Sheffield can play a key role in the future of the UK economy, but only with the right investment.
That was the view of Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who was in the city speaking to party members at St Mary’s Church in Bramall Lane today.
Mr McDonnell criticised the lack of money put into Sheffield by the current Government, citing the decision to close the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ Sheffield office by January 2018, at a cost of 247 jobs. He also criticised ‘short-term’ thinking when it came to areas like the steel industry.
But the shadow chancellor urged Sheffield residents to look to the future.
“I think Sheffield is going to play a central role in the future of our economy, but it needs investment,” he said. “And it needs a government working with us. And although we have argued for a long period of time about the rebalancing of our economy, both in terms of between the finance sector and manufacturing, we have also argued for a geographical rebalancing as well, and that’s not occurred under this government.
“So our whole thrust around areas like Sheffield is about investment. Investment in skills. Sheffield’s a classic example of generations of skills built up over literally decades and centuries. But also investment in infrastructure, and investment in new technology.
“We have been concerned about the lack of investment by this government and in particular the short-term nature of it. What better example than Sheffield Forgemasters?”
Up to 100 jobs are likely to be lost at Forgemasters in the latest blow to the UK steel industry. But Mr McDonnell said there was still hope for steelworkers in Sheffield.
“There can be a bright future as long as we get the investment right, and that’s about investing in our infrastructure and making sure when we do that we use British steel, and we stop the Chinese dumping of steel.
“It does also mean investing in the manufacturing plant as well, and often companies like Sheffield Forgemasters need government support.”
Mr McDonnell said Labour would provide that support.
“We’ll have a long-term plan that means investment in the long term, updating skills - and that’s always needed - but more importantly updating infrastructure so that British steel is used in that infrastructure.”
Sheffield’s Labour-run city council has faced much criticism over its decision to cut 400 jobs, while at the same time increasing tax by 1.99 per cent. The council says it needs to save £50m this year.
Mr McDonnell said he didn’t blame councillors for the tough decisions they were making.
“They can’t do anything else. Central government is inflicting cuts on these communities and councillors are in the most difficult position, because legally they have to set a budget and if they don’t, the officers will do it for them. So they are doing everything that they possibly can, using the finances as wisely as they possibly can, but the blame for the cuts rests with this government.
“And it’s so short term as well, because austerity measures like this means that the local economy can become depressed, we lose more jobs and we go into a downward spiral. They should be working with Labour councils like this rather than cutting them.
“They have just introduced a package to soften the blow of £300m. Virtually all of that is going to Conservative councils in areas that are not facing the sort of deprivation that Sheffield is. It’s grotesquely unfair.
“What we have got to do now in terms of local communities like this is do exactly what Labour is asking people to do: look forward to the future, start planning their local economies and let’s start lobbying and campaigning together against the austerity measures the government is introducing, but also about the long-term plans for future investment. The Labour party is all about the future but we have got to defend the services that we have got at the moment as well.”