Why we need to balance our regional economies

Why we need to balance our regional economies

Answers to rebalancing the economy don’t lie in Westminster and Whitehall – but with regional leaders who know their communities best, says Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region

We stand at a point of great change for our country.

Brexit and a change in leadership are consuming Government, while businesses are left trying to find the best path through the uncertainty.

It is imperative that while national Government works through its internal wrangles and the complexities of the UK’s exit from the European Union, the urgency of tackling regional imbalances and safeguarding the future of our communities and businesses is not forgotten.

I’m doing all I can to help businesses and individuals grow our economy in South Yorkshire, create infrastructure that better connects people and places, and give the private sector the support it needs to create good jobs and boost productivity.

Through the Mayoral Combined Authority, 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 and the award -winning Grey to Green scheme in Sheffield.

I’m also looking to the future by working closely with the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to develop the Sheffield City Region’s new Strategic Economic Plan and Local Industrial Strategy. These will set out our region’s economic aspirations for growing our economy into the future.

Creating the workforce of the future is key to our ongoing success. That’s why, in collaboration with South Yorkshire Futures and the Inspiring the Future scheme, the Sheffield City Region recently launched the Talent Bank programme, connecting young people at schools and colleges with inspirational volunteers from the private sector.

More than 4,000 people are also now taking part in our Working Win health-led employment trial, one of just two research trials of its type in the country, which is exploring innovative ways to help those who are struggling with long term unemployment to find, secure and stay in work.

Improving how we get around, too, is crucial. For the first time, I’ve ensured we now have a South Yorkshire transport strategy that ties into a pan-Northern strategy; with a bold vision for how we can build a transport system fit for the 21st century.

I believe people in South Yorkshire should be able to walk, cycle, drive or use public transport from their home to their nearest town centre in no more than 15 minutes. People should be able to travel between the town and city centres of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield in no more than 30 minutes; and should be able to travel to at least four other major cities within 75 minutes.

Active travel – by which I mean walking, cycling and public transport – is key to this vision. Through active travel schemes we want to improve people’s health, the environment and tackle congestion.

I’ve appointed Britain’s most successful female Paralympian, Dame Sarah Storey, as our Active Travel Commissioner; I’ve put forward an ambitious £220m Transforming Cities Fund bid for transport funding with Active Travel at its heart; and I’m championing our case in Westminster; using my position as Mayor and as MP to tell Government what needs to be done to make Active Travel the norm, not the exception.

Lots has been done. But there’s lots more to do.

To deliver transformational change on the scale that is required we need a long-term plan and a rebalance of powers, with decision-making firmly devolved to those regional leaders who know their communities and their businesses best.

For too long, there has been a deep sense of frustration that communities outside of London and the South East have not seen their fair share of funding, powers and resources – and the Northern Powerhouse agenda, introduced five years ago, hasn’t succeeded in changing things for the better. Figures released by the IPPR revealed that pay in the North has risen by just £12 a week, compared to £19 nationally, and the number of jobs paid less than the living wage has risen by 150,000.

Answers to rebalancing the economy don’t lie in Westminster and Whitehall, but with Metro Mayors across England and with those leaders who know their communities best.

It is only with greater powers and responsibilities can we ensure that investment is made where we know it will make the greatest impact.

That’s why I am working with other Metro Mayors, including Manchester’s and Liverpool’s, to argue for fairer allocation of funding across Britain’s regions; and I continue to make the case for the Government to speed up investment from the long announced UK Shared Prosperity Fund.  This is Government’s proposed replacement for European funding streams once these come to an end.  Government needs to take the issue of regional inequality in our country seriously.

Only when this happens will the gap between London and the rest of the UK begin to close.