Why Sheffield needs to compare itself with Stuttgart rather than Wakefield and London

They are two cities with similar populations.

By David Kessen
Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 11:18 am
Updated Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 5:44 pm

One is in Germany, One is in England.

But Stuttgart has almost double the economic productivity of Sheffield.

And one expert says Sheffield should be compared with European cities like Stuttgart by those looking at ‘levelling up’.

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Sheffield Railway Station. Picture: Google

Statistics in a report by the Centre for Cities think tank reveal Sheffield lags well behind the German home of car firms including Porsche in terms of productivity.

But the Centre for Cities boss says it is important to look abroad rather than just compare British cities with London.

Sheffield and Stuttgart have broadly similar populations. Sheffield’s gross value added (GVA) productivity figure is described as 42,217. similar to another German city, Leipzig, in the former East Germany.

Stuggard’s GVA is around 70,000, putting it ahead of London.

Schlossplatz, Stuttgart. Picture: Google

Paul Swinney, director of policy and research, Centre for Cities, says there needs to be a focus on places like Sheffield to create more prosperity in the UK.

He said there needs to be more production and more jobs to create more wealth.

He said: “People compare Sheffield to places like London and Wakefield. I think there’s validity in comparing within the UK but if you compare it with Stuttgart, you get a global perspective.

“Sheffield should be a stronger performer, and that it is not performing better should be keeping policymakers awake at night.

Paul Swinney - The launch of the new vision for the Sheffield City Region. Picture: Chris Etchells

“We should be comparing it with Europe.

“Sheffield has faced decades of challenge since the 80s. We need to deal with the challenges Sheffield faces.”

He said there are three key things that need to be done to make it a more attractive place for people to come and invest – its skills, its appearance and transport.

He said: “We need to make it a more attractive place to come and invest. Why don’t they ask why business is not going there in the numbers required? Things they seem to be lacking include the presence of skilled workers. That’s why we’re seeing a lot of businesses look down south.

Alexis Krachai

“Skills are paramount and most northern cities seem to struggle on that. Then there’s where they want to locate. Some cluster in city centres and so you need to make sure they get the right public realm. Sheffield has done well in public realm, and it is now lovely to walk through from the station.”

He added: “It needs to look at if it’s got the workers it requires, and has it got the transport for local workers to get there?

“Rather than trying to link cities together, it should be more about connecting South Yorkshire. Connections to Leeds are probably stronger than those to outlying parts of South Yorkshire, and it is that local transport that’s important.

“It may be about improving buses, rather than big infrastructure projects. They should be given London mayor style powers, and if appropriate extend the tram network too. But there has to be the demand for it. Traditionally, they may have been going to places where there wasn't the demand. There has been research that has raised questions about the ridership not being the same as greater Manchester. I’m not saying don’t expand it though.

“The Government should be looking at what powers it can give to South Yorkshire that London has enjoyed for up to 20 years. Mayors should be given more control over what’s needed.”

Alexis Krachai, executive director at Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, agreed it was useful to compare Sheffield with foreign cities. But he said German leaders had many more powers locally, as the county was less centralised.

Weston Park, Sheffield

Mr Kranchai said: “There are some really strong and powerful German cities, but their leaders have far more control – it’s a federal republic which means their regions have more autonomy. If you’re a leader in Stuttgart you have more control over education and tax. They have more power to shape their own destiny.

“You need to look overseas, but you can’t get too carried away, and have to take into account the systems other countries have.

“It is difficult to imagine how you could level up anywhere in the North of England if all you do is give out pots of money. You have to give power to local politicians to make decisions that shape local areas, and local politicians have to take responsibility for those decisions, in turn. You have to trust them, regardless of who’s in power.”

He said people had been talking over levelling up in one form or another, in terms such as Northern Powerhouse or Labour’s planned regional assemblies, for 40 years.

“The fact we’re still talking about it shows it’s not working, and we need to try something different,” he said.

He said he believed in terms of its ‘public realm’ Sheffield was in a good position, and all town centres were going to have to change post Covid due to the changes in how people shop and use offices.

He does not see Sheffield as short of skills, but wants action to remove barriers, such as paperwork or funding, so people could get new skills quickly.

“That’s something we’re going to be looking at in the next few months,” he said.

He also believes it is important to improve transport links between the big northern cities, saying the big northern cities were better placed to compete with London if they were closely connected as a larger unit. He wants leaders to keep pressing for better links between the big cities

But he agreed there need to be improvements to transport links within South Yorkshire.

He said someone in Barnsley should be able to take a job in Sheffield and get their quickly and easily, taking their money back to spend in Barnsley. He said similarly, Sheffield had an airport in Doncaster, and it should be easily accessible.

Local journalism holds the powerful to account and gives people a voice. Please take out a digital subscription or buy a paper. Thank you. Nancy Fielder, editor