract the investment we need.
The size of the prize is huge. We are currently a £34bn economy. By 2040 we could be at £55bn. To get there we must address the deficiencies of our transport infrastructure and ensure our people can access the jobs being created. Social mobility requires actual mobility.
To tackle this, I’ve submitted a strong bid to Government for our share of the £1.7bn Transforming Cities Fund. If we’re successful, I’ll invest it in key infrastructure to reduce congestion and deliver transport improvements.
We also need to improve our national connectivity, which is why I promised to support a rail link at the airport. In partnership with Doncaster Council and the Airport, I’ve submitted proposals for a new East Coast Main Line station near the terminal. Every £1 of investment should deliver over £22 in economic returns and create thousands of jobs.
And later this year I’ll publish a new transport strategy setting out a long term plan for the region.
As Mayor, I’ve been working with colleagues to deliver other new developments:
In Doncaster, where I promised to support the urban centre master plan, we’re investing £1.35m on a new Quality Streets project to reinvigorate the town centre. And £4.1m will support the creation of an amazing new Film, Television Academy, on the edge of the Dearne Valley.
On the environment, we’ve approved £3.46m for a flood protection scheme in Sheffield. I’ve developed a partnership with the Woodland Trust, to plant trees with local schools, as part of my plan to support the Northern Forest and plant a million trees. I’m also working with the Mayor of London to get greater powers and funding to tackle air quality issues.
There are many other challenges. Poor health is a major problem and life expectancy is lower here than other parts of the country. It’s unacceptable and I won’t stand for it.
A key commitment is to get more people walking and cycling, so I’ve developed an active travel partnership with Sheffield Hallam University. They are looking at good practice so, together, we can identify ways our region can become healthier and more active.
Our new Working Win project will help people with health problems find and stay in work. Over 1000 people, 200 businesses and 100 GPs have already signed up.
And working with our Directors of Public Health, I’m looking to cut the number of preventable excess winter deaths. I don’t want anyone to perish as a result of the cold this winter. It’s a good example of how more co-operative working can bring benefits without requiring a lot of money.
I am also working to ensure our young people get the best start. This matters to me more than anything. So I’m supporting the South Yorkshire Futures partnership to improve education and raise aspiration for young people – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
As I promised, the SCR published a Gender Pay Gap report and identified actions where improvements are needed. We will lead by example when it comes to tackling poverty and inequality so we’re working with the Living Wage Foundation to achieve Living Wage accreditation.
And last week, the SCR became the first Local Enterprise Partnership to agree Trade Union board membership. This matters because it ensures workers are represented in key decisions affecting their future. The move delivered a pledge I’d made and shows that our region can show national leadership.
However, one area where not enough progress has been made is devolution. Some think we should focus on implementing the 2015 devolution deal, some think we should push for greater mayoral powers, and some think we should push ahead with a wider Yorkshire deal. I think we should do all three.
We must resolve this, but to do so needs the agreement of all South Yorkshire leaders and a willing partner in Government. I will be working with the leaders and ministers to ensure we make progress in the coming weeks so that we can secure more powers and funding for the region.
Within the SCR I have found dedicated staff and a desire to succeed, but the organisation is still transitioning from Combined Authority to Mayoral Combined Authority.
More work needs to be done, and governance structures need to change. So, I have instigated a review of our decision-making arrangements, to make them fit for purpose. These changes won’t lead the news – but they are fundamental.
There are other significant issues to address; including commitments on housing, skills, public transport and culture. I’ll be driving these forward in the coming months.
The future can be bright for our region – we just need to work together to make sure we fulfil our great potential.