Sheffield is strong and will bounce back – That was the message today as the city was hit by another jobs blow.
And politicians and business leaders must now unite and sell the city across Europe and the world.
The city was told there are new jobs on the horizon as 247 civil servants at the Sheffield’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills office were told their jobs will be moved to London.
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It comes during a tough time for the city, with important companies such as HSBC and Polestar shedding jobs, and uncertainty over the future of the steel industry.
But projects such as the Meadowhall expansion mean there are positives to take, according to politicians and business bosses.
Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry executive director Richard Wright said there was much to be optimistic about.
He said: “It is easy to get gloomy about jobs amidst news from HSBC, BIS and DLA and nobody can pretend this is good news,” he said.
“I would, however, temper this with the announcement in the last week by Meadowhall, the list of projects in planning like the motorway services, and expansions at the Advanced Manufacturing Park.
“They will all create jobs. The issue is to ensure we create more than we lose, that they are more skilled and better earning, and that we have people with the right skills to fill them.”
Mr Wright was echoed by Sheffield Council Liberal Democrat leader Shaffaq Mohammed, who said: “It’s up to local senior politicians of all colours to now unite and go sell our city, across Europe and the wider world to encourage more businesses to invest to create more opportunities for the people of Sheffield.
“There’s still so much potential in Sheffield. We’ve got two brilliant universities with one of the highest retention of graduates in the country.
“We have a great location, close to other cities in north and we have what could potentially be one of the best airports in the UK in our region.
“Although the Conservative Government might not want to invest in Sheffield there are lots of private businesses that do. We’ve got new developments at Meadowhall to look forward to and the Advance Manufacturing Park is going from strength to strength.”
He added: “Sheffield is facing a very challenging time right now with job losses around the city. We’ve faced trying times in the past but Sheffielders are strong and we will bounce back, with new ideas and strong leadership.”
The closure of the Sheffield BIS office in St Paul’s Place has been on the cards for some time, but it was finally confirmed to staff yesterday.
It comes after banking giant HSBC annnounced it is making 595 IT staff in its city centre and Tankersley offices redundant. Jobs will be moved to India, China and Poland, and some staff have been told to train their replacements. The bank employs 3,200 people in Sheffield.
Polestar UK has also announced the closure of the printer’s Tinsley site, which will result in the loss of 613 jobs.
And uncertainty still surrounds the jobs of 2,072 Tata Steel employees in Rotherham and Stocksbridge, as talks to sell Tata Steel’s UK assets go on.
Sheffield steel firm Forgemasters cut 100 jobs earlier this year, Outokumpu announced plans to cut 50 of its almost 600 staff in March and law firm DLA Piper is cutting 29 jobs and moving some services to Poland.
Sheffield MPs have repeatedly criticised the Government for failing to provide a ‘clear rationale’ behind the BIS closure, and research indicated the move could cost in the region of £2.5 million a year due to additional expenditure of employing staff in London, with higher wages and increased cost for office space.
The BIS The department’s permanent secretary Martin Donnelly said the decision had ‘not been made lightly’ but staff would have the option to move to London.
“It remains our top priority that staff are fully supported and briefed on what this means for them and their options,” he said.
“We have talked and listened to staff and unions. Making a decision which impacts on people’s lives and families is never easy.
“And we have decided that all staff will be able to stay in their current role and location until January 2018. After that, anyone who wants a role in London will be able to have one, with assistance towards the cost of travel for the first three years.”
Many of the 247 BIS staff in Sheffield were on strike this week. PCS union representative Marion Lloyd said ministers had ignored them.
She said: “There were more than 150 responses to the staff consultation and none of them were in support. I can’t think of one person who agrees with this decision.”
PCS members outside the BIS office unanimously agreed on further strike action shortly after the closure was confirmed.
“This is not the end of the fight and we will continue until we win,” said Ms Lloyd.
Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore, who said Business Secretary Sajid Javid refused to meet with her last week despite ‘repeated requests’, said: “It is extremely disappointing, but probably not surprising that this Government have pressed ahead with moving 247 jobs from Sheffield to London.
“They have refused to listen to the case put forward by the staff affected, trade unions, councils across the city region, the Local Enterprise Partnership, wider business community and even MPs from all parties. The secretary of state wouldn’t even meet me to discuss this when he was in Sheffield last week despite requests dating back to January.
“This is a bad decision and the government have completely failed to explain the reasoning behind it.
“This isn’t about saving money, because moving the jobs to London costs more and flies in the face of the government’s Northern Powerhouse rhetoric when they are moving the department responsible for building the Northern Powerhouse from the north to London.
“We have made an overwhelming case to retain the jobs in Sheffield based on the fact it saves money for the government, is important for our local economy and helps to retain talent in Sheffield. The evidence is overwhelming but it seems like the government’s mind was made up from day one and they wouldn’t give anything else a hearing.
“Our first thoughts must go to the people who are most affected by this, most will not be able to relocate to London, we will do everything we can locally to put in place support for local people to find new employment in the city as quickly as possible.”
Politicians criticised the Government’s decision.
Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg said: “Relocating jobs from Sheffield to London is absolute madness. It’s terrible for those facing redundancy, terrible for Sheffield and terrible value for the UK taxpayer. These proposals were never on the cards during the coalition and should never have seen the light of day.”
Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield branded the decision ‘disgraceful’ and added: “It has been clear from the outset that centralising the department’s policy functions in the most expensive city in the country makes no financial sense. It also goes against the Government’s own aim of moving civil servants out of the capital.
“We won the argument with the backing of MPs from all parties and across the country, and the House of Commons called for an inquiry.
“We had hoped that the consultation on the January announcement would be genuine, but it’s clearly been phoney. Time and again, departmental bosses were unable to defend their decision, but they’re pressing ahead regardless.
“Serious alternatives were submitted to the consultation. But rather than innovate and come up with better ways of working, reducing costs and benefiting from the input of people who do not live and work in the capital, senior civil servants have chosen the lazy option.”
Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Hague said: “We have hauled ministers before the House of Commons time after time, stood on the picket line with employees and fought tooth and nail to keep jobs in Sheffield.
“The decision to move Sheffielders’ jobs to London is a desperate symbol of the Tories’ contempt for our city.”