As published in unLTD Magazine in October 2019
By Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region
We stand at a time of great change – but also a time of great opportunity.
Whatever side of the Brexit debate you’re on, there is no doubt that this is a period of uncertainty for the Sheffield City Region (SCR) and for the UK as a whole.
As regional leaders, it is therefore our responsibility to set a clear path for growing our economy, capitalising on the opportunities before us, and ensuring that our communities, and our businesses, flourish.
That’s why we’re in the process of refreshing our Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) and developing our Local Industrial Strategy, which will set out our approach to addressing the challenges of economic growth and persisting inequalities.
Research carried out by our SCR team, in collaboration with the region’s two universities, has found that the SCR has experienced economic growth in recent years.
However, our region has underperformed compared to other areas, and the spread of growth has not benefited everyone. This evidence has highlighted the need for transformational change in the SCR economy, if we are to unlock wider prosperity for all.
Through the Mayoral Combined Authority and the Local Enterprise Partnership, we’ve been working hard to help businesses and individuals grow our economy in South Yorkshire, deliver infrastructure that better connects people and places, and give the private sector the support it needs to create good jobs and boost productivity.
We’re delivering successful Local Growth Fund projects, such as the Waverley district centre development at the heart of the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District; the Great Yorkshire Way linking Doncaster’s iPort and Doncaster Sheffield Airport to the motorway network for the first time; the second phase of Barnsley’s Digital Media Centre; and the award-winning Grey to Green scheme in Sheffield.
We’ve created new jobs, attracted investment and run a successful Growth Hub, enabling businesses to start up, grow, and thrive.
But while our previous Strategic Economic Plan, published in 2014, largely achieved its aims of more jobs and more businesses, the dial has not shifted.
We now find ourselves in a position where, despite being home to cutting-edge assets such as the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, Doncaster Sheffield Airport, the Olympic Legacy Park, two world-leading universities, and recent flagship investments such as those from McLaren and Boeing, our economy still has embedded constraints.
Many residents have not felt the benefits of decades of investment and growth. The reality for too many people is a generational cycle of low attainment, low qualifications, unrealised aspirations, deprivation and disaffection.
Child poverty rates in the SCR remained almost unchanged between 2012 and 2016 – despite increases in the employment rate over the same period. In-work poverty is still too common, and the benefits of economic growth and company profits have not been shared widely.
Challenges that continue to make life hard for many of South Yorkshire’s people, such as slow wage rises and declining living standards, are symptoms of the much broader problem of decades of underinvestment in regions such as ours. The average pay today in the SCR is the equivalent to London’s average pay in 2002.
Much of our predicament is a consequence of the historic legacies of de-industrialisation and the concentration of funding and political power in London and the South East.
Research produced by academics at Sheffield University, shows that we’ve underperformed for over 40 years. We still have a less-qualified workforce, poorer health outcomes, low levels of enterprise, and inadequate infrastructure when compared to the national average. Around 145,000 people here in the Sheffield City Region do not earn enough to cover the basics of housing, transport, childcare and living expenses.
Recent announcements such as investment from the Government’s Future High Streets fund are welcome. While this money will help breathe new life into our urban centres in Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster and Sheffield, such funding needs to be part of a much wider and greater investment in our infrastructure, not the whole sum.
If we continue to do the same things, we will get the same results. So, with the creation of a new SEP and Local Industrial Strategy, we’re seizing the opportunity to break our region’s cycle of underperformance.
We’re now putting our people at the centre of our vision for South Yorkshire’s economy.
We’ll be focusing on creating new opportunities for our residents, workers and businesses to flourish. People start up businesses, make decisions, research, and innovate.
We aim to increase prosperity, reduce the inequality gap, and appreciate the different roles of communities across our region, creating truly great places to live, work and play.
We’ll do this by delivering real change in areas such as skills, employment, transport, business growth and infrastructure.
Our vision is that people in South Yorkshire will be able to access more opportunities, share in the region’s growth and enjoy the places they live, work and play in.
By rebalancing our economy, we can build a stronger Sheffield City Region and contribute to a stronger North – which is great news not just for those of us here in South Yorkshire, but for the whole of the UK.
We know there are significant challenges before us. But the opportunities are huge. If our productivity was at the same level of the national average, our economy would be £9 billion bigger.
But we can’t develop and implement this plan on our own. We know the economy is complex and works as a system. That’s why we’re working with businesses, universities, politicians, community groups and others to gain their views, share expertise, and deliver a plan that works for everyone.
That work is now well underway.