Change is coming in Sheffield - it is up to us whether it is for the better
I wish you all a belated happy New Year and my good wishes for the new decade. At the beginning of the year, the Sheffield Telegraph’s sister paper, The Star, had a very optimistic profile of potential investment in homes, leisure and associated building projects.
Leaving aside that some of it, I regret to say, I’ve heard before, this was at least uplifting. It showed some real ambition and optimism, and even if the sums involved are nothing like the profile of investment in Manchester, at least people are thinking positively about the future.
Hope and optimism is exactly what we need. The last decade was marked by the imposition of austerity measures that hit public services so disastrously.
The consequence was more than simply the reduction in availability of critical services or the inability to respond to the dramatic increase in demand for social care - the impact was deeper and more lasting than even the raw statistics could ever portray. Quite honestly, it was the damage to morale, drive, energy and direction, which I believe we must urgently address. Were it not for the two universities and of the resource and potential that they continue to offer, things would be a great deal worse here.
Although promises have now been made in respect of restoring some of the losses of funding in the NHS and the police, no such commitment has been made in respect of Local Government and it would be advisable not to hold your breath in respect of funding for schools. Quite simply, promises on education are all about raising funding in those locations that just so happen to be in areas of traditional Conservative support.
In welcoming to Parliament the three new Conservative MPs in the Sheffield City Region, the challenge must be clear. Are we going to hear their voices demanding that on infrastructure and service delivery, cash will be coming our way?
One thing is certain, change is on the way. To paraphrase Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous quip about fear, the ‘only thing that is certain, is uncertainty’. That is why, at this moment in time we need clear leadership locally, like never before.
In every key area of our economic, social and cultural life, we need an action plan. Milestones by which we can judge progress and a determination to work together, with and alongside communities. The electorate had a very clear message on December 12 for my own party - you either change and change the direction of your leadership or we’ll do it for you. Whilst I’m not sure Labour nationally fully grasped this truth, it is certain we need to understand it locally.
Austerity knocks the stuffing out of you. History teaches us that those closest to us – in our case the City Council - are never thanked for coping with impossible choices. Rather, people simply wish to feel that the misery is over.
That was certainly true with the surprise defeat of Winston Churchill in 1945, and of Clem Attlee’s government in 1951, despite the enormous and lasting benefits of the NHS, welfare state and for the millions of men and women having been successfully transferred from the armed forces into civilian jobs. What people wanted was an end to rationing, hope, energy, and ideas of a better tomorrow.
This is a moment when South Yorkshire politicians need to address the reality of a substantial Conservative majority in Westminster and the implications. Let us put an end once and for all to the idea that there is some conflict between a distant future Yorkshire-wide elected Mayor and getting on now. Whatever the prospect of a Yorkshire wide structure, it’s not going to happen any time soon.
I have previously contrasted the way in which Greater Manchester collaborated to create a critical mass into which investment flows and with whom Government can do business. There is still time, but only just, for South Yorkshire to get on with it.
So, let me reiterate. When politics and politicians don’t change, the electorate will do it for them. Here in Sheffield, change is already happening. Since first writing this article, Coun Julie Dore, city council leader, announced she is stepping down. I can only reiterate the words of Nancy Fielder, Star Editor, in thanking her for leading the city through the most difficult nine years.
The months ahead include the appointment of a permanent new council chief executive, in May, elections for local councillors; and, for me at least, I hope the excellent South Yorkshire police commissioner, Rev Dr Alan Billings, will be re- elected. This is indeed a time of change. It is up to all of us as to whether it is for the better.