How Sheffield can recover from John Lewis closure shock – Mark Barlow

AS we hopefully prepare to ease out of lockdown, local governments across Yorkshire are going to play a critical role.

Sheffield needs a more robust post-pandemic plan, argues Mark Barlow.

There will be a huge responsibility for local government to get their post-pandemic plans right by putting in place the conditions which create jobs, increase prosperity, drive innovation and position Yorkshire as a beacon and driver of business growth.

However local businesses, too, should play their part in working alongside local government to get our economy moving again.

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This is a defining moment for Yorkshire as central government plans the rollout of three major investment programmes, which aim to level up communities, particularly as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The closure of the John Lewis department store is a major blow to Sheffield.

The UK Community Renewal Fund, the Levelling Up Fund 
and the Community Ownership Fund are designed to support local communities to share common challenges and opportunities, which the Government says it is determined to address in collaboration with local partners.

The Government has also indicated that it will engage with local businesses on the future role of Local Enterprise Partnerships, to ensure local businesses have clear representation and support in their area.

So with so much at stake, now is the time for local government to really engage with and listen to local firms on the ground to ensure we deliver a road map of infrastructure and regeneration investment plans that our local communities need.

We’re going to need some real innovation and creative thinking as the pandemic has clearly changed our lives for good and that is why we need input from local business. These people are the risk takers, the entrepreneurs.

Many local firms have already responded fantastically well in the face of adversity caused by the pandemic to ensure they continue survive in order to thrive. Indeed, the lockdown 
has caused many firms to 
change and adapt their business model to cope with new ways of working and dealing with customers.

Some firms have moved to online delivery, others are now working from home and in some cases, firms are using existing equipment to manufacture new products.

In the face of constant challenge, the response of many local firms has been outstanding and they have shown the way on how to adapt in the face of adversity and change.

In my home city of Sheffield, we have already made some positive steps with the recent appointment of Kate Josephs as Sheffield City Council’s new chief executive. Kate is making significant strides and there is now a great opportunity for her to work closely with local firms to drive Sheffield forward.

Over the next few years Sheffield will receive hundreds of millions of pounds of central government funding to help the city’s recovery and renewal from the Covid pandemic. So it is absolutely vital we get this right and seeking input from local business will be crucial.

Sheffield has a tremendous track record as a centre of excellence for advanced manufacturing and engineering. We also have a fast-growing digital sector. However, more still needs to be done to position Sheffield as a leader in the industries of the future.

Many local business owners have already proved how to respond, adapt and successfully move forward from the pandemic. So tapping into their insight and expertise will be crucial if local government is to deliver an effective and sustainable growth plan to shape the future of our city.

A particular challenge for Sheffield City Council will be 
to encourage more wealth creation in our city. If we are to beat the economic crisis triggered by Covid-19, we need capital from wealth creators circulating through the city, investing in businesses that 
will aid the recovery and enabling value to be created and shared.

To do that, we need the city to respond in a similar way to the likes of Leeds and Manchester where wealth creators have been welcomed with open arms. This approach has resulted in broader benefits and facilities for everyone in both cities so Sheffield must adopt a similar approach.

The news about John Lewis permanently closing its department store in Sheffield has been received with great dismay so it is even more vital for council leaders to engage with forward thinking businesses, and wealth creators, to ensure we can make Sheffield a driver of business growth.

Mark Barlow is managing director of IFM Insurance Sheffield.

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