Northern Lights: Sheffield needs to raise its ambition for what we can be in the future

Sheffield taken by Caz CuttsSheffield taken by Caz Cutts
Sheffield taken by Caz Cutts
Can I wish all readers a very peaceful, enjoyable and, if you can, a warm and comfortable Christmas.

Today I write about "City Goals", a notion which is chancing my arm, given the terrible state of Sheffield's two major football clubs. For those of us committed to either of them, the season has been heart-breaking so far, and 2024 has to offer us some glimmer of hope.

But it's a different sort of “goals” I want mention in this column. Some readers will know that there is a consultation afoot, organised through the City Council, but as an independent exercise supported by a whole range of institutions – organisations (public and voluntary), and business.

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Chaired by the Principal of Sheffield College, Angela Foulkes, there has been an ongoing discussion this year, endeavouring to connect with as representative a group as possible, to ask the simple question: “what should Sheffield look like in a decade?".

We have been here before. Back in 2011, Professor Alan Walker chaired an Independent Fairness Commission, which looked at the divide across the city, had the support of all political parties, institutions and agencies in setting out what the problem was, and made some suggestions for what might be done.

But given austerity, Covid and political upheaval and the major hit on the equality agenda, it's unsurprising that nowhere near as much progress has been made as would have been hoped for.

The Health Service, in particular, has taken a hell of a drubbing and, if I'm honest, the pressure that now exists on primary, community and hospital services has led to a tendency to draw in horns, for eyes to drop to the immediate task, and for collaboration to be seen as a “nice to have", rather than essential for getting things right for the future.

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Just before the pandemic, the Sheffield City Partnership Board, which I currently chair, produced after extensive consultation a “strategy document” aimed at sustainable and inclusive economic growth. That too was a casualty of the covid pandemic.

It seems crucial to me that we don't lose what has been done in the past. Engaging people on what might be the central goals of the City in years to come must build on, rather than lose, previous input and insightfulness. If that isn't the case, then I fear that scepticism, leading to disillusionment, will kick in.

Those who take an interest in these things – and they really do matter – will know that the make-up of the City Council is currently fragmented in a way which isn't the case in any other city in the country.

Whilst Labour is the largest party, defections following suspensions of some Councillors by the national Labour Party has led to the loss of nine seats – with the Liberal Democrats benefiting from the fragmentation it caused, the Greens holding the balance and one Conservative councillor remaining. Gaining some consensus about the sense of direction and what needs to be achieved becomes even more of an imperative in such circumstances.

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We need strong leadership as we have never needed it before, not only to pull together the driving forces of the economy, social life and well-being of the city, but to provide that guidance and focus which uses the limited resources available to their fullest potential.

There will always be disagreements about how to achieve a set of broad “goals". Therefore, local democracy is crucial in both holding those who carry responsibility to account (which, under the Council’s new committee structure, is spread between political parties), and identifying those crucial elements on which everyone of reasonable goodwill can agree.

In that way, it is feasible to cut through disagreements on individual policies, or petty party squabbles and internal fallings out, to give the city the direction it needs to generate economic growth, full employment and a skilled workforce; and attract inward investment vital to build on the excellent – but often little-known – innovation, enterprise and talent which exists here in Sheffield.

My own view, for what it's worth, is that whatever the outcome of the discussion and positive dialogue about the shape of things to come, we must have an action plan to go alongside it. Not yet another “strategy", but a set of key milestones that lay out what steps are required to reach the level of aspiration the goals are intended to engender for our city.

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That means that business, the voluntary sector, the big public organisations and institutions – including health and education – must work alongside Sheffield City Council, and Oliver Coppard, the elected Mayor of South Yorkshire, to take responsibility for each part of the action plan, and be tasked with achieving the early gains which will give both confidence and momentum in order to mobilise the strength and resource within our city.

The one thing that I think we might all agree on is that Sheffield needs to raise its sights and ambition for what we can be in the future, and stop putting up with the mediocre, second best, and the tendency to muddle along.

Whilst 2024 may not hold out prospects for our two beleaguered football teams, surely this coming year will provide a change in political prospects, and something better than what we've had to put up with at national level. Mirror that locally with the belief that, despite our differences, by working together we can replace the Sheffield game of sniping at what goes wrong with a new direction for “delivery, delivery, delivery”.

If you would like to get involved with the Sheffield City Goals, please visit the website:; or email: [email protected]