It is a year since I was elected as Mayor of the Sheffield City Region. Another year older, and much more than a year wiser! I have learnt a lot about how to get things done and I am proud of the progress that has been made. Much has been done, but there is much still to do.
On my watch, working with the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and our local councils, we have invested £77.2m in communities across our region. We have supported a range of projects, including the Glassworks in Barnsley; the Century Business Park in Rotherham; Parkwood Ski Village in Sheffield; and Doncaster Sheffield Airport, all of which help to regenerate our communities, supporting growth and creating jobs.
For the first time in our history, South Yorkshire has a transport strategy that aligns with a pan-northern transport strategy. And for the first time in a generation, we have seen a resurgence of advanced manufacturing and engineering.
Global brands such as Boeing and McLaren have established new research and production facilities, working with our world-class Sheffield universities to provide high-quality jobs and new supply chains.
But, at a time of great challenge, we need to spark more innovation and inspiration by connecting people, businesses and ideas if we want to continue growing our economy. To do that, our transport system needs to be fit for the 21st century.
We now have a plan to do it. I have launched a major bus review, which will consult with residents, businesses and operators to look at how our bus services can better serve our communities. The challenges we face with air quality and congestion mean we need to invest in cycling and walking. I appointed Britain’s most successful female Paralympian, Dame Sarah Storey, as our Active Travel Commissioner, because she has the drive and the vision needed to make real headway in ensuring healthier, more active means of travel are a viable option for our residents.
I have realised that Mayoralties have huge potential. They can bring people together to get things done, working collaboratively to provide solutions to the problems that we face. It is this ‘soft’ power – the power to convene – that brings to bear the value of our collective working.
Because of this we are developing new partnerships: a homelessness summit developed an initial plan for tackling rough-sleeping. We’re exploring how to address the issue of excess winter deaths; and our Music Board brings together a mix of individuals and organisations who promote our unique cultural offer.
I appointed a trade unionist to the LEP to ensure the voice of working people was represented around the board table; and I established a Youth Combined Authority to give young people a say in the decisions we make. It is these relationships that are helping to shape a positive future.
But the truth is that I have been doing this job under very challenging circumstances. Government has been consumed by Brexit, we don’t have agreement on the devolution geography and I have limited funding at my disposal.
And as existing funding streams draw to a close, we are yet to learn even the most basic detail of how Government actually intends to replace the half a billion pounds that South Yorkshire has received from both Whitehall and also the European Union over the last five years. Under these circumstances, it is hard to plan for the future with confidence.
On devolution, there are significant questions unanswered. What kind of devolution arrangement do we want? What geographical area will it cover? What are the powers and responsibilities that our Mayor should have? All questions that need to be addressed if we are to put in place a sustainable functioning arrangement for the longer term.
I appreciate that, for some, my decision to remain as an MP whilst serving as Mayor was a controversial one, but I believed then as I know now that, under these specific circumstances, it was the right thing to do.
My unique position has been invaluable in enabling me to press the Government and cajole ministers on a raft of matters – I simply would not have had the same clout if I’d walked away from Parliament.
It’s at times like this when you find out who you can rely on to get things done. I am extremely grateful to those who have given me their support and mucked in to help me get the show on the road.
It is vital that we continue to make progress – because we know that, if we are in control of our own destiny and with the right resources, we can build that better future for the next generation.
That is why I do this job; and that is the cause that I will continue to fight for – because our people deserve it.
Mayor Dan Jarvis