City ponders its future

Possible Picture Post..... view from the top of Sheffiled's City Lofts St Paul's apartments the city's tallest building ... as storm clouds rolling in from the north west soon to soak people in the Peace Gardens (foreground) next to the town hall ( carmera details Nikon D2Xs 12-24mm f/4 Focal Length 14mm, f/6 at 1/160s with ISO 100 )' See Story Jeni  Harvey   Picture  Chris Lawton  7th July    2009
Possible Picture Post..... view from the top of Sheffiled's City Lofts St Paul's apartments the city's tallest building ... as storm clouds rolling in from the north west soon to soak people in the Peace Gardens (foreground) next to the town hall ( carmera details Nikon D2Xs 12-24mm f/4 Focal Length 14mm, f/6 at 1/160s with ISO 100 )' See Story Jeni Harvey Picture Chris Lawton 7th July 2009
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IN many ways, there is plenty to be pleased about.

Over the past five years, Sheffielders have generally become healthier and are living longer. The city has become more cosmopolitan and safer. Neighbourhoods are seeing marked improvements in their environments and quality of life.

New businesses and new jobs have been created in significant numbers, with a higher than average number of students staying in the city after graduating, creating a pool of well-educated young people for the employment market.

“Measured by many indicators and individual achievements, Sheffield has improved relatively to other cities and other areas of Europe,” says a report on the State of Sheffield published this week.

And yet...

On the other side of the balance sheet is a formidable range of factors that the city will have to tackle if it wants to maintain some momentum.

Notably, there is the bleak economic backdrop that continues to threaten existing jobs and to hold back job creation. Up to 8,000 more public sector jobs are predicted to be at risk.

How can the city generate more wealth, create more and better jobs and make inroads on poverty, deprivation and inequality? How can it respond to a rapidly ageing population that will require more care?

Many of the key issues facing the city are well known because they are proving so stubborn to eradicate. In particular, the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ remains frustratingly wide.

Life expectancy has lengthened to 81.8 years for women and 78.2 years for men, only a little below the national average. But closer analysis indicates a difference of up to eight years, depending on where you live.

Residents of places such as Dore, Totley, Fulwood and Ecclesall can expect to live much longer, and lead a healthier life, than those in Darnall, Burngreave, Firth Park, Shiregreen and Brightside.

It’s largely seen as a consequence of better housing, education and employment, and too little progress has been made in recent years.

“Although the city is becoming healthier for most people, health inequalities across neighbourhoods remain and are, in some cases widening, with particular individuals and groups remaining vulnerable, in particular older people, the young and some women and some ethnic minority groups.”

The report adds: “Compared to the national average and the core cities, Sheffield has high diabetes and obesity rates and low levels of healthy eating. Sheffield has the lowest level of physical activity in adults of the major cities.”

At the same time, civic leaders say the health pluses have outweighed the minuses in recent times.

“The general health of the city is improving. Compared to the other ‘core’ cities, Sheffield has the longest overall life expectancy and the lowest levels of early deaths from cancer, heart disease and strokes.

“People in all parts of the city are living longer. Deaths from major illnesses, especially heart disease and cancer, have reduced markedly and there has been a reduction in the number of people, particularly children, killed or seriously injured on the roads.”

Teenage pregnancy rates have been falling since 2004.

The report was drawn up by Prof Gordon Dabinett, of the University of Sheffield, for Sheffield First Partnership, which comprises leaders from the public and private sectors and voluntary and faith representatives.

It will be used by the organisation’s executive board to influence their thinking and decisions.

Civic leaders have clear signposts for the way ahead. It remains to be seen whether they are able to implement changes locally that can help offset the global economic uncertainty that threatens to undermine many residents’ living standards.

They remain upbeat.

Partnership director Sharon Squires said: “Our focus this year will be on improving schools attainment, the economy, jobs and opportunities, reducing poverty, deprivation and inequality and the environment.

“There is a lot of progress we have made over the last few months and we shall ensure we work together to help Sheffield and its residents make the most of the city and the opportunities it offers.”

Council leader Julie Dore, who chairs the board, said: “Although this report contains challenges for us all as well as many positives, we’re not prepared to shy away from the issues we need to address in the future together.

“What we want to do is develop initiatives that really do make a difference.”