‘It’s time for Sheffield to show ambition,’ says David Blunkett

Lord David Blunkett
Lord David Blunkett

There is, of course, something very special about Sheffield and its people.

Sheffield must believe in itself, says David Blunkett

Sheffield must believe in itself, says David Blunkett

Fiercely proud of the city and rightly so, and determined to retain a sense of identity and belonging which has been lost in so many urban areas.

Yet sometimes I despair. Frankly, we often ‘punch below our weight’, and our hopes and aspirations are modest compared with London, Manchester or Liverpool.

I have heard fans of our great football teams question whether it would be a ‘good idea’ to be promoted on the grounds that ‘we’re not quite ready’ or even sometimes that we might come straight down again.

Well, for those of us that support Sheffield Wednesday, our hopes and dreams will be put to the test tonight. It is time to believe. In a word what we need is ‘ambition’.

And so it is for the city as whole. For its great universities, colleges and schools, for its business and enterprise and for the thousands of volunteers and those committed to their community who have kept Sheffield afloat through the last desperate six years of austerity.

Last week, many people went to the polls – not enough – to elect a new MP for the seat that I was so proud to represent for 28 years, for a Police and Crime Commissioner and for councillors across the area.

But another change is imminent. The election for what has become known as a ‘Metro-Mayor’. An individual to be elected across the whole of the Sheffield City Region, which includes parts of North Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire as well as Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster.

This has implications for the role of elected councillors, for engagement with all those who currently have no idea what a Combined Authority might mean.

The implications for holding the Mayor to account, and to having underneath this new structure, meaningful ways in which people can participate. This must begin in the neighbourhood, in refining what local councillors and what our own Members of Parliament are expected to do.

My new unpaid role is a modest one. I don’t pretend to represent anyone anymore, although I’m proud to have been able to vote down some of the most iniquitous policies of the present Government in the House of Lords over the last year.

No, chairing the Sheffield Partnership Board is about trying to co-ordinate everyone from health to police, from education to city council, who have a part to play and who can draw on the strengths of Sheffield people, their talent and their commitment to make our area a place of creativity, innovation and of a high quality of life.

Each and every one of us have some part to play. Just by taking an interest in what is happening around us and helping to fill the gaps left by eye-watering cuts to public services. Rethinking how those services might be delivered in new ways and building on the ideas of local people.

But it also involves a challenge. A challenge to expect more, to engage more and to learn from what is working elsewhere and apply it in our own circumstances and in our own special way.

This newspaper with its great history has provided information, entertainment and education and has a key part to play both in print and online in ensuring that local people know what is happening and can have their voice heard, but it is up to all of us to ensure that those with the means to do so and with the opportunity to contribute, do just that.

Contribute to making our area not second rate to London or Manchester. Not a victim of the over dominant metropolitan London-centric nation that we are but instead an example of how to regenerate both our economy, and our social and cultural life. That is a challenge indeed.

David (Lord) Blunkett is Chair of the Sheffield Partnership Board, and former Member of Parliament for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough.