Let's get together
It has not been a good week for the idea of One Yorkshire.
First the Chancellor lavished praise, and much of his £1.7 billion ‘transforming cities fund’, on the six areas of England with elected Metro Mayors, including Liverpool, Greater Manchester and Tees Valley. The remaining regions, we assume, will be left to scrabble for the scraps.
And then came the mighty Industrial Strategy White Paper. Like the Budget, the White Paper focused on cities, and city regions, as the engine rooms of economic growth. Places like the Sheffield city region, where the AMRC was singled out as an example of how smart people working with smart technologies can drive dramatic improvements in productivity: improvements that lead to high-performing, high-value manufactures moving to, and investing in, the region.
But, unlike Liverpool, Greater Manchester and the North East, the Sheffield City Region does not (yet) have an elected Metro Mayor. This means that our vision for a highly-connected, easy to access, Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District with the AMRC and its partners at its core, will to have to wait, at least until next year, before such a Mayor is elected.
While we wait, £337m gifted to the North East will be spend on replacing the 40-year-old rolling stock on the Tyne and Wear Metro, and £123m in the Redcar Steelworks site. Manchester meanwhile will be spending £230 million to improve its transport network.
The irony is, that the Sheffield City Region was in the vanguard of agreeing a Metro Mayor deal with the government in 2015: in a single step we leapfrogged Leeds and Liverpool. But then something strange happened: two of the most important constituent parts of the region, had second thoughts. Since then, despite £900 million being on the table, the region has been unable to come together and elect a Metro Mayor. From being front runners in the race, we fell back to the point where we are now being lapped by other northern cities.
The AMRC knows only too well that place is important to people. Arguments still rage as to where we are actually located. Are we in Rotherham? Or is it Sheffield? The reality is that our region should have ambition far beyond its borders. The AMRC itself, is home to people from around world, from Chile to China, and Portugal to Hong Kong. The companies we work with export their products around the world: sometimes transported in aircraft we help to make.
So what has the last five days taught us? It is that we are better and stronger together. With Barnsley and Doncaster energetically working with Rotherham and Sheffield, we are a much more powerful proposition. Many of those who work with, and for us, come from Barnsley and Doncaster. Apprentices at the AMRC Training Centre travel to us from a diverse range of firms from Doncaster, including the food and engineering sectors. We see the airport as a key strategic asset and the logistics capability that Doncaster gives us, provides a key element in our own strategic thinking. Likewise, Barnsley is charting a course in digital engagement that others – including the AMRC – are keen to follow.
There will be a Mayor. But we want a Mayor that commands the support of the whole City Region. If Doncaster and Barnsley re-join their partners, this will send a strong signal to government that we are serious about working with them to transform our economic and social infrastructure. It will also attract the calibre of candidate we need for the Metro Mayor: a candidate who can transform the Northern Powerhouse from a glib soundbite, into a force in the land.