Sheffield 'must catch up' to European cities

Sheffield is in the bottom quarter of European cities for productivity, a study has found.
Sheffield is in the bottom quarter of European cities for productivity, a study has found.
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Sheffield must focus on competing with European cities rather than those in the UK if it is to truly thrive.

That's the reaction from key city figures to a report that named Sheffield as one of the 25 per cent least productive in Europe.

Alexandra Jones

Alexandra Jones

Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry executive director Richard Wright said it was 'delusional' to compare the city to others in the UK because they 'do not stack up against Europe or the rest of the world'.

"Until we stop judging ourselves against the rest of the UK, and start looking at what we need to do to be competitive against the rest of the world we will always be in catch up mode," he added.

The 'Competing with the Continent’ report, published by think tank Centre for Cities, found nine out of 10 UK cities perform below the European productivity average, and more than half, including Sheffield, are among the 25 per cent least productive cities on the continent.

More than three quarters of UK cities have a lower proportion of high-skilled residents than the European average, and they are also home to the third highest concentration of low-skilled residents in the continent, behind only Spanish and Polish cities.

Sheffield.

Sheffield.

The report found Sheffield to have an employment level of 68.7 per cent - just above the European urban average of 67.7 per cent - but more than a third of Sheffield residents are low-skilled, compared to 26 per cent across Europe.

The city generates £42,217 in economic output per worker, compared to the European average of £56,300.

The report said Sheffield was most similar on an economic level to the Dutch city of Rotterdam

Chief executive of Centre for Cities Alexandra Jones said: “Employment in Sheffield is above the European urban average, but it is one of the 25 per cent least productive European cities.

Richard Wright of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Richard Wright of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"To address this, local and national leaders need to focus on improving skills-levels across the Sheffield city region, which will be vital for boosting jobs and wages and improving opportunities for residents in the city and its neighbouring areas.

"Tackling skills, alongside improving local transport to help people access jobs, should be the top priorities for the new Sheffield City Region mayor when he or she takes office in May 2017.”

Mr Wright said Sheffield could not expect the Government to close the gap between it and other European cities.

"It is the responsibility of the private sector to create wealth and we do need to be better at it," he said. "We do have world class and ambitious businesses, but not enough."

Nick Clegg.

Nick Clegg.

He called for high-profile projects such as HS2 and the Trans-Pennine Tunnel to be delivered 'now and not in the 10 to 20-year timescales we talk about'.

Mr Wright said the devolution deal meant Sheffield City Region was entering a 'defining period' with 'great opportunities' but also 'great threats'.

"Unless we take this money and use it radically differently, avoiding large organisations that eat overhead money, we will not make the progress we should," he said.

"Getting the right mayor, and giving them the resource and authority to make the necessary changes is critical in our opinion. "

Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg said more devolution was needed if Sheffield is to catch up with its European counterparts.

"Further devolution is needed if UK cities are to catch up with their European counterparts and Sheffield City Region's devolution deal presents an exciting opportunity for this city to take charge of its own destiny.

"However, with more powers, comes more responsibility. Sheffield is still behind other UK cities on a number of measures highlighted in this report.

"We need to look closely at why that is. For too long this city's Labour leadership has hid behind the pretence of Government cuts for their own failures.

"The people of South Yorkshire need to ask themselves a very important question in 2017 - whether we want more of the same from our elected mayor or whether we want a new, more ambitious vision for our city. "

But Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore called on the Government to offer more help.

She said: "We welcome this report which highlights what we have said for a long time, that the concentration of wealth, opportunity and power in London and the south east is not beneficial for the whole country.

"If the Government are to tackle these inequalities and genuinely rebalance the economy what we need to see is a Government committed to investing in our cities, especially in key areas such as skills, transport and housing which will be vital to improve productivity.

“Despite the government talking about productivity and the north of England for the last year we have not seen the game changing investment to back this up and as Centre for Cities say, we need to see this change in the Autumn Statement.

"Funding for economic growth and local government has been decimated in the past six years, with the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies.

"Whilst it is welcome that the government are now committing to an industrial strategy funding is needed to back this up, whilst it is welcome that they are committed to Transport for the North they need to commit to the necessary investment to make the game-changing projects a reality and it is certainly not welcome that at a time when we should be doing everything we can to give our young people the skills they need the government’s focus is on the reintroduction of grammar schools which will cut off opportunity to the vast majority of children at the age of 11.

“If actions aren’t taken to invest in the north our cities will not fulfil their potential, despite some of the fantastic work that cities like Sheffield are doing on a local level such as putting Sheffield at the forefront of advanced manufacturing and innovation in the UK with developments such as Factory 2050 and the Advanced Manufacturing Research and have recently announced an investment deal with a Chinese company worth over £220 million.”

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