Whoever takes the mantle of South Yorkshire Mayor from Dan Jarvis should put these five key considerations on their agenda.
Top of the list must be demanding more respect from central government. This applies to all 25 directly-elected mayors in England and Wales, but is especially pertinent to our own here in Yorkshire.
If Michael Gove, the new Secretary of State for Levelling Up, is to fulfil his brief, he needs to engage fully with regional leaders. Without this, any attempt at tackling inequality will turn out to be yet more lip service.
It is both easy and difficult to spell out exactly what form this engagement might take. Easy in that the South Yorkshire mayor can report directly with first-hand knowledge of what needs to be done. Difficult in that such a relationship depends very much on the personalities involved. Will they get along? Will they agree? That much we can’t predict.
What we can predict is that communication – in all its forms – should be a priority. At this stage, the future of HS2’s eastern leg between Yorkshire and London hangs in the balance. Even when we know the outcome, South Yorkshire’s transport strategy still requires action as 88 per cent of the 42,000 commuters travelling between Sheffield and Leeds every day choose to go by car because it’s more convenient.
If South Yorkshire is to lead the field in reducing carbon emissions, its mayor must argue for improved and fast rail links between key centres; Sheffield, Doncaster, Barnsley and Rotherham and towards West Yorkshire and Manchester. How can it be right that it takes at least an hour to travel to Manchester from Sheffield by train?
Or from where I live, in Barnsley, just 30 miles by road, a ridiculous two hours and 22 minutes? Transport Secretary Grant Shapps must not be allowed to let Northern Powerhouse Rail slip down his own agenda. We’ll be relying on the new South Yorkshire mayor to put on the pressure.
Improved transport will not only benefit the environment, but the economy and employment prospects. The Government’s determination to end the £20 uplift in Universal Credit will hit deprived areas of South Yorkshire badly.
Families who are already struggling need hope and they need to know that the mayor will fight to bring new jobs and investment to where they live. A sustained and politically-led campaign to encourage new employers can work – just look at where I live.
In April this year, data compiled by the jobs website Indeed and the Centre for Cities think-tank showed that Barnsley – along with Mansfield and Stoke-on-Trent – was witnessing the strongest growth in post-lockdown recovery and job creation. Why? It’s become a strategic logistics location for distributors such as Amazon, Hermes and Asos, all booming thanks to the growth in internet retailing.
This kind of confidence has a knock-on effect on every community. I speak to school leaders regularly and the one thing they all agree on is that South Yorkshire children deserve a chance. I’d personally like our new mayor to put education to the forefront.
We are fortunate to have a number of excellent academy chains which have transformed ailing primary and secondary schools. Still however, our young people lack confidence and self-belief. I’d ask the new mayor to work with school leaders, colleges and universities to devise more programmes to encourage students to aim as high and wide as possible, to find viable vocational alternatives to university degrees and understand that their horizons should not always be limited to their home town (see also improved public transport, above).
And last our new mayor should put muscle behind promoting South Yorkshire’s outstanding arts, heritage and cultural assets – there is still a way to go before Wentworth Woodhouse, the magnificent mansion under regeneration near Rotherham, is regarded with the same respect as, say, Castle Howard.
We hear about the national North-South divide, but the divisions of class, culture and economic clout within Yorkshire itself should not be under-estimated.
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