I am delighted that the Platinum Jubilee in 2022 has afforded Doncaster the opportunity to determinedly throw its hat in the ring for this accolade once more.
Our vibrant borough feels like a city already – indeed I’ve lost count of the number of times people have told me they already thought Doncaster was a city. Well, now we embark on making it official.
When talking with great enthusiasm to business leaders and other stakeholders about the virtues of city status, the question I frequently get asked is “What are the benefits?”
Before responding to that extremely sensible query, I feel duty bound to tell people that relatively little data exists about the economic fortunes of places before and after they became a city. It is a prize held in high esteem, and the recent award to Southend signifies an amazing legacy for Sir David Amess who had campaigned tirelessly to achieve it for his constituents.
This is very much an art not a science – but so is economic development generally! Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence, and gut instinct suggests that city status helps economies and communities in four important ways.
Firstly, being a city is phenomenally helpful when it comes to attracting inward investment. In very simple terms, cities and airports – along with accessibility to talented workers – are among the first things that investors look for when considering locating into a region. Clearly, any upward tick in investment will automatically create a benefit when it comes to boosting jobs, growth, and productivity.
Secondly, becoming a city will consolidate Doncaster’s emerging reputation as a hotbed for great heritage, leisure, and cultural activity. Achieving city status will help the borough consolidate this positive shift and, as just one example, will help leisure businesses and venues attract more amazing artists, bands, and companies to perform. This, in turn, will help our indigenous businesses – in a range of sectors – to recruit skilled workers as Doncaster becomes an increasingly fantastic place to live, work and play.
Thirdly, in a policy context, cities have a better seat at the table with Government than towns do. Also, regions with two cities as opposed to one tend to carry more weight as well. For example, West Yorkshire has just achieved £830m of investment in public transport from Government compared to the £570m that South Yorkshire received.
Of course, there is an argument that Doncaster has done reasonably well out of its town status recently receiving over £40m in Stronger Town Funds for the town centre and for Stainforth. As welcome as this investment is, however, I’d contend that within the context of levelling up and the overall spending envelope that these are but crumbs off the table.
Doncaster’s mayor, civic leadership and business community are wildly ambitious for our borough and believe that our borough can add significant value to UK plc; city status will help us secure the Government’s partnership and investment in that ambition.
It is Doncaster’s ‘‘aiming at the stars’’ ambition, which is the fourth and perhaps most persuasive argument for why Doncaster’s collective leadership has decided that the time is now for a city status bid.
The last 18 months have been awful for so many people, for so many reasons. Like many neighbouring towns and cities, Doncaster has responded to the pandemic with classic Yorkshire grit and ingenuity. Celebrating Doncaster – via the city status bid – is a great way of saying thank you to those people and reiterating the fact that Doncaster’s leadership is determined to never settle at second best for the communities it serves.
Importantly, the team overseeing Doncaster’s bid is a broad and inclusive church. I am delighted to be leading a bid team that includes representatives from some of our most prominent businesses alongside creative artists, community and faith leaders, public sector partners and – most importantly of all – inspirational young people that believe city status will enhance their futures.
Young people are at the heart of Doncaster’s ambitious plans, and it is only right that they are at the heart of our bid team. ‘Levelling up’ remains an elusive and hard to define term, but surely – if it carries any meaning at all – it is about committing to creating better futures for our young generations.
Bequeathing city status on Doncaster would be a fantastic way of demonstrating that commitment to future generations, whilst also celebrating the ‘‘Yorkshire grit’’ that characterises the best of our borough, and the best of our region.
Dan Fell is chief executive of Doncaster Chamber.
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