LEP chairman hails devolution opportunity

DEVOLUTION and the creation of a new elected mayor is an opportunity to drive growth in South Yorkshire as part of a wider revival of the North economy, according to the new chairman of the area’s local enterprise partnership.

Sir Nigel Knowles has been announced as the new chair of the local enterprise partnership. Picture: Andrew Roe

Sir Nigel Knowles was yesterday confirmed as the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership’s new chairman just weeks after the area agreed a deal with George Osborne which should see signficiant powers transferred from Whitehall.

The LEP brings together business people and council leaders and is designed to give the private sector a voice in key decisions affecting the local economy.

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As LEP chairman he will also represent the interests of business on the combined authority which brings together council leaders to take major decisions in areas such as transport and skills and which, from 2017, will be chaired by an elected mayor.

Stocksbridge-born Sir Nigel described the LEP chairman role as an opportunity to “put something back” into the area where he was raised and took his first job at the law firm Broomheads.

“I was intrigued by the new environment being created by the prospect of devolution and the coming together of public and private through the LEP,” he said.

“The Sheffield City Region is very interestingly poised and the environment that currently exists should be as good as it’s been for a while to make a difference and I’m looking forward to playing a role in that.”

The Sheffield City Region is pushing ahead with plans designed to close the gap with the South-East in economic growth.

Sir Nigel said: “If you back 50 or 75 years, the cities in the North made Britain great, from Liverpool to the east coast.

“When there was a decline in industrial fortunes all the power and influence seemed to go to the South-East and Westminster and you got to the situation where the largest employer in some of the northern cities, in nearly every case, was the public sector. That can’t be a good thing.

“There has been a breakdown in trust and confidence that exists between the South-East and the leaders in the northern cities and towns.

“I think the concept of devoltion, the concept of giving more responsbility to Sheffield City Region where we are groundbreaking, will allow there to be more influence exerted in the region working with people in the region which will restore trust and confidence and create an environment where people will work together for mutual reward.”

Sir Nigel played a leading role in transforming the law firm now known as DLA Piper from a regional to global firm, a change which also saw him move to London when he became managing partner in 1996.

Now global co-chairman of the firm, he wants to take South Yorkshire on a similar journey.

“We have got to promote the unique selling points, the unique business case, both around the UK and around the world and that’s something I’m looking forward to getting involved with,” he said.

“I think its inciteful of the Sheffield City Region to think about a chairman who is not based in the city region because you don’t want everything just circling around South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

“We need to get people interested in this region who may never have been here, who may not know very much about it and who may be located in this country, Europe or the rest of the world.”

Sir Nigel will take up the role next month.