City leaders urge Sheffield to tackle 2017 challenges 'as one'

Paul Houghton, Lord David Blunkett, Coun Julie Dore and Prof Gordon Dabinett.
Paul Houghton, Lord David Blunkett, Coun Julie Dore and Prof Gordon Dabinett.
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City leaders have urged businesses, educators, community leaders and individuals to work together in 2017 to meet the many challenges facing Sheffield.

Speaking at the launch of this year’s State of Sheffield report yesterday, four of the city’s key names said issues such as poverty and inequality, air quality, lack of skilled jobs and uneven political engagement all needed addressing in order for the city to grow.

And the audience of several hundred was encouraged to seek leadership not just from the public sector, but from others at the forefront of innovation in the city.

Opening the event at Sheffield Hallam University, Lord David Blunkett - in his role as chairman of Sheffield City Parnership Board, which commissioned the report - said there was an increasing awareness that the city must not rely on others to success.

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Co-operation ‘essential for growth in 2017’ according to State of Sheffield report
“What we are seeing now is an awareness that we are on our own,” he said.

Prof Dabinett.

Prof Dabinett.

“I do find it really aggravating the pompous way in which people in London think the north is just Manchester.

“East of the Pennines, we have got to raise our voices more clearly and fight back - and it will be down to us.”

Referring to the EU referendum, Lord Blunkett said it was important firstly to establish why people in Sheffield voted the way they did, and secondly work to strengthen divisions in the city.

Among the key findings of this year’s report was a gap between the city’s qualifications and the number of skilled jobs available.

An audience member asks a question.

An audience member asks a question.

Professor Gordon Dabinett, of the University of Sheffield, said although manufacturing was still a key Sheffield industry, it only employed nine per cent of the city’s workforce, and sectors such as digital and scientific were also important.

Prof Dabinett highlighted air quality and a lack of political engagement as key priorities. And he said it was vital to focus on two of the city’s growing sectors - younger and older people.

On the younger group, he said there was ‘encouraging news’ in terms of results in education.

“It would appear that pupils in our schools are doing better. We are behind the national average - put we are catching up.”

Council leader Julie Dore.

Council leader Julie Dore.

And he urged the city to ‘change our thinking about the older group’.

“Many are still working. This isn’t a retired population. That’s not the way to see it,” he said.

From the business sector, Paul Houghton of Grant Thornton asked the audience how they would help create a ‘vibrant economy’ in 2017.

Mr Houghton said there were five words to focus on this year: creativity, innovation, collaboration, leadership and ambition.

He said Sheffield often focused on the niche rather than big business, highlighting the number of breweries in the city as an example. Sheffield has five times more breweries per person than London.

But there are only six startup companies per 1,000 people, compared with an average of 10 nationally.

The city has plenty of creativity and innovation, Mr Houghton said, but should shout about it more in order to boost the economy.

“We are turning our ideas into concepts which can be turned into value. But we are not yet generating the value,” he said.

Mr Houghton said leadership should not always come from politicians, and highlighted several examples of business bosses who could take Sheffield forward - with a disclaimer that leaders should not all be white men.

And pointing out that she was a woman in a position of power, Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore acknowledged the city had issues, but said progress was being made.

Coun Dore said deals with Sichuan Guodong Construction Group and McLaren showed Sheffield was able to attract significant outside investment.

She highlighted the Our Fair City campaign, which she said was having an impact, and praised Sheffield’s many volunteers helping deal with national cuts in organisations such as foodbanks.

She added: “Our reputation as a 21st century city of makers is spreading across the country, and this growing national reputation will be matched by the visible signs of redevelopment right across the city, and especially in the city centre.”

The 120-page State of Sheffield report is available to download at www.sheffieldfirst.com/key-documents/state-of-sheffield.html.

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