Advanced Manufacturing to health - we're building city for 21st century

It's a pleasure to be contributing to the new-look Sheffield Telegraph, it's important to our great city to have local newspapers covering the local news agenda and promoting the city region in the wider world.

Thursday, 2nd March 2017, 7:59 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:04 am
AMRC Training Centre

Although now retired from elected politics, I am still an interested observer of the political scene, which I’m sure is going to be even more interesting and profound than the 27 years I had the privilege of representing Sheffield Central.

If the first four weeks is anything to go by, it’s going to be fascinating watching the next four years of the Trump administration in the White House. Who knows what is going to happen?

The Brexit negotiation is another unknown and, over the next couple of years, could have the most profound effect on our nation. It will be testing to the extreme the negotiating skills of the Prime Minister and her Brexit team, with the proposal that the final deal will be put before Parliament in 2019.

It was very interesting to observe, during the Brexit debate and the triggering of Article 50, the Supreme Court remind the Government we live in a Parliamentary democracy and that Parliament should be consulted on triggering Article 50.

The Prime Minister’s reaction to the Supreme Court ruling was not only to concede a Parliamentary vote on the triggering of Article 50 but also to agree to put the final negotiated deal before Parliament. This raises questions about the role of the British people in the acceptance of the final deal. If the courts were right about Parliament having a say on the Brexit negotiations and the Prime Minister’s decision to allow Parliament to have a say on the final negotiated deal, should it not follow that the British people also have a say on the final deal? It was Parliament that gave the British people the right to say yes or no in the referendum, so should it be, after the vote in Parliament on the negotiated deal, that they have the final say?

And before any readers dive for the social media button could I explain, in my previous life I was the Convener of shop stewards at Firth Browns, now Sheffield Forgemasters, and on the occasions I recommended and took the trade union members democratically out on strike, we always returned AFTER they had decided democratically on the final offer. I draw the parallel.

Union members at Firth Brown, like those voting in the EU referendum, knew what they individually were against and what they wanted, when deciding at the ballot box or before voting for industrial action. But it was only when they had seen what was in the final negotiated deal that they could democratically decide if it was what they wanted.

I believe, because of the importance of what is going to be negotiated and the impact of it, the British people should have the final say.

But the world is moving on and is not going to wait for Britain to negotiate a Brexit deal. Sheffield is living in the “here and now”. It has to develop plans and programmes to move forward. Our great city is changing and changing for the better. This in no small part is being driven by the strong partnership and leadership coming from our two renowned universities, the largest Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in the country, the Children’s Hospital, city council and private sector through the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and the Cutlers’ Company.

This partnership is taking on the new political landscape along with the technical and social changes that globalisation is serving up and developing projects that will make sure our region takes maximum advantage. I say that with confidence because, since standing down from Parliament, I have had the privilege of working with Professor Keith Ridgway and his colleagues at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at Catcliffe, along with being part of the team delivering the Olympic Legacy Park in Attercliffe.

The AMRC is the jewel in the crown of British high- value manufacturing and has attracted some of the world’s top aerospace companies like Rolls Royce, Boeing, Airbus and BA Systems.

In the last few years the AMRC has expanded to embrace the energy and medical sectors. All are joining forces in finding new solutions and technologies across their sectors, producing tomorrow’s products and making British manufacturing more competitive.

The challenge for Britain to rebalance its economy is considerable – as a nation we will have to more than double our manufacturing GDP to match Germany.

But the announcement a couple of weeks ago by McLaren to invest on the site of the AMRC’s Factory 2050 is the most recent testament to show we are determined to have a damn good go.

The AMRC is now recognised as a world-class centre for high value manufacturing. It was also recognised, after the welcome announcement of Rolls Royce to build a factory alongside the AMRC to manufacture aerospace blades, that one of the big attractions for inward investors was not only the research capability but the highly skilled labour force.

To make sure we would continue to have one of the best engineering workforces in the country, in 2015 the visionary AMRC Training Centre opened to 250 engineering apprentices. This is one of the UK’s finest engineering apprentice training centres and the first to be built in this country and run by a university. Great credit should be given to both Keiths at the University of Sheffield, Burnett and Ridgway (Vice Chancellor and head of AMRC) for delivering the vision. The training centre has been so successful it is now expanding its intake to 400 apprentices a year. This is opening up access to higher education in ways that would not have been available in the past. This is walking the walk on social mobility.

The next major development is the new Olympic Legacy Park which is laying the foundations to develop sport, wellness and healthcare in the same way the AMRC developed High Value Manufacturing.

The Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, led by Sheffield Hallam University, sits at the heart of the OLP along with the new University Technology College, Oasis Academy and world class sports facilities at EIS Sheffield and iceSheffield, all creating a campus that will become a world-leading centre. Again a major development driven through the partnership of the council, public sector, academia and the private sector.

All of these projects are evidence of partnerships being developed and delivered by Sheffield’s world-class workforce and institutions, in many ways taking the products and values developed by the people of Sheffield over time and putting them into a modern setting, fit for the 21st century.