South Yorkshire dignitaries outline their hopes for 2015

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Dignitaries from across the region have reflected on 2014 and shared their hopes for the New Year.

Angela Smith, MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge

My hope is that 2015 will see the election of a Labour government committed to not only dealing with the public spending deficit, but recognizing too that something has to be done to address the problems created when bills go up and wages go down.

I hope too that we can in 2015 turn our backs on the politics of division and fear. No nation ever solved its problems by turning in on itself.

Britain is great and we can prove that next year by showing in the General Election that we believe in fairness and progress. Tolerance has always been a quality associated with being British and I believe as a nation we are still driven by a sense of what’s right and decent.

I believe that 2015 will be remembered as the year when the British people voted for hope, not hate.

Happy New Year!

Rosie Winterton, MP for Doncaster Central

As we count down to Christmas and the New Year, I want to wish you all a very happy festive season.

It is always an exciting time of year, but amid the celebrating and enjoyment we shouldn’t forget there is also a lot of anxiety and worry for the many people who have suffered at the hands of the current government.

The devastation it is causing is immense.

There have been cuts to our public services, families facing a cost of living crisis and at the same time struggling with insecurity at work caused by zero hours contracts, exploitative agencies and low pay.

The reality is that for many people here in Doncaster, under this Government, there has been no economic recovery at all.

As Opposition Chief Whip I am particularly proud that we won votes on the hated bedroom tax, tied pubs, our NHS bill and passed the bill on International Aid.

But the next six months will be dramatic and busy times as the country gears up for the General Election in May.

George Osborne’s Autumn Statement showed exactly what is in store if the Conservatives win. There will be a virtual dismantling of the welfare state and local government, a collapse of public services like the NHS, education and the police.

Our country would be plunged into the kind of crisis last suffered in the desperate, austere days of the 1930s.

At the same time, of course, we have seen the rise of UKIP – a party with a political agenda even further to the right than that of the Conservatives and a party which plays on people’s worst fears about immigration.

Labour, however, plan to balance the books in a fairer way.

We will raise the minimum wage, ban exploitative zero-hour contracts, repeal the Tories’ plans to bring competition and privatisation to the NHS and introduce a mansion tax for people in homes worth more than £2 million.

So enjoy this festive season, but help us to bring this government to an end next year, to create a brighter future for ordinary people.

I wish you all the very best for 2015.

Ros Jones, Mayor of Doncaster.

2014 has seen big challenges but huge progress in Doncaster. The stark central government cuts to public services continue to impact local residents but there are also reasons to be cheerful as we go into 2015:

The High Speed Rail College: Our team effort with local businesses, MPs and regional partners convinced government that Doncaster was the right location for the new specialist national rail college. It will grow our thriving rail sector and teach youngsters high level engineering skills leading to well-paid jobs.

New apprenticeships: These are offering local people a route into skilled work. I set a target of 750 new apprenticeships for Doncaster by 2017 and we’re set to smash that figure having already created more than 320 in 2014 and nearly 600 in total.

Doncaster’s economy: It is growing with the employment rate back to pre-recession levels, slightly above the regional average.

Town centre regeneration: It continues, driven by the Civic and Cultural Quarter and our £1m outdoor market revamp. It is bringing new private sector investment including a cinema and restaurants that are set to create 100 jobs, making the town a more attractive place to visit. A new owner is developing the Waterdale centre and the Frenchgate Centre has also announced improvements.

White Rose Way: This saw its official opening in 2014 reducing congestion and providing a huge economic boost, whilst work on the first phase of FARRRS, the airport link road, has made huge progress.

Government intervention ended at Doncaster Council: The Secretary of State ended intervention early due to the big improvements we have made. The Doncaster Children’s Services Trust was established and residents can be more confident about the way local services are being run.

New homes: These are appearing across the borough, including council properties, and are set to continue in 2015.

There were a host of other positive stories too, such as the £1million secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund to uncover the local history of WWI. We will work with local people and the voluntary sector to deliver more successful schemes next year.

The £400m iPort at Rossington will also take shape in 2015 as well as the first of 1,200 new homes on the colliery site. Other local areas will also see investment, such as Mexborough where there will be improvements to the high street, multi-storey car park and a new outdoor market.

All reasons to be optimistic about the year ahead. A happy New Year to all.

Julie Dore, leader of Sheffield Council

I want to wish everyone in Sheffield a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

It’s been an exciting year for the city for many reasons, not least due to the Tour de France’s Grand Depart, which captured the imagination of thousands when the peloton swept into Sheffield on that magical Sunday in July.

We’ve been declared the UK’s Outdoor Capital City and, at the time of writing, are currently on track to be named BBC Countryfile’s Best UK City for Countryside Lovers, in a national poll.

This proves what we’ve known for a long time – that Sheffield’s unique position, having a third of the city within the Peak District National Park, as well as spectacular parks, valleys, hills and outdoor facilities – is something special and should be shouted about.

The city centre is being reshaped, with the opening of the new Moor Market, development pushing ahead at Castlegate and, just in the last few days, the announcement that Sheffield City Council is seeking a development partner for the New Retail Quarter scheme.

For several years, we have been fighting for more power from the Government – and this has now become with a reality, with the announcement of Sheffield’s devolution deal. Although we will continue to push for more powers, the deal means that we now have control of Sheffield’s adult skills budget, meaning that we can ensure that people in our city have the skills to move into good jobs in the local area, in industries we excel in such as advanced manufacturing.

And while the city is pushing forward, being more ambitious in the face of ever-increasing budget cuts, communities in Sheffield are also rising to the challenge.

I’d like to thank our hard-working community groups who have risen to the task of running libraries across the city, enabling us to keep branches open.

I’d also like to thank all those who donated and smashed the target for the Women of Steel appeal, backed by The Star and the Sheffield Telegraph newspapers.

Their generosity means that we now have the money to build a permanent memorial to those brave women in Sheffield, whose bravery, determination, work ethic and sheer guts can finally be given the recognition they deserve after 70 years.

But while there is so much to be proud of about 2014, I know it has been a tough year and lots of hard decisions have had to be made. I am under no illusion that the next year could be equally as tough.

I am determined to stand up for the people of Sheffield and will be taking on board what you have been telling me in our Budget Conversation, launched at the Town Hall some weeks ago.

We want to support and protect our communities, making sure the right services are getting to those people who need it the most.

We will be doing more work with businesses, not least through our new Business Sheffield service, to encourage firms to start-up, grow and thrive in Sheffield.

Tourism and business are linked hand in hand and so we will also be doing all we can to make sure Sheffield is a destination that people want to come to for both pleasure and business.

We want to make sure the next year is a good year as far as we can for everyone.

Thank you and all the best for the coming year.

Caroline Flint, MP for Don Valley

Star readers will know the past year has been one of mixed blessings.

Many people have found it tougher to make ends meet; and I’d be wrong if I didn’t point out that the Government could make life easier, and in some cases are making life more difficult.

In my view, the bedroom tax is simply unfair. One of my wishes for 2015 is to see it scrapped. Too many people are having to turn to food banks for help – but I’m grateful to those volunteers who run them week in week out. At the moment, they are needed, and just blaming the Government won’t put food on tables.

There’s no doubt the NHS is starting to creak under the strain. £3billion was wasted on a daft reorganisation that no one can see any improvement from. But ask people about getting a GP appointment or look at the pressure on our local A&E and what we see an NHS under pressure. In 2015, I hope we can change that.

2014 has seen some exciting changes across Doncaster. Conisbrough Castle re-opened to record numbers after a £1million refurbishment by English Heritage; a bid I supported. Well worth a visit. The FARRRS link road is taking shape. This time next year, it may be open to the great relief of Rossington residents. FARRRS, linking the M18 to Robin Hood Airport, has taken 17 years to achieve. In 2014, our airport won more awards as one of Britain’s best airports. Over 100 firms are based at the airport site and Robin Hood has signed a new long term contract with holiday company TUI. Every week, I’m reminded how wrong the people who opposed this airport were. But from Bawtry farmers market to the Leger Festival and the Cast theatre’s brilliant first year, people are starting to take notice of Doncaster.

I knock on a lot of doors in the towns and villages of Don Valley, but in 1997, I never thought I’d be asking to residents whether lions are keeping them awake at night. But Branton is a neighbour of one of the UK’s most successful wildlife parks. And with Victor the polar bear feeling at home – the park is well worth a trip – even over Christmas.

A word of thanks to all the businesses and residents that keep me up to date with what is happening in their neighbourhood. Also to everyone who signed petitions for lower speed limits near schools. From Conisbrough to Tickhill to Dunscroft to Thorne and many places in between, primary schools are getting 20mph limits. And on Cantley Lane, the McAuley Catholic High School finally had the speed limit cut to 30mph – after a decade pressing the case. We were reminded of the importance of road safety after the terrible loss of five bright young people in a car accident in November. In 2015, I hope we will see more steps to make our roads safer.

2014 will be most remembered for the WW1 centenary. I’m backing the honouring of war graves at St Peter’s, Old Edlington, and was proud to hear the Conisbrough 100 were the first names read out at the Tower of London remembrance.

My last meeting of the year was out with postie Elaine Stevens doing a great job delivering Christmas mail in Conisbrough. This time of year, Royal Mail is out six days a week in all weathers, almost unnoticed, delivering cards, letters and parcels that remind us of the important people in our lives at Christmas.

I’m spending Christmas at home in Sprotbrough this year. Let’s spare a thought for all those who do important jobs to keep things going while we enjoy the holiday. And take comfort and joy that Doncaster is starting to be noticed for things we can all be proud of.

Count your blessings. Merry Christmas and best wishes for the New Year.

Councillor Anne Western, Leader, Derbyshire County Council

Looking back over the past 12 months there has been much to celebrate in Derbyshire.

Markham Vale, our flagship regeneration site, continues to grow from strength to strength with more jobs being created and more businesses choosing Markham as their home.

Our Digital Derbyshire project to bring fibre broadband access to more than 95 per cent of the county’s homes and businesses is continuing at a pace and there were further benefits for local businesses through our project to build six new housing and residential developments for older people across the county. All partners have been encouraged to use local contractors resulting in a £15 million trade boost for local firms to date.

Derbyshire was thrown into the international spotlight when the Tour de France swept over the border and vintage cycling event L’Eroica provided a welcome boost to tourism. And there were further milestones for our visitor economy – we agreed a vision and 10 year strategy to put the Elvaston Castle estate on a sustainable footing for the future and we worked with High Peak Borough Council to get extra cash from the Heritage Lottery with a view to converting Buxton Crescent into a five star spa and hotel.

We secured funding for a new library in Heanor which is currently being built and scheduled to open in March 2015. And we agreed to invest £23m to replace street lights across the county with LED fittings to save cash in the long term on energy costs and maintenance. We also agreed to spend an extra £23m over next three years to bring hundreds of miles of the county’s roads up to scratch.

Derbyshire’s services for children and young people were rated “good” by Ofsted and there was more good news as the number of Derbyshire young people not in education, employment or training fell by 5.7%.

We also helped more young people into employment by offering dozens more young people an apprenticeship with the county council. We also decided to do the right thing by our lowest paid employees. We introduced the living wage to boost their pay packets to an acceptable level and we’re encouraging other Derbyshire employers to do the same.

It’s a sad fact that more people in Derbyshire are having to turn to food banks for help. That’s why we’ve been supporting Derbyshire’s network of 22 food banks with funding, setting up donation points at 40 of our buildings and supporting appeals for people to volunteer and donate.

Unfortunately, there were other things we wished we didn’t have to do too as we began the mammoth task of cutting £157m from our budget by 2018. I’m sorry to say there will be more of the same again this year as we continue to look for ways to meet the funding shortfall due to Government cuts and other pressures.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We’re currently working on exciting plans to create a combined authority which will give Derby and Derbyshire a stronger voice to bring hundreds of millions of pounds to the county for the benefit of residents.

All ten councils in Derbyshire are coming together to fight Derbyshire’s corner and the people who know the area best will make sure resources are targeted where they are needed most.

Derbyshire has lost out on money in the past because it does not have a combined authority but I’m confident that by taking control of our future better times lie ahead with promise of greater devolution. That means decisions affecting Derbyshire will be made in Derbyshire, rather than in Whitehall where they know little about what’s needed here.

Looking ahead to May, we all have a role to play at the ballot box in deciding the way in which our country is run in the future – whatever our political beliefs. It was heartening to see such a high turnout in the Scottish referendum this year and I hope local people will use their democratic right in 2015 and make their vote count in the General Election.

Finally, may I take this opportunity to wish all your readers a happy new year and all the best for 2015.