Nick Clegg’s decision to form the coalition between the Lib Dems and Conservatives has caused him controversy and a huge amount of personal flak. But, two years on, he told Richard Marsden how his government is delivering huge investment for Sheffield.
MORE than three billion pounds of Government money is heading Sheffield’s way - meaning things are finally looking brighter for Sheffield’s beleaguered Liberal Democrats.
After two years of vilification after reneging on their pledge not to increase tuition fees and Government cuts, having Nick Clegg and his colleagues in Government is paying dividends for the city in the form of an array of investment. And nobody is more pleased than the Sheffield Hallam MP himself.
Mr Clegg believes the criticism faced and sacrifices made by his party in terms of loss of public support - which cost them control of Sheffield Council - will be worth it because of the lasting legacy of new developments.
The £2 billion scheme to resurface every Sheffield street, road and rail improvements, new university technical college, funding for deprived children in school...the list goes on.
And the latest boost has come in the form of Sheffield’s City Deal - providing £500 million for new transport and infrastructure projects, plus £72 million to create apprenticeships and provide work-based training.
How the funding is used will be controlled locally rather than by central government officials.
Mr Clegg said: “It was very much my idea to create City Deals. I had to bang the table really hard to get people in Whitehall to let go and allow cities more freedom.
“A lot of this investment will be in transport, which will help Sheffield to develop and recover from the economic crisis.”
The Lib Dem leader is also proud of the Pupil Premium, extra funding each year for deprived children in schools.
He said: “I am now seeing schools around the city receiving extra support to help children and young people from deprived backgrounds so they can succeed. The Pupil Premium is a Liberal Democrat scheme of which we are very proud.
“It is worth £600 per head each year, or £1.25 billion nationally.”
Mr Clegg added: “I work flat out not only as Deputy Prime Minister but as a constituency MP to do the right thing for Sheffield. I consider it one of my biggest duties in politics.
“I know Sheffield Council is having to make difficult decisions in terms of making savings and that there will be changes to the welfare system which means people who have relied on benefits in the past are going to have more of an onus placed upon them to go to work.
“However, we are also able to provide massive amounts of money for Sheffield’s future, which is some of the biggest investment the city has seen for many years.”
Mr Clegg pointed out how national changes such as providing every two year-old with 15 hours of free pre-school education each week would help working families, along with the raising of workers’ tax free allowances.
He also pointed out the raise in the state pension.
Mr Clegg added: “We are investing in our youngsters. Schools are being rebuilt, apprenticeships are being created, training provided. Labour is constantly playing politics about Government cuts but they are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultants in the Town Hall.” But anger over the cuts has run deep. National support for the Lib Dems has halved in the opinion polls and many council seats have been lost in a backlash since the Lib Dems came to power.
Mr Clegg has faced personal attacks, ranging from a poster campaign by trade unionists dubbing him ‘Cleggzilla’ and accused him of destroying public services, to being spat at by two women when he visited Sheffield College last week. Both women were arrested.
“I have always taken it on the chin. Taking difficult decisions is never going to be popular,” he said. “If you are lucky enough to be in Government there will always be people who do not like what you are doing and will scream and shout - but we are responding to a crisis which was not of our making.
“I think that we will bounce back in terms of support. Going into coalition with the Conservatives was a difficult decision but we had no choice, We had talks with Labour but there were not enough MPs between ourselves and their party to form a government.
“I want to ask our supporters, some of whom have been doubtful about the coalition, to have patience. It does take time to implement policies and see the benefits. There is rank hypocrisy from Labour who allowed the banking crisis to happen and left the economy in a terrible state.”
Sheffield highways investment £2 billion
Sheffield City Deal: £572 million
Completing rebuilding of secondary schools: £370 million
Regional Growth Fund money for business development: £117 million
M1 improvements to turn hard shoulder into fourth lane: £111 million
Tram train project £58 million
Borrowing against future taxes to improve Sheffield city centre: £50 million
Funding for bus improvements: £35 million
Improvements to Sheffield to Manchester railway £20 million
Bus rapid transit route between Sheffield and Rotherham: £19 million
Growing Places fund for city development projects: £18.5 million
Sheffield’s Pupil Premium funding: £18 million
New Homes Bonus money repaid to councils for each property built: £3.3 million
Second railway station bridge: £3 million
Funding for Sheffield University Technical College