Last December my wife Margaret and I attended the Yorkshire Business Awards which was held at the Queens Hotel in Leeds. This was both a celebration of Yorkshire business and enterprise, and also a fundraising event for Variety, the children’s charity.
Amongst the winners were two Sheffield companies both of which have expanded rapidly in their field, and in the jargon, are sector leaders. In other words, they are showing the kind of innovation, creativity and enterprise for which Sheffield has been famous. The companies, Twnkl and Sumo Group, like so much about Sheffield, tend to hide their light under a bushel.
As my mother would have said to me ‘don't get above yourself’, which is a view almost embedded in our psyche. We don't like to shout too loudly about our achievements, and if we do, we get our comeuppance from those around us but being from Sheffield, in the nicest possible way.
I for one plead guilty to sometimes ‘getting above myself’ but in politics hiding your light under a bushel means that the light goes out and no one remembers where they put the bushel! So, this column is really an appeal to Sheffield as a whole, business, community groups, the city council and yes, even our football teams, to shout a bit louder, celebrate a bit more enthusiastically and acknowledge more widely the successes of our city.
Our two universities and our major teaching hospitals, are also too often guilty of being suspicious of those in research and teaching who make it into the national or international media. There is a kind of innate fear that seeking publicity is a substitute for actually doing the job or even worse, showing up their own colleagues by the acknowledgement that they will subsequently receive.
Our two relatively new vice chancellors at our universities have an outward -looking mentality which will hopefully overcome this understandable but in the end quite damaging desire to play down rather than play up our achievement, and to stop questioning the motives of those whose success is acknowledged publicly.
Although some people will have heard of Shepley Engineers I suspect that few readers of the Telegraph will recall their recent success. So, perhaps I could just refresh memories?
They are the Sheffield company who won the contract to refurbish and replace the hands and the mechanism from Big Ben, as part of the total refurbishment of the Elizabeth Tower at Westminster. Winning the subcontract was a tremendous achievement. It is one which I hope for other firms in Sheffield will be replicated when the £6 billion plus refurbishment and renewal of the Palace of Westminster takes place over the next decade.
I am one of the members of the Joint Committee between the Commons and the Lords scrutinising the draft legislation that sets in place the terms and direction for the massive restoration and renewal project in which everything from electrical wiring to plumbing, IT to carpets, wallpaper and seating, will be ripped out and replaced.
Some of us are doing our best to argue this should be part of the renewal of our democracy, the connection of Westminster with what is happening in the rest of the country, and a hard look at how what is happening in Parliament should reflect the 21st-century requirements of a functioning and participative democracy. But more of that on a future occasion!
A year ago I suggested to those who provide the secretariat to the four local authorities in South Yorkshire that they should be working with business and education providers on planning to bid for one of the key logistical hubs to be established by Heathrow as part of their multibillion pound expansion. These hubs will be preparing and producing those aspects of the expansion which can then be transferred to West London rather than all the jobs and investment going once again to London and the south-east. It remains to be seen whether this particular light has gone out under the bushel.
It might also be helpful to celebrate a little more those who have come before us.
The ‘wall of fame’ might become something more substantial as we celebrate those born and brought up in Sheffield, educated in our universities and those who have succeeded in business even if they've moved. In February two such people who had sadly died were celebrated nationally. I wondered whether their achievements were celebrated in our schools and colleges?
The former Sheffielders were England and World Cup goalkeeper, Gordon Banks and the first ever female football journalist to be taken on by a tabloid newspaper. Vikki Orvice, whose name should be up in lights was taken on when times were different, not just in the sporting arena but in journalism itself.
Interestingly, her passion for football began when her dad took her to Bramall Lane to watch Sheffield United, aged just three. Her fight for equality and recognition is something that we should be celebrating because so many now familiar female figures achieved prominence on her shoulders. Interestingly enough, one of those celebrating the life of both these great achievers, was Seb Coe, who coincidentally, also comes from Sheffield.
When I hear the outright boasting of those from or associated with greater Manchester, Merseyside and more latterly the West Midlands, my sense of frustration boils over.
But what we need is not frustration instead we should have a justifiable pride in our past and a determination to ensure that future generations can do this all over again, by rejoicing in the success of today and tomorrow in our city and South Yorkshire as a whole.