Springboard for the city

Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg, speaks during the Scottish Liberal Democrats spring conference in Perth, Scotland. Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg, speaks during the Scottish Liberal Democrats spring conference in Perth, Scotland. Danny Lawson/PA Wire

I am very proud to welcome my Liberal Democrat colleagues and supporters to Sheffield this weekend for our annual spring conference.

We are, above all else, a thoroughly democratic lot and conference gives us a chance for the whole party – from grassroots members to cabinet ministers – to debate a wide range of issues.

But while there will be lots going on inside City Hall, the thousands of delegates, visitors, parliamentarians and journalists will bring huge benefits to the city outside as well.

Hotels, shops and restaurants will do a roaring trade and it should bring a welcome boost to Sheffield businesses.

And more than that, it will bring thousands of people to Sheffield who have not been to our city before.

They will get a first taste of what a wonderful city Sheffield is and I’m sure many will return over and over again.

But it wasn’t just because of the benefit to Sheffield that I am proud to welcome the Liberal Democrats here this week.

I want to show people the fantastic work Paul Scriven and his colleagues at the council have done.

They have kept council tax low and turned around local schools, insulated 13,000 homes free of charge and launched ambitious plans to make Sheffield the first city to produce enough green energy to be self-sufficient in a decade.

And they have been praised by business leaders for turning Sheffield from the worst place to do business in South Yorkshire to the best.

Sheffield City Council is also a great example of how local authorities can make tough decisions carefully and responsibly in difficult times.

While Labour-run councils up the road in Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds have laid off thousands of workers, in Sheffield there will be only 270 compulsory redundancies.

And while those Labour-run councils are slashing services, Sheffield is protecting services. Not a single Surestart centre, library, museum, public toilet or leisure centre in Sheffield will close.

Services for the most vulnerable have been protected and there will be extra investment in schemes to help people find work.

Yes, the council has been asked to make cuts, but they are showing it can be done intelligently and with compassion.

We all know that the country is recovering from a huge economic shock. But it is cities like Sheffield that will be at the heart of our recovery.

This will not be like the 1980s. The Liberal Democrats are determined that as Britain returns to prosperity, that prosperity is shared by the whole country and not just London and the South East.

We want a new, rebalanced economy based on skilled jobs in manufacturing and green technologies.

These are things we know all about in South Yorkshire, and it is that expertise and entrepreneurial spirit that will help us to lead the way in the future.

And that is why the Government has created the Regional Growth Fund, Local Enterprise Partnerships and the Green Investment Bank, and ensured there are more apprenticeships than ever before.

Coming to Sheffield will also give the Liberal Democrats the chance to showcase the many ways in which we are making Britain a freer, fairer and more liberal country.

In a couple of weeks the income tax threshold will rise by £1,000, lifting hundreds of thousands of the lowest-paid workers out of tax altogether and giving a tax cut to millions. We have ensured pensioners see a real rise in their pensions every year.

And we are investing in schools through our Pupil Premium, which will give an extra £5m to Sheffield schools alone.

This conference will bring great benefits to Sheffield but it will also give Liberal Democrats a great opportunity to benefit from Sheffield.