Why every vote counts in the £1.3bn race to be South Yorkshire mayor - Dave Smith

On May 5, South Yorkshire will take to the polls to vote for its first mayor since the devolution deal came into effect.

The next Mayor of South Yorkshire will oversee a budget of £1.3bn over their four-year tenure which includes funding for economic development, transport, regeneration, net zero projects and adult education. This a role with real power to its elbow and we’re keen that as many people as possible turn out to have their say and vote.

When elected, this person will play a vital role representing our region nationally and internationally, acting as an ambassador for the area and promoting South Yorkshire as a place to live, work, visit and invest in. When it comes to building relationships across the world, we’ve found the role of mayor is well-understood in other countries and places. This is a great help when forging new relationships with international allies.

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You can see this is our burgeoning relationship with partners in India. Experts predict that India will be the third largest economy in the world by 2030. In 2015 alone, South Yorkshire exported £81m worth of goods there and since 2017 we’ve prioritised a strategic approach: Make in India, Design and Develop with the South Yorkshire Region. This has seen the relationship between South Yorkshire and India grow and opened up greater trading opportunities than would be possible without a mayor to fly the South Yorkshire flag.

Dan Jarvis is standing down as South Yorkshire mayor, with his successor being elected next month.

The mayor will also convene activity and bring people across the region together – the recent South Yorkshire Economic Summit is a great example of this. This function of the job should not be underestimated, particularly in terms of connections into government. The role is an important figurehead for South Yorkshire as a whole, and the Government likes having a mayor on the other end of the phone – they know who to call. This election is a chance for you to have your say on who should be on the other end of the phone, speaking on all our behalf.

Not only does the mayor helps us speak clearly with a single voice, but they also work with other metro mayors, putting South Yorkshire on a platform with regions from West Yorkshire to Greater Manchester to London to the West Midlands.

The next Mayor of South Yorkshire will be making decisions which shape a whole range of things which directly impact on people’s lives. These will cover everything from overseeing how South Yorkshire’s buses and public transport are run, to developing region-wide schemes to improve the places we live, to investing and deliver flood alleviation projects, to improving vocational training in the region.

In partnership with Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield councils, the mayor will also lead on local nature recovery plans, the mission to deliver Net Zero by 2040, and ensure we put in place the support businesses need to grow, and communities need to thrive.

We’ve got an ambitious Energy Strategy which outlines how our region can achieve net zero carbon emissions 10 years before the goal set by government. To make this happen, we’ll need to ensure no new homes use fossil fuels by 2025, that we have a zero-emission public transport fleet by 2035, and that there’s help in place for the estimated 52,000 of South Yorkshire’s businesses which are not actively improving their energy efficiency. We need the collaboration between businesses, universities and the community that a strong and inspiring leader can create.

Alongside these big projects and responsibilities, the mayor also has powers to respond to changing circumstances and allocate money where it is needed most. As you might expect, this has recently included grant funding awarded to arts, culture and heritage organisations across the region as part of a recovery programme to support businesses and individuals badly impacted by the Covid pandemic.

This is also about bringing the region together and tackling our challenges head on with a South Yorkshire wide approach. People move across the boundaries of Doncaster, Rotherham, Barnsley, and Sheffield every day and it’s logical for us to coordinate the public transport system to reflect that; same on skills; same on businesses and their supply chains. Our arts, culture and heritage offer is another great example where we have distinct strengths that hang together better when promoted collectively.

What this all boils down to is that the next Mayor of South Yorkshire will have powers and money to decide how we create jobs, grow our economy, improve training, run our public transport network, and build new infrastructure and homes.

If you live in South Yorkshire and care about jobs, how you get around, and how our towns and places look and feel, use your vote to decide who your mayor will be.

Dr Dave Smith is Chief Executive of South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority