YP Comment: Sheffield betrayed over jobs bombshell

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A SHABBY and shameful betrayal of Sheffield, Yorkshire and the North.

This is the only conclusion which can be derived from the short-sighted decision to shut the Department of Business, Industry and Skills regional office and transfer 247 jobs to its London HQ.

Shabby because those concerned were informed of their decision by intranet as a statement was made to Parliament and because Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, repeatedly refused invitations to meet leaders of Sheffield Council.

Shameful because this cost-cutting episode – ostensibly in the name of efficiency – makes a mockery of the Government’s One Nation credentials and those policies that were supposedly intended to empower the North so that the economy, and policy-making, became less London-centric.

Given that the decision’s business case appears to make little sense, not least because office space in London is already prohibitive in cost, there is now a compelling case for a National Audit Office inquiry to establish whether due process was followed.

If this is evidence that the Government is “committed to Sheffield”, the frankly laughable assertion made by Commons deputy leader Dr Therese Coffey, the consequences do not bear thinking about if Ministers were minded to be less charitable towards the steel city, and the rest of the North, which continues to pay a heavy price for decades of under-investment.

The aforementioned Mr Javid should be well aware of these concerns – they were made forcefully at last week’s Cutlers’ Feast dinner in Sheffield when he was challenged to create a “clear industrial strategy” for the crisis-hit steel industry.

Yet it is difficult to command confidence in Mr Javid, his department and the Northern Powerhouse when the Government appears to be turning its back on Sheffield at the very time it should be looking to send out a message that the North is as important as London and the South East. In this regard, the Bis decision is not just a betrayal of those staff left out in the cold. It was also a golden chance to change the focus of business policy for the benefit of all.

BHS jobs blues: Store’s suppliers on the brink

TO WHAT extent should former BHS owner Sir Philip Green be held liable for the high street’s demise after the financial fallout spread to two suppliers to the stricken retailer who have fallen into administration with the probable loss of 350 jobs?

Some will say Sir Philip, a reputed billionaire, made a shrewd business decision when he sold the chain in March 2015. Others will contend that he must have known that BHS was in deep trouble – 11,000 staff face an uncertain future after administrators were called in last month.

This is compounded by a £571m black hole in the store’s pension fund and Margaret Downes, the former chairman of the pension trustees, claiming at a Parliamentary inquiry this week that Sir Philip refused to pump in more than £10m a year into the scheme.

To what extent the Government should have regulatory oversight of such matters remains open to question – the diligent work of the Business, Innovation and Skills select Committee could not be more important.

Yet it is also a reminder to Ministers, and others, that it is not just the interests of shop workers that need protecting when a store like BHS hits hard times. As the demise of Woolworths, an equally iconic institution, demonstrated, the job losses were not restricted to the 27,000 staff on the firm’s books – suppliers, hard working family concerns who treat their workforce well, were badly hit too and received scant attention for their plight. Can anything more be done to protect their interests? It’s a debate that needs to be held as the ethics of Sir Philip’s dealings rightly come under greater scrutiny at Westminster.

Minster mysteries

AS THE indefatigable Archbishop of York said at the end of his prayer pilgrimage, the Church is in the communications business as it reaches out to Christians and non-Christians.

Once again leading by example, how fitting that Dr John Sentamu was on hand to personally bless, in his own unique style, the cast of the York Minster Plays who will be performing in the city’s medieval Minster 
until June 30.

Just the second time in 700 years that the mystery plays have been performed in the Nave of the Minster which has been converted into a makeshift theatre like no other in the land, this moment of history enshrines York’s historic importance as a beacon of Christianity.