Sheffield is to forge closer links with China in a bid to create jobs and encourage long-term economic security.
Council leader Julie Dore and deputy leader Leigh Bramall are currently in China with a trade delegation speaking to businesses about potential investments in the city.
It follows an announcement in October that the council had agreed in principle a major deal with a giant Chinese construction firm to fund future investment in Sheffield.
Council chief executive John Mothersole said today that despite the ‘unprecedented’ changes that will come from leaving the EU, ‘momentum is good’ in terms of building Sheffield’s relationship with Chinese firms.
A delegation including council leader Julie Dore and deputy leader Leigh Bramall is currently in Asia hoping to negotiate a series of deals that will secure jobs and investment in Sheffield.
Council bosses told The Star today that despite the economic uncertainty being caused by Britain leaving the EU, they are confident ‘strong’ relationships with Chinese firms will continue to be developed.
The group arrived in Asia last week, but the discussions are now being seen as even more vital following the referendum result.
John Mothersole, chief executive of Sheffield Council, said: “The referendum decision is a long term change and is unprecedented.
“We will clearly keep an eye on all our positions that may be affected, but as far as China is concerned we carry on. Our relationships are strong and the momentum is good.”
Coun Bramall added: “We believe that on balance it was preferential to remain in the EU, but this is a complex issue, as the referendum result reflected.
“We need time to work out the impact on Sheffield so we can ensure we continue to be a successful city outside of the EU.
“Sheffield is increasingly focused on maximising opportunities through key international partners including China.
“That’s why we are out here at the moment, negotiating vital investment opportunities and jobs for Sheffield.”
The council trade delegation has been in Sheffield’s sister city of Chengdu and have been involved in discussions with local government and business leaders.
It follows an announcement in October that Sheffield Council had agreed an investment deal in principle with the Sichuan Guodong Construction Company.
The ‘long-term strategic alliance’ is yet to be finalised but is expected to involve the company, which is worth over £1bn, providing money for a number of investment projects in Sheffield and the wider South Yorkshire region. One project already under way in the city is the £65m ‘Chinatown’ development between St Mary’s Gate, Bramall Lane and Sheldon Street. Construction is well under way on the a 20-storey scheme featuring shops, food and drink outlets, student flats and office space that is funded by Chinese investors.
The student flats element is expected to be home to some of the 4,000 Chinese students who attend the University of Sheffield.
It comes as Sheffield plans to host a major business conference with Chinese business leaders next year.
A meeting of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority was told this week of plans to host the ‘internationally significant’ Horasis Business Conference in South Yorkshire in November 2017. A board paper said the event – which is being hosted in Switzerland this year – is the ‘foremost annual gathering of Chinese business leaders and their global counterparts.’
Around 300 people, including 150 senior Chinese businessmen, are expected to attend the conference.
The report stated: “As part of the planning process for the conference it will be important to consider how to create and maximise the legacy of hosting this event – in particular, how this can be used as a springboard for business development within the City Region.”
Richard Wright, the executive director of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, said time will tell on how potential deals with Chinese companies are affected by the EU referendum.
“Dealing with China or even anyone else in the Far East is very important,” he said. “What happens to investment depends on the reason they are here. If they are using it as a springboard to Europe, there will obviously be areas of concern.”
But he said there will also be Chinese firms looking to invest in Sheffield for ‘specific knowledge or skills’.
“It will depend on what the investors are looking to us for,” he said.
Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts said he hoped the council delegation’s efforts in China will be successful but warned that the economic uncertainty caused by the Leave vote may discourage investors.
He said: “The issue that is going to have to be resolved is how do other countries outside the EU view a UK which belongs outside the EU community?
“What they want is access to the EU markets. That will be a key issue for our negotiations with the EU. We have just got to try and convince people the UK is a good place to come and invest.”
n Tomorrow: How Chinese money is building £65million Chinatown development in the heart of Sheffield.