Sheffield: stripped for further progress?

The Sheffield panorama which will hang in the Lord Mayor's parlour
The Sheffield panorama which will hang in the Lord Mayor's parlour

THE Full Monty ends its run this weekend at the Lyceum, once again painting a grim picture of Sheffield on its economic knees.

It’s different this time around, with the resourcefulness of unemployed steelworkers in the 1980s being played out on stage instead of on the screen.

Once again, though, the daunting economic backdrop is familiar. Sheffield in 2013 is going through the mill again.

Yet since writer Simon Beaufoy portrayed Sheffield 20 or so years ago, things has very much changed for the better.

At least that’s the general conclusion of a report published this week, which points to a “vibrant, dynamic city that is performing well and still has much to offer, despite the tough economic times”.

Overall, it’s a positive assessment of how Sheffield has pulled itself up in many respects to match, or exceed, the performances of other big cities in the UK, which

wasn’t the case in the 1980s.

In particular, The State of Sheffield points to significant progress over the last year or so. School performance is finally picking up, the level of violent crime in 2011/12 was the lowest of the eight ‘core’ cities and there is good jobs growth.

At the time of The Full Monty, there was a high dependence on the public sector to generate jobs. With more severe council cuts to come, that scenario is being increasingly consigned to history.

Even so, the shape of the local economy has already changed markedly. A new reputation is being forged in crucial areas such as advanced manufacturing, healthcare technology, creative and digital and legal industries.

Although Sheffield still has a strong manufacturing base, future prosperity will depend, to a large extent, on replicating highly skilled operations such as the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Catcliffe (albeit in Rotherham!), which embraces the expertise of Boeing and Rolls Royce, and software compare WANdisco in Electric Works, near the railway station, which links Sheffield with Silicon Valley in California. Already exports to emerging economies are growing.

If this all sounds rosy, it isn’t.

“Sheffield is not fulfilling its economic potential,” says the report, compiled by Prof Gordon Dabinett, of the University of Sheffield, working with the public, private, voluntary and faith sectors on behalf of the umbrella group, Sheffield First Partnership.

“Sheffield has fewer businesses in higher value, higher skilled sectors than other major UK cities, which is likely to suppress the level of GVA (Gross Vale Added) in the city and weaken competitiveness nationally and internationally.”

Many low-skilled residents are trapped in a combination of low pay, long hours and pervasive job insecurity. Too few micro-business start-ups grow beyond the VAT threshold. And although general employment rates may be stable, concerns are raised about the rapid rise in youth unemployment.

More generally, Sheffield continues to be blighted by large pockets of deprivation and poverty. The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-not’ is as wide as ever.

Despite many positives, there are still too many reminders of the city that inspired The Full Monty.

l Full Monty returns, page 9.