Putting Sheffield first must be the priority now after shock of election results

Two weeks on from the local elections and I still have a heavy heart. In part, I have to admit, this has as much to do with football as politics.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 12:00 am
A view over Hillsborough.

On the afternoon of May 8, on one radio I had Cardiff versus Rotherham; on the other radio I had Derby versus Sheffield Wednesday. Cardiff equalised, Wednesday were going to stay up. It seemed like 30 seconds later when the announcement came that Derby had a penalty!

Wednesday, as with United, were relegated which just about finished off what was turning out to be a nightmare of a weekend. However, the safe arrival of my wife’s granddaughter on election day has brightened my darkness.

Those who read this column will know that I have gone out of my way not to make it a party-political rant. Not just because I would like those with very different views to read what I have to say, but as the current Chair of the Sheffield City Partnership Board I have been doing my best to engage with all concerned.

After the elections on May 6 the order of the day is certainly going to be just that – partnership and collaboration.

There may be readers who are not aware of the outcome. The city council is now made up of four groups. Labour being the largest, but without an overall majority. The Liberal Democrats maintained their second place but with some very slender wins. For the first time in a couple of decades there is one Conservative on the council.

But the great winners were the Greens. Taking the seat in my old constituency held by the leader of the council in Hillsborough, together with other gains, they now carry the support of a tranche of the electorate and the responsibility that goes with it.

Running a city where no party has overall control is not only something of a novel experience in Sheffield, but also a nightmare for the politicians involved and, for that matter, senior officials of the council.

As I write, the Green Party councillors are prepared to reach a deal but by the time you read this, all will have become clear.

The irony is that those who believe in proportional representation must accept the inevitability of coalition. To make this work you need some level of agreement on key priorities for the difficult year ahead, and the gradual implementation of a new structure - which was voted for by a substantial majority of those who took part in the referendum on returning to past committee structures.

All of this may seem very arcane. It is not. It requires, in my view, a very simple but difficult-to-implement proposition.

Namely “putting Sheffield first". A recovery programme - from the damage done by the impact of Covid, years of austerity and massive cutbacks in services - will require clear priorities, and willingness to work together.

What I'm advocating is “grown-up politics", which will go down like a lead balloon with the rank-and-file of all of the political parties. But to me the message is very clear. The electorate (and they're the ones who matter) expect people to work maturely and, with the harsh realism of an election verdict which places an obligation on those who care about Sheffield, to sign up to a programme in the best interests of the city.

Recovery from the last 15 months is, of course, about health - but also the impact on our social, cultural and economic life. There ought to be enough agreement between parties to leave the new community committees and the restructured service committees leeway to have genuine debate.

The one thing that will be needed from all those in leadership positions is “statescraft”. Simply “how to do politics". The whole city needs to come together to create common purpose and willingness to build from the bottom.

One thing is absolutely clear, whilst the elected metro ayor, Dan Jarvis, has been able to put together a programme for South Yorkshire based on raising substantial funds, we are not going to get any support from central government. It is going to be down to us to create the momentum and utilise all our resources and talent to build a much better future.

That is why the Sheffield Partnership Board have agreed not to have a “State of Sheffield” report this year - we know the state we are in.

Instead, we will develop strategic policies across all players with a role to contribute to our common goal, then hold a summit which engages those in communities across Sheffield who so often find their voice is not heard. This is our city, our challenge and together we must make it work.