Boris Johnson must help us achieve his levelling up ambitions because the reality is a stark difference - South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard

The new South Yorkshire Mayor’s open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

South Yorkshire is the place I was born and raised; the region I am proud to call my home.

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My campaign to be mayor was built on a promise to restore the pride, the purpose and the prosperity of our region: to fix our public transport, develop a clean energy strategy, create healthier, more active communities, and build a better economy.

Oliver Coppard from the Labour and Co-Operative Party is elected as the Mayor of South Yorkshire. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

That’s why I welcome your commitment to bridging the divide between the North and South of our country, and the ambition of your ‘levelling up’ agenda and the breadth and depth of the Levelling Up White Paper.

You are right to identify that there is an urgent need for change and that this must span the work of each and every Department. Our country cannot remain a place where there are such stark differences between the health, wealth and life chances of our communities; a country in which where you live determines how far you’ll go.

Your government has made clear its ambition to address the disparities between the best and worst-off parts of our country by 2030.

There are now fewer than 400 weeks left to deliver on those ambitions, and yet the scale of the task is significant.

Public transport

Your ambition: local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing.

The reality in South Yorkshire: immediately before the pandemic bus passenger journeys had fallen by more than 60 per cent since privatisation and deregulation in 1986. Meanwhile in London, bus passenger journeys have nearly doubled in the same period. Here, bus operators offer so many tickets that drivers receive a 30-page booklet explaining the different fares. In London, a single set of fares work across all operators.

Our bus network – the number of places we can get to, and the frequency of services – has fallen by 13 per cent over the last 10 years. In London the bus network has grown. The train journey from Sheffield to Manchester takes 52-56 minutes, the same amount of time it took in 1954. In 2022 the £18.7bn Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) will open.

Skills

Your ambition: the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK.

The reality in South Yorkshire: while there are around 60,000 people studying at Sheffield’s two universities, there are roughly the same number of people of working age in our region without any qualifications.

Only 37 per cent of the people in South Yorkshire have higher level skills (degree or equivalent), compared to 44 per cent across the rest of the country.

Healthy Life Expectancy

Your ambition: By 2030, the gap in Healthy Life Expectancy between local areas where it is highest and lowest will have narrowed, and by 2035 HLE will rise by five years.

The reality in South Yorkshire: in parts of our region, people have a healthy life expectancy that is six years shorter than the national average. People living in some of South Yorkshire’s most affluent neighbourhoods have a healthy life expectancy that is 20 years longer than people living in the most deprived parts of our region.

South Yorkshire is a place with limitless potential. We have two globally leading universities, businesses working at the cutting edge of advanced manufacturing and green technologies, world class cultural assets, as well as heritage and landscapes that are the envy of the rest of the country. And while we do also face considerable challenges, none of the challenges we face are inevitable or insurmountable.

Across the 12 missions articulated in the Levelling Up White Paper, the evident disparities between the position in South Yorkshire and the ambitions you have so clearly articulated are all the result of political choices made over the last 40 years.

If we are to overcome those disparities in just 400 weeks, then your government must finally recognise and respond to the needs of our communities; our priorities must be your priorities. Our challenges must be your own.

South Yorkshire must take charge of our own future, and under my leadership we will put forward ambitious plans designed to move this region forward across all those areas articulated in your Levelling Up White Paper.

But if you are indeed serious about fundamentally rebalancing this country then I expect your Government to offer us the support, investment and powers needed to deliver on those plans, so we can finally restore the pride, purpose and prosperity of South Yorkshire.

To make a start on confronting these challenges I invite you to South Yorkshire, to meet with me to discuss how we must work together to transform the future of our region. There is no time to waste.

I look forward to working with you and your Government.

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