SOUTH Yorkshire is entering a pivotal period in its development. The challenges posed by austerity, automation and post–Brexit uncertainty are huge.
Overcoming them will require all of the innate resilience, talent and ingenuity for which Yorkshire people are known. But accompanying these challenges will also be a period of real opportunity; where devolution can bring greater investment, independence and control of our infrastructure, economy and environment.
Our soon to be elected Sheffield City Region mayor will be key to unlocking the investment that our region needs: our transport, broadband, education and training systems are not fit for the challenges of the 21st century. Investment in our housing and the environment lags behind what we need. All must be delivery priorities for the new mayor.
But the mayoralty will be about more than policies and infrastructure. It will be about negotiating with government for the Sheffield City Region to have greater powers and funding. The mayors of London, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool and the West Midlands are now established players in our national debate, and matching them as they argue for more powers and resources will be an immediate challenge for the new mayor. There will be no time to find their feet and build a reputation.
None of this will be easy. It will take real leadership to achieve it. It will require someone with the character, credibility and clout to be a champion for the Sheffield City Region. Someone who can stand up for us on the national and international stage. Someone who can forge the interests of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield, our businesses, hospitals, colleges and universities, our trade unions and the wider public. To ensure that collectively, we’re pulling in the same direction to deliver the investment and public services that we need.
But we also need someone who as well as being Sheffield City Region mayor, could contribute to a longer process for a wider devolution deal for Yorkshire and the Humber. Because the election of a mayor in South Yorkshire is not the end of our devolution story, it is the beginning. Such a broad set of challenges will be tough to deliver upon, but it can be done.
It’s because I can do this that I am stepping forward to be the Labour party’s Sheffield City Region mayoral candidate. I believe I have the right mix of local and national experience, and the skills and vision to lead us forward. I am proud to have the strong backing of council leaders, MPs, councillors, trade unions, businesses, Labour members and the general public. This is a crucial moment for South Yorkshire and the wider Yorkshire and Humber region and I want to play my full part in leading us forward.
I do so on the basis that I will remain as an MP. This is because the job of our mayor will be different from elsewhere. The Sheffield City Region mayoralty does not yet come with agreement on what powers are being delegated to it. We are on course to elect a mayor with no powers and no resources. The new mayor will need to leverage maximum influence to reach a consensus on how to proceed and drive our region forward. If my first act as Mayor was to stand down as an MP, I’d be needlessly squandering my ability to inflict pressure on the government through championing our cause in Parliament.
But there’s another reason – I’ve given a commitment to serve as the MP for Barnsley Central for the duration of this Parliament. I take that responsibility extremely seriously and believe that not only is serving the people of Barnsley compatible with serving people across the region, but that the two roles are complimentary – the delivery of better infrastructure and public services will benefit everyone.
I would of course draw the clearest lines between legislative responsibilities as an MP with those as an executive of the Sheffield City Region. Let me be crystal clear: I won’t take any mayoral salary. I will also ensure an evidence based approach to policy and public scrutiny and accountability will enable me to carry out both roles in the same way that many MPs serve in a variety of appointments, as government or shadow ministers or chairs of committees.
But it is only through, in the short term, fulfilling both roles that I will have the platform necessary to engage with national government and champion both the immediate needs of the Sheffield City Region and the longer term need for wider devolution across Yorkshire.
I am convinced that with the right powers, strategy and investment, the Sheffield City Region, and then Yorkshire and the Humber can harness the enormous potential which exists in our region and we can truly become a force to be reckoned with. Over the next few crucial yearsm the new mayor can begin to transform our region into one with improved infrastructure, an inclusive economy and a highly-skilled workforce. A place where every kid gets the best start and somewhere in which we can be rightly proud.
But to begin that transformation and attract that new investment, our new mayor must bring people together and move our devolution deal forward. This will be challenging, but I believe I am uniquely well placed to do it, which is why I am stepping forward to serve.
Dan Jarvis MBE is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central.