Three of Sheffield’s MPs – Clive Betts, Paul Blomfield and Jared O’Mara – joined Star editor Nancy Fielder for an end-of-term round table discussion on how to better promote Sheffield to the outside world.
In the wide-ranging discussion, the MPs talked about what could be done to help Sheffield make more of an impact on the national stage, whose job it is to do that and what made them proud to be a Sheffield MP.
Here is what they said...
Nancy Fielder: “How do we make Sheffield more felt nationally?”
Paul Blomfield: “I think part of the problem is that you can line a load of Sheffielders up and we will all come out with different explanations of why this is a brilliant city.
“What I think we have done less well than other cities is develop a consistent brand that people recognise as Sheffield. You can’t build a false story – it has to be genuinely built on what we are good at and what Sheffield is historically good at from Benjamin Huntsman through to the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre is innovation.
“We come up with brilliant new ideas on how to do stuff differently. This is a city which is buzzing with creativity and innovation and you can makes things happen.”
Jared O’Mara: “It is the same with our musical heritage. We don’t make a song or dance about that if you’ll forgive the pun. Going right back to the early 60s when you have got people like Joe Cocker and Dave Berry and the beginnings of contemporary pop music and then into the 80s and the electronica like the Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, ABC and Heaven 17.
“We are a very blue-collar, working class city and people equate that with not being a thinker or an intellectual or creative type. But Sheffield is a melting pot of ideas as well as creativity in the arts and in academia and the sciences. We are the sort of city which makes something out of nothing.”
Clive Betts: “I think it is multi-faceted – there is not one obvious thing. The steel is still important but there is the cultural stuff, the tech stuff and the Advanced Wellbeing and Research Centre. But there is also the frame around Sheffield, the countryside which makes it very different to many other cities. But we have got to bring these things together really.
“We want to be a great modern forward-looking city with a great history. We need to have the invention of stainless steel to the Crucible and all these things – in a wonderful environment.”
NF: “If we came up with innovation as ‘brand Sheffield’, whose responsibility is it get that out there?”
JO: “I think it is a collective responsibility. I think we have all got to be pulling in the same direction. Whether that is my old mates at West Street Live or the pro vice chancellors of the two respective universities, us as MPs, the council have got a role to play and local media like yourselves and BBC Radio Sheffield.”
PB: “It needs money but it also needs the commitment of people coming together to agree a common narrative. We have also got to decide who are we promoting it to. Visitors are one aspect but for us it is primarily about wanting people to start businesses here, invest in the city, come and study here.
“The council have got to be the leading player but the council have been so strapped for cash. Businesses and industry have got to step up as well, and the universities are critical.”
CB: “I think people feel comfortable in this city. Why should we have to sell it because it is great. But we do have to go to the outside world.
“When businesses are looking where to go they have so many choices. It need to be the council working together with other bodies. You need to private sector on board and the Chamber of Commerce saying the same thing. At the moment they don’t seem to be saying very much at all.”
NF: “How important is the role of the new Mayor in getting us on the map.”
CB: “He is not running services so it is about profile. If you look at Andy Burnham in Manchester or Andy Street in Birmingham and even Ben Houchen in Teesside, people know them so they have that capacity to act beyond the powers they have. But Dan is in charge of the city region staff and there are about 70 or 80 of them.”
PB: “It is a bigger resource than people recognise. I think Clive is right that the role is not just the formal powers but can also be about pulling people together and providing focus.”
CB: “When the government have called mayors in we haven’t been called in because we haven’t got one. Now I don’t think that is right but that is what has happened because the government sees mayors as ‘go to’ people so you need to make sure you are round the table.”
JO: “Of the two Mayors we have in Sheffield no disrespect to Dan but I prefer Magid! I think the guy is a hero and I think he is breaking down barriers over what the narrow stereotype of a politician should be. We need people with real life experiences and I think Magid epitomises that.”
NF: “What makes you proud to be a Sheffield MP?”
PB: “There is lots all across the board. I was visiting the Floow recently. Fantastic, fast-growing, Sheffield-made internationally active digital company. Both our uni-versities are leaders in their parts of the sector.”
CB: “You just need to go down to the Advanced Manufacturing Park. I think it is just mind-blowing and people are starting to recognise it now with Government ministers talking about it as a really good example of something that works on the ground.
“Companies are now seeing Sheffield as somewhere that things are happening and that is one way that you get businesses in.”
JO: “What makes me proud is that Sheffield is a city of grafters. If you look at all the people who have been successful it is because they have worked really hard. It is the same with all the public sector workers that we have got that staff our NHS and our schools. We in Sheffield really roll up our sleeves and dig in and we are not scared of hard work and that on its own fills me with immense pride.