'One Yorkshire' is the way ahead, says Green candidate for Sheffield City Region
'I'm the man to take on the Labour Party machine - I have been a Green councillor on Sheffield City Council for a decade and I have a track record of beating Labour. I took my own seat from Labour and have held it for a decade.'
The Green Party is hoping to make gains in the pending council elections, and there is a feeling of optimism in the air.
So much so that they are also fielding a candidate for Sheffield City Region mayor in the guise of Councillor Rob Murphy.
“We didn’t field a candidate for the crime commissioner elections as we feel that the role should be non-political,” Rob says as we chat over a coffee in Sheffield’s Waterstones. “So this is really our first crack at a regional election.”
Earlier in the week, the Green’s wheeled in their top brass to officially launch the campaigns in both races - no doubt choosing Sheffield Central Library as the venue to cause maximum embarrassment to the city council’s ruling Labour administration.
It is the building, afterall, which the council had hoped to turn into a luxury hotel in a deal with a Chinese businessman, followed by an awkward climbdown and an ongoing wall of silence about the once-mooted £1bn of Chinese investment coming to the city.
But in terms of the mayoral race, the Greens have other priorities.
“I want to bring more accountability and more openness to the political process within the region,” says Rob.
“As a party we have also been pushing for all meetings to be recorded. The city council keep saying it’s something they want to introduce, but it’s something that I would be pushing hard for if I were to become mayor.”
He says that he would also want to engage more directly with the electorate - holding public question and answer sessions, and encouraging cabinet members on all four authorities to do the same.
The Greens record of influence on Sheffield City Council is significant, Rob says - something that he would want to extend to the Sheffield City Region; although he says he is ultimately committed to the ‘One Yorkshire’ devolution deal.
He cites the living wage, council tax to go on social care, 20mph zones and development of brownfield sites as Green initiatives which have ultimately been taken up by the Labour-run Sheffield authority.
“We suggested that we should have people looking into how we can develop brownfield sites in the future and a year later that’s what they were doing,” says Rob.
He is also keen to clean-up the region’s carbon footprint, he says, getting more people onto buses and, ultimately, fewer cars on the roads; and to improve the fortunes of the region’s economy.
But for Rob, it is less about courting major investors into the region, but instead providing more support for the SME sector - allowing smaller firms to develop and thrive, and ensuring the support and infrastructure is in place for that to happen.
He also sees high-speed broadband across the region as crucial for the area’s future prosperity.
The potential arrival of Channel 4 in Sheffield is also vital for growth in the digital and media sectors, but Rob questions the planned location next to Sheffield Station, a site he says should be used to improve transport infrastructure.
“I think the Greens look at the bigger picture - about where we need to be in 20 years’ time,” Rob says.
“Ultimately, in my opinion, the Sheffield City Region is too small, and I’m a supporter of Yorkshire-wide devolution.
“Scotland has achieved devolution quite successfully - although I’d be opposed to having a single mayor for the whole of Yorkshire.
“What I can do in the short term is bring the politicians within the four regions together - to hopefully get them to look at the bigger picture, and not just work independently for the benefit of their own supporters.”