James Muir: Blueprint to tackle challenges ahead and make region more prosperous

James Muir, chairman of the Sheffield City Region.  Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
James Muir, chairman of the Sheffield City Region. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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For many of us, New Year is a time to take stock, to reflect, and to look forward to realising new ambitions.

The truth is that 2020 is set to be a challenging year for many businesses in Yorkshire, not least due to the changes that Brexit will bring. But with challenges also come opportunities, and seizing those opportunities has been a focus of many of the conversations I’m having with businesses across the Sheffield City Region.

Since I became chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) last year, I’ve been reaching out to individual businesses and to groups such as the Company of Cutlers, the various Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, the regional arm of the Confederation of British Industry, and a host of sector and city partnership groups, all with the aim of ensuring the LEP acts as an inclusive and representative mouthpiece for the private sector.

These conversations have also been crucial for informing the Sheffield City Region’s refreshed Strategic Economic Plan (SEP), currently being finalised and will go out to public consultation soon.

While our previous SEP, which set out the City Region’s plans to transform the local economy between 2015 and 2025, largely realised its goals, there is more to do. That’s why we’re being more ambitious, with a new plan to improve prosperity and opportunity for all, while driving sustainable economic growth.

Through the SEP, we will build on our innovation heritage, to create a growing, inclusive and sustainable economy. Our vision is for our economy to play an ever-increasing role in UK prosperity, and be in the vanguard of the UK’s fourth Industrial Revolution.

It’s clear that exciting – and innovative – developments are already underway. But if we are to drive inclusive growth for all our communities, we can, and must, achieve more. Through the LEP and the Mayoral Combined Authority, we’re committed to creating the conditions to stimulate our businesses, exploit our core capabilities and invest in complementary new pathways so businesses invest, innovate and scale up here.

We’ll provide the platform for businesses and people to flourish, establishing new partnerships with businesses that share our ambitions and are prepared to join us in our journey towards a low-carbon economy.

By creating more high-value jobs with real career potential, more people in our region will be able to access jobs that are better paid and more secure; encouraging those people and their families to continue to live, work and enjoy our region.

In order to create those jobs, we have to tackle certain barriers – one of which is our skills deficit. Investors want to locate in those areas where they have a skilled workforce to tap into.

That’s why a key part of our SEP is about ensuring that we have a skills and employability strategy that links the educational curriculum in our schools and the encouragement of children’s ambitions and aspirations to employers’ needs.

We aim to develop a world-class technical education system, with a focus on STEM subjects, higher-level apprenticeships and work placements, while also securing commitment from our businesses to develop the skillsets of people already in work.

Our SEP aims to provide a blueprint for tackling the immediate challenges before us, from local challenges around skills and productivity, to national challenges such as Brexit, and global challenges such as the climate emergency.

In the coming weeks, our public consultation on the SEP will be launched, and I’d encourage everyone to take a look at our plans, and offer their contributions. Only by listening, and by learning, can we create a plan that will truly work for everyone – before getting on with the job of delivering on our aims.