Rebuilding economy after Covid is my priority says new Sheffield Council leader

The new leader of Sheffield Council says rebuilding the economy after the pandemic will be his first priority.

Tuesday, 8th December 2020, 2:59 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th December 2020, 3:03 pm

Coun Bob Johnson, aged 49, will officially take the reins in January, following the resignation of Julie Dore.

Born and bred in Hillsborough, he became a councillor for the ward in 2011 and lives there with his partner Hannah and has a family with two sons and two step daughters.

The death of his wife Lisa, when he was 35, prompted him to become involved in politics, a natural sideways move from being a long standing trade unionist.

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Coun Bob Johnson, inside the Town Hall, in Sheffield

He spent 28 years with Thompson solicitors, a firm which campaigns for workers rights, so it’s understandable his focus is the economy.

“We will still continue our wider vision for Sheffield but at the moment it has to be all hands on deck dealing with the current situation,” he said.

“In an ideal world and normal times I could have listed where I see things in six or 12 months but I can’t forecast anything right now.

“Hopefully with the vaccine we may see things return to some sort of normality next year but we have more people than ever using food banks, unemployment is going through the roof and we need to support both small and large businesses. It’s about retaining those jobs.

Coun Bob Johnson, the new leader of Sheffield Council

“The council has done some great things with this pandemic but I am not convinced that message has got through to the public and I’ll be looking at how we can communicate with people better.”

As Cabinet member for transport and development, he leaves behind one of the largest and most controversial portfolios which includes the long-awaited Local Plan, public transport, parking, cycling and postponed Clean Air Zone.

“I didn’t think I would have a passion for the portfolio when I took it on but it grips you and there have been quite a few pieces of large work with active travel and the Local Plan,” he said.

“There will be a Cabinet reshuffle but at the moment I’m still trying to keep a handle on it. I had assistance from other Cabinet members when I took over and I couldn’t just drop it on someone mid project.

“I may have to continue with some involvement. That’s not me bagging power, that’s just to make sure the new person gets a proper handover.”

He will need a handover of his own as Leader and there will be plenty to tackle. The impact of Covid is straining the council budget, there’s the added uncertainty of Brexit and the local elections are looming in May – when he’ll be defending his own seat.

But he’s staying optimistic and enthusiastic.

“The pandemic made us realise we needed to hold on to the things we cherish and people found they lived close to such beauty,” he said.

“The pace of life slowed down and that pause gave us a chance to think about where our priorities lie. We need to hold on to the positives firmly.”

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