Devolution to help Sheffield finally punch its weight

A view of Sheffield from the roof of the old Castle Market.
A view of Sheffield from the roof of the old Castle Market.
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The Government has announced a landmark devolution deal for Sheffield, which will see powers currently controlled by Government given to the city region.

But what does this mean for the Steel City and the people who live there?

Stock View over Sheffield City from Castle Market Roof

Stock View over Sheffield City from Castle Market Roof

What does it mean overall?

Sheffield Council says it is proud to have agreed this deal with the Government. It says it is on Sheffield’s terms and the content has been driven by the needs of the local economy. It says the deal is not about Sheffield giving powers away to higher authorities, but about the city getting more control over powers currently the responsibility of central Government.

Every year, about £4.5 billion of public money is spent in Sheffield, but the city only has a say over a tiny proportion of it.

Much is controlled and directed by central Government. As a result of the devolution deal, Sheffield will be able to have a greater say over where money is spent and be better able to spend it on the things that matter to people in the city, such as housing and transport.

Stock View over Sheffield City from Castle Market Roof

Stock View over Sheffield City from Castle Market Roof

Coun Julie Dore, council leader, says: “We have been fighting for this for years on behalf of the people of Sheffield. This is the latest stage of our conversation with the Government and we will continue to push Whitehall to go further.

“Cities such as Sheffield are complex places, and the economy and public services should be tailored to what residents and businesses need. This isn’t the case at the moment, as central Government makes most of the decisions about how the city’s money is spent.”

Skills and employment

Under the new powers, Sheffield Council will have significant control over the adult skills budget of about £200m, which pays for young people and adults to get the training they need to get into work.

This will enable Sheffield – working with the national Skills Funding Agency, and the Department for Work and Pensions – to direct funding to parts of the economy where there is a skills shortage. This should mean more people get into work, because they have the skills businesses need.

Support can also be tailored to what people in Sheffield need.

With local control of this budget, the city now has the power to get businesses the skills they need to grow, provide the right training opportunities for people and get people into quality jobs.

This is particularly key in areas such as science and engineering, in terms of Sheffield’s expertise in advanced manufacturing.

The aim is to ensure people have the skills to allow them to work at the new and expanding businesses along the Sheffield-Rotherham corridor, so those businesses choosing to locate in Sheffield do not have to look elsewhere for staff.

Transport

Sheffield’s devolution deal is crucial in terms of taking greater control of, and leading improvements on, the region’s major transport schemes.

Already, the city has a major programme of investment in transport infrastructure which has come about due to funding devolved from Sheffield’s previous City Deal and the Growth Deal.

But now, working with the Government, Sheffield will wield greater influence over future transport investments, and be engaged at a higher level with organisations such as the Highways Agency and Network Rail.

This will ensure investment decisions in the region are in line with the needs of local people and the city’s economy.

The UK’s first tram-train, a £60 million project to extend the tram network improving links between Sheffield and Rotherham, will be pushed forward, while the city region will also be given more control over delivering transport schemes in preparation for HS2. Practical improvements to the city’s bus network are also promised.

Business support

A support model for the city region’s economy will be pioneered, in order to get businesses the expert help they need in order to start, grow, thrive and export. Businesses will get bespoke advice and support from national advisors working alongside experts who understand the local economy. At the moment, support is largely provided nationally, and does not reflect the particular characteristics of the Sheffield economy, so it often does not do what local businesses need.

By 2024, the Growth Hub will have the target of creating 33,000 new jobs, 6,000 new businesses and at least £780m in private sector investment.

Meanwhile, the city region will establish an Export Centre of Expertise, in partnership with UK Trade and Investment, to bring together support from partners such as chambers of commerce and universities to help local businesses export more, a key area to help continue the city’s economic revival.

This centre will increase the level of international trade from the city region, to help achieve the national target of achieving exports worth £1 trillion by 2020.

Housing

The deal will allow Sheffield City Region to make better use of surplus public sector land. Decisions on how best to use that land will be taken with local and national Government, to get the best deal for taxpayers and the local economy.

Central Government will also work with Sheffield to help speed up house building, by ensuring those developments needed and viable can access nationally-controlled funding more easily.

What next?

The deal is being viewed by city leaders as the next step on the road to more power being held in Sheffield, rather than in Whitehall.

There is growing evidence both from this country and internationally that the key to cities such as Sheffield punching their weight is to decentralise, and give more control over key decisions to local leaders who best understand what is needed for the local economy. Ongoing discussions will be had with central Government involving the devolution of even more power and that this should involve a wider set of public services than has been under discussion as part of this deal.