City chief bids to claw back power

Sir Nigel Knowles has been announced as the new chair of the local enterprise partnership. Picture: Andrew Roe
Sir Nigel Knowles has been announced as the new chair of the local enterprise partnership. Picture: Andrew Roe
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The new boss of the organisation set up to boost Sheffield City Region’s economy says devolution is vital to rebuild trust after decades of “disproportionate” investment in the South East.

Sir Nigel Knowles said industrial decline in the North had led to power and influence being concentrated in Westminster – and devolution offered the chance to claw some of it back.

He spoke out after being announced as the new chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership, the public-private body set to receive a raft of new powers from government, and £900 million over 30 years, in return for an elected mayor.

Sir Nigel is co-chair of DLA Piper and the man responsible for turning it into the largest law firm in the world, with 4,000 lawyers in 80 offices in 30 countries.

He said: “I think what made Great Britain great 50 to 75 years ago was the northern cities. But the decline in industrial fortunes saw power and influence concentrated in Westminster and it’s not gone back.

“In many northern cities the public sector is a bigger employer than the private and that can’t be right. In part it’s due to disproportionate investment in the South East. As a result, over the years, it’s seen a lack of trust develop between Westminster and the people responsible for building and growing northern cities. Devolution offers the chance to empower northern cities so they can get on with things.

“There’s money there, but also a determination on the part of the public and private sectors to work together.”

Sir Nigel was born in Stocksbridge. He studied law at Sheffield University before joining Broomhead and Neale in 1978. He led several increasingly valuable mergers over the next four decades to create a global organisation.

Today he is based in London, although he has family, including his mother, in Sheffield.

He added: “I joined a Sheffield firm and never left. I am a big proponent of this region and will use every opportunity to speak up for it.”