Steel city ‘needs to put itself back on the map’

IT may be synonymous with steel and cutlery but when it comes to promoting their world-class wares Sheffielders are in need of a leg up.

Engraver Mick Shaw at Portland Works in Sheffield

That is one of the conclusions of a report which suggests the city’s metal workers need help to build on the famous ‘Made in Sheffield’ brand.

South Yorkshire is one of three Yorkshire regions and 31 nationwide with major clusters of similar industries which are very important for wealth creation.

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A report commissioned by former Minister Lord Sainsbury warns that these centres of hard work and enterprise do not always fulfil their potential.

The three Yorkshire clusters - metals in South Yorkshire, wood/furniture in Leeds and Bradford and chemicals in Hull - are experiencing nationally significant growth, the report notes.

However, in South Yorkshire brand identity is weak, there is too little innovation and the ageing workforce is not being replaced by younger blood.

Industrial Revolutions: Capturing the Growth Potential is calling for decisive action to boost the clusters, which together employ four million people.

It calls on the Government to address critical skills shortages in computing and engineering and to invest more in infrastructure projects such as better transport links to Hull and to provide cheaper electricity.

Lord Sainsbury said that a dedicated Minister should be appointed to help clusters thrive.

“The role of this individual would be to act as a champion for the UK’s clusters, working closely with them to establish leadership teams, and to make certain that government departments support them and remove barriers to their growth.”

Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities, which helped produce the report, said small, targeted investments in skills and infrastructure can make a significant difference to economic output.

The problem of recruiting young talent in engineering continues to be a problem.

Andrew Nettleton, of Rotherham Council, said: “It does not matter which engineering company you speak to round here, they are all waking up to the fact that their workforce is 50 years old and they have done nothing about it.”

Stuart Mitchell, 44, who has been hand crafting knives and cutlery in Portland Works, Sheffield since he was 15, believes the Made in Sheffield brand still has kudos which he is keen to build upon.

Over the years he has taken on two apprentices but both left for different trades. He now works alone, selling knives for up to £500 apiece. He hopes to pass down his skills to son George, six.

“I would like to think George will be interested enough to learn the skills but will leave it up to him.”

James Newman, chairman of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, said the Made in Sheffield brand was still recognised as a sign of quality. “We are working with partners to maximise the potential of this cluster to ensure the 45,000 businesses in the city region can benefit from its vast supply chain, research knowledge and innovations in manufacturing and design.”