By James Muir, Chair of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership Board
For many of us, New Year is a time to take stock, to reflect, and to look forward to realising new ambitions.
The truth is that 2020 is set to be a challenging year for many businesses in Yorkshire, not least due to the changes that Brexit will bring. But with challenges also come opportunities, and seizing those opportunities has been a focus of many of the conversations I’m having with businesses across the Sheffield City Region in recent weeks and months.
Since I became Chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) last year, I’ve been reaching out to individual businesses and to groups such as the Company of Cutlers, the various Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, the regional arm of the Confederation of British Industry, and a host of sector and city partnership groups, all with the aim of ensuring the LEP acts as an inclusive and representative mouthpiece for the private sector.
These conversations have also been crucial for informing the Sheffield City Region’s refreshed Strategic Economic Plan (SEP), which is currently being finalised and will go out to public consultation soon.
While our previous SEP, which set out the City Region’s plans to transform the local economy between 2015 and 2025, largely realised its goals, there is more to do. That’s why we’re being more ambitious, with a new plan to improve prosperity and opportunity for all, while driving sustainable economic growth.
Through the SEP, we will build on our innovation heritage, to create a growing, inclusive and sustainable economy. Our vision is for our economy to play an ever-increasing role in UK prosperity, and be in the vanguard of the UK’s fourth Industrial Revolution, in order to transform the lives of all our people.
A bold aim, certainly. But we’re going to rise to the challenge.
We’ll do this by focusing on what we’re good at. Built on a strong heritage of manufacturing and engineering excellence, our region – once famed for rail, coal, and steel – is now known internationally for world-leading innovation in materials, precision engineering, and intelligent mobility. Cutting-edge partnerships between our businesses and our region’s two world-class universities are what sets us apart.
That excellence is why global leaders such as Boeing, McLaren and Rolls Royce chose to locate in the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District, on the border of Sheffield and Rotherham, benefitting from being part of a connected hub of innovation where research institutions and companies co-locate and collaborate with entrepreneurs, business start-ups and incubators.
It’s also why our region was a natural fit for Sheffield Hallam University’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, where private and public sector partners have come together to drive forward research set to lead the world in commercialising elite sport, health and wellbeing capabilities.
It’s clear that exciting – and innovative – developments are already underway. But if we are to drive inclusive growth for all our communities, we can, and must, achieve more. Through the LEP and the Mayoral Combined Authority, we’re committed to creating the conditions to stimulate our businesses, exploit our core capabilities and invest in complementary new pathways so business invest, innovate and scale up here.
We’ll provide the platform for businesses and people to flourish, establishing new partnerships with businesses that share our ambitions and are prepared to join us in our journey towards a low-carbon economy.
By creating more high-value jobs with real career potential, more people in our region will be able to access jobs that are better paid and more secure; encouraging those people and their families to continue to live, work and enjoy our region.
In order to create those jobs, we have to tackle certain barriers – one of which is our skills deficit. Investors want to locate in those areas where they have a skilled workforce to tap into. That’s why a key part of our SEP is about ensuring that we have a skills and employability strategy that links the educational curriculum in our schools and the encouragement of children’s ambitions and aspirations to employers’ needs.
We aim to develop a world-class technical education system, with a focus on STEM subjects, higher-level apprenticeships and work placements, while also securing commitment from our businesses to develop the skillsets of people already in work. This means enabling residents from all of our diverse communities to raise their aspirations and access training and support to realise those ambitions, ensuring nobody is left behind.
By putting people and sustainability at at the heart of what we do, we will a region where public investment unlocks social good and improves our environment as well as driving productivity. We want to see economic growth that benefits everyone in our region, not just the privileged few.
Our SEP aims to provide a blueprint for tackling the immediate challenges before us, from local challenges around skills and productivity, to national challenges such as Brexit, and global challenges such as the climate emergency. I am in no doubt as to the challenges before us, but that’s why I want all of our businesses, our partners, and our communities, to play their part.
In the coming weeks, our public consultation on the SEP will be launched, and I’d encourage everyone to take a look at our plans, and offer their contributions. Only by listening, and by learning, can we create a plan that will truly work for everyone – before getting on with the job of delivering on our aims.