This is what Sheffield needs to recover - but is the Chancellor listening?

Sheffield is very clear about what it needs to recover from the pandemic - but is the Chancellor listening?

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 7:00 am

The phrase ‘levelling up’ acknowledges the problem. And its popularity shows how urgently it is needed.

But more than a year after it was coined, city leaders are growing restless. Like fog it is impossible to grasp – and they have seen through it.

Where is the policy? Where is the commitment to real change that closes the North-South divide?

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Coun Bob Johnson Sheffield.

They say today’s Budget is when government must start to deliver.

Coun Bob Johnson, leader of Sheffield Council, said they had stepped in where government had failed to take action - on free school meals in the holidays and laptops for children.

He added: “At the beginning of the pandemic the government promised that they would provide funding to meet the costs of COVID, but they have not followed through and the council has been left with a massive black hole.

“This is on top of a decade of austerity hitting our services. The government should use the Budget to properly fund the local services that have been so crucial in getting us through the pandemic.

Louisa Harrison-Walker, managing director of Benchmark Recruit and executive director of Sheffield Chamber.

“It should also recognise the massive financial pressures many people and families are facing and provide more support to those who are facing ever increasing financial difficulties, including topping up Universal Credit and properly funding free school meals.

“On top of this we know that for our economy to recover and protect jobs we need support for our businesses to get through the coming months.”

Louisa Harrison-Walker and Alexis Krachai, jointly head up Sheffield Chamber.

They said it was vital government did not turn off the support to business too quickly. The furlough scheme and the ability to delay paying VAT or business rates for longer would help hospitality, retail and leisure businesses get back on their feet.

Mel Kanarek of Sheffield Digital.

They added: “Government needs to back Sheffield, and the whole of South Yorkshire, by getting behind our Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, our Freeport bid and the hugely exciting plans for the Olympic Legacy Park.

“Investment in these projects has the potential to transfer our economy by creating tens of thousands of jobs.

“It might not get the headlines but, Sheffield like any city, should also be demanding more control over its future. The devolution deal we have does not go far enough.

“Funding cuts to local government, combined with a government that thinks it knows best, means too much of what happens in the city is still dependent on politicians in Whitehall.

Jillian Thomas, of Future Life Wealth Management.

“We need to see a stronger Town Hall working with stronger community groups, business groups and our universities to shape a better future for the city.”

Peter Kennan, chair of the Transport Forum at Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, said it was time to hold government to its promises.

He added: “The Prime Minister said on February 26, ‘We intend to invest massively in Northern Powerhouse Rail, and in railways in the North and across the entire country’.

“It is vital that we hold central government to this and to its previous promises on delivering HS2 to Yorkshire.

“Our public transport system has lost a large part of its passengers, due to the pandemic. Continued revenue support is needed for our buses, trams and trains. Now that we have light at the end of the Covid tunnel, we need a recovery plan on funding local transport, to get us back to some normality.”

Martin McKervery, chair of Sheffield Property Association said history showed the best way to recover from a huge economic shock was to get the country building again.

Peter Kennan, chair of the transport forum at Sheffield Chamber.

He added: “That is about new houses, new places to work and helping to change how buildings are used.

“Developing new museums, exhibition spaces and renovating venues that celebrate our heritage will encourage people back into our city centre. We have a massive opportunity to transform the area around Castlegate with Covid funding that turns an empty space into a busy thriving community of businesses, local shops and places to visit.

“People want to have more facilities closer to home so there is a massive opportunity to transform our district centres. We need to think about Hillsborough, Darnall and Stocksbridge, places like the Manor, Attercliffe and the new community at Waverley.

“Investment across the entire city will create more local jobs and help to strengthen communities. It is not about whether we should invest in the city centre or district centres. We should do both.”

Jillian Thomas, managing director of Future Life Wealth Management, said the economy was top priority and increasing income tax and corporation tax would hinder firms trying to bounce back. Meanwhile the vaccine programme had given the country a head start.

“We need to pivot off a vaccinated workforce, whilst most of the rest of the world in only dreaming of getting their labour force back in gainful employment. We have a head start, and we need to make the most of it,” she said.

“A combination of the Bank of England bringing in negative interest rates and reducing VAT across the board for, say, 18 months, would encourage those who have saved during the pandemic to spend. Creating emphasis on supporting local business, rather than the ‘click’ economies is essential.

Chris Dymond and Mel Kanarek head up Sheffield Digital, a membership body for the sector.

They want commitments to boost digital connectivity, inclusion and skills.

Mr Dymond added: “The creative industries have been hit hard by Covid, and we're looking for support, particularly for digital arts, culture and media which is an area Sheffield has significant strengths.

“Many in that sector are freelance specialists, and really need better tax and legal vehicles that fit the work they do as well as financial support.

"More money should go towards local ecosystems and connecting startups with international markets and partners, as well as Covid support for shared workspace operators.”

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper.

Thank you. Nancy Fielder, editor.

Martin McKervey, chair of the Sheffield Property Association.