Northern Lights: Time to rally behind maturity, a joint vision and determination

Lord Blunkett
Lord Blunkett
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A very happy New Year to all readers of the Sheffield Telegraph and may 2018 be a special one both personally and for the wider city and region.

It certainly will have to be a great deal better than 2017. I’m sure that there will be very many people like me who on a personal and family front have seen the heartbreak of illness or have heard of others, which puts our own minor upsets into sum sort of context.

In the political arena, 2017 could hardly be more disastrous. But I thought that of 2016 and the last 12 months proved me wrong! Whether domestically or on the international front, we saw increased risk to world peace and security, decisions taken by world leaders that leave most people bewildered, and instability and insecurity even where you would not expect it – for instance in the outcome of the German general election.

That is to say nothing of the outcome of our own general election, the remarkable events of the past few weeks of 2017 in relation to Brexit and our future relationship with Europe and a loss of confidence in statescraft and the business of “doing politics”.

But regrettably our local experience has also given pause for “head in hand” bewilderment. In 2018 we really do need (and I mean all those involved in public policy and decision-making) to get our act together.

There will be a mayoral election in the spring for the constituency,which covers the whole of South Yorkshire, whether individuals like it or not.

Translating the work of what is known as the Combined Authority into the authority of an elected mayor and the establishment of a functioning infrastructure, will be the prerequisite to gain the much needed resource and further devolvement of powers, which government have promised.

This should be, albeit in limited form, a tremendous opportunity. To draw down on the kind of resources which other areas with an elected mayor benefited from in the November budget. In the case of Greater Manchester £243 million, and for the West Midlands £250 million, for transport infrastructure alone.

Not to mention the separate funding set aside for “cities”. All six of the areas already formally designated for earmarked funding, were able to plan on the basis of ring fenced and therefore earmarked cash for their area.

South Yorkshire was not! Funding for the current financial year running to March 31 2018 would appear to have gone by the board. But there is a future. 2018 could be the time when everyone gets their act together. Puts their individual preferences behind them, faces reality rather than continuing self-delusion, and ensure that the people of our area benefit from that “statescraft,” which understands when compromise is needed, but then uses the fruits to benefit and enhance the life chances of those they serve.

I surely cannot be the only one who is sick and tired of hearing that Greater Manchester has benefited from this, that or other initiatives. That the axis of West of the Pennines and London are the only games in town. Perhaps with the exception of Birmingham and the West Midlands where a Conservative mayor was elected last May who has immediately done extra devolution deals with central government. Andy Burnham, who happens to be my friend, was elected the Mayor of Greater Manchester at the same time. He has forged ahead as a key representative of the Labour Party in the North, to demonstrate that there can be an alternative which relates the resources available to the needs of people locally. Yes, we can do it. By overcoming the differences that have bedevilled us in both the political and administrative spheres, it will be possible to unite around economic and social strategies that are about sustainable and inclusive growth, which look at how to develop a skills agenda which is facing outwards and addressing the needs of the future. In this way we can avoid the promise of investment and improved prosperity slipping away through our fingers, as so is often the case. We can in essence ensure that east of the Pennines, with the major cities collaborating with their neighbours, display a determination to match what is taking place over the Pennines. Time in other words for maturity, for vision and for a determination to build from the bottom up and to demonstrate that we are no less capable, no less innovative and no less skilled at making the most of what is on offer, than any other part of the United Kingdom. Surely that is a worthwhile New Year’s resolution which we can all rally behind?