Take Back Control, Yorkshire

As its Yorkshire Day ( yes happy days Tykes) and what better way, and day, to reflect on our current devolution mess through the lens of Brexit.

So I will start repeating stuff that I have been saying for the last two decades –  the English Question remains the unfinished bit of the devolution jigsaw for the UK. In other words there is still unfinished business that started with the wide sweeping devolution agenda of the first Labour government in 1997 and that resulted in some sort of settlement for Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and London.

And whilst our capital city has enjoyed a significant devolution of powers since 1997 the stalling of the devolution deal in South Yorkshire where I live is a painful reminder of the dog’s dinner that constitutional reform is in the UK.

The ambitions for the city regions have been articulated, and indeed enacted in places like Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham,  but not HOW they fit into the wider constitutional jigsaw.  The fact is that no one has clearly articulated the case for devolution or the right and appropriate constitutional settlement for a modern 21stcentury UK and specifically how England sits alongside current constitutional arrangements.

What  Brexit has done is expose the many fault lines in both our political system and our constitution, particularly around the devolution settlements where the weaknesses are most apparent. This schism was apparent from the onset.

During the passage of the EU Withdrawal Act, the constitutional tensions were laid bare, with the UK government’s treatment of the devolved nations the EU Withdrawal Act and specifically with Clause 11, when it became apparent that Brexit creates those “special circumstances” that shows that London can overrule anything from Scotland,  Wales or Northern Ireland.

It is also a significant failure of politicians on all sides not to take the fragile nature of hard fought and won devolution settlements seriously and pay attention to them. The UK’s hard-won devolution settlements are just that – hard-won- but also relatively new. The Scottish parliament, Stormont and the Welsh Assembly are barely 20 years old and the EU referendum result is a huge challenge for our steep learning curve on the new governance.

It is also paying attention to detail and understanding our recent history. People who don’t bother to read and understand the Good Friday Agreement have no place at any negotiating table. But its not just Northern Ireland that feel aggrieved. There has been scant regard to the Sewell Convention that states that the UK Parliament “will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent” of the devolved parliaments. But it is just that, a convention, and in 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that since Sewel remains just a political convention neither Wales or Scotland could veo the UKs withdrawal from the UK.

But what of England?  And what of the constituent parts, including Gods Own county of Yorkshire? Having worked for the last two years with civil society groups across all the constituent parts of the UK it is notable that Westminster remains as remote to people in England as to those living in the Outer Hebrides. The difference for people in Scotland is that they have an intermediary in the Scottish government who whilst in no ways perfect is much closer to home and responsive than anything based in London.

Up and down England where we ran Round Tables on Brexit the narrative is that for civil society Brexit is that “thing”  that is being done to us but not for us. That it’s about conversations ‘over there’ but not here. That people are not being listened to and are removed from the political process. And the one big take home is the tendency to confuse Westminster with England, especially by those who occupy the hallowed turf of Westminster.  Brexit feels like, and to a large extent is, a Westminster driven project, not even an English one.

Brexit brings to the surface some of the fundamental problems successive politicians approach to devolution as a concept. For those of us in Yorkshire this is just exposing a sore that has been running for a long time. Delete the word Brexit and insert the word transport spend for example.

And so on Yorkshire Day the cry of “Take Back Control” has a hollow ring.  Yes please we all say BUT the reality of  the experience for Scotland and Wales since 2016 suggests that control, as and when it comes, will go back to Westminster and Whitehall. Whilst acknowledging that South Yorkshire has not played a very canny hand in the devolution game (possibly an understatement) it is also true control will not be devolved down in any meaningful way until we have proper devolution and we are some way off that – even for those who live in Manchester.

Boris Johnson said this week that  Brexit ‘done right’ could ‘cement and intensify’ the union. How exactly he didn’t say. The reality is that we are now in uncharted waters, undertaking a huge legislative change in a relatively short space of time when our politics is being sorely tried and tested.  These tensions would have emerged at some stage. Brexit has just exposed them more starkly and possibly quicker. Today the   Yorkshire Post  said now is absolutely the right time for this Government to break the impasse on Yorkshire devolution. Amen to that. Now is also the time for a steadier, less reactive hand in negotiating Brexit and a long term devolution settlement that covers ALL the nations and regions of the UK.



South Yorkshire Mayor : #Danstheman

Next year will see the 20th anniversary of Campaign for Yorkshire, established to make the case for elected regional government in Yorkshire and part of the wider devolution settlement for England. I left my  university post to be Director, which led to setting up Campaign for the English Regions and supporting other northern campaigns.

The failed North East referendum managed to kick most of this into the long grass but not for as long as some thought. Ironically it has been the Conservatives who have breathed life into this again with (largely talk of ) Northern Powerhouse and City-Regions giving us elected mayors in several large cities.

Sheffield – or rather South Yorkshire – was offered the opportunity of a city mayor several years ago but the last two years have seen major scraps between both authority leaders and between two visions of whats the appropriate settlement – either Sheffield City Region of a One Yorkshire solution.

For my part I have consistently said that in governance terms the wisdom of creating a body that covers South Yorkshire  instead of a Yorkshire-wide deal seems lacking. But more importantly this is NOT the devolution we campaigned for in the noughties. This is just tinkering. The ambitions for the city regions have been articulated but not how they fit into the wider constitutional jigsaw.  The missing piece is the clearly articulated the case for devolution or the right and appropriate constitutional settlement for a modern 21stcentury UK.

And this is why I will be supporting Dan Jarvis in his bid to become mayor because I know he gets it. I was at the  IPPR North event in 2015 when Dan Jarvis argued that the ‘devolution debate represents perhaps the greatest opportunity to remake the State and empower people for a generation’. And I know through conversations I have been having with him for the last 4 or more years that his commitment to a proper devolution settlement is genuine.

I will also be supporting Dan for another issue close to my heart. For the last few years I have been actively involved with Sheffield’s Fairness Commissions campaign “Our Fair City”. Whilst this has stalled of late the early initiatives of Our Fair City singled out Sheffield as a pioneer in turning ambitions to address inequalities into something tangible and real. Dan Jarvis is one of the few MP’s who came to me to discuss the possibilities of replicating this in Barnsley – and I hope as the new City Region mayor will breathe life into this again.

We live in a far from perfect world. The delay in getting a resolution in Yorkshire has not been helpful and we should have seen more candidates come forward ( and yes, keeping Richard Caborn off the short list was ludicrous).

Neither are these the devolution deals many of us  would have chosen  – devolution sadly cannot wait for the election of a Labour government – but  while imperfect, do create an opportunity to talk about devolution more broadly. Dan of the two candidates has clearly articulated a case for a better solution and settlement  and that is why he has my vote. I hope he will have yours.




Brexit and Northern Ireland


Last Monday I found myself in Belfast at a meeting of civic society organisations contemplating what may be coming over the hill for them as we leave the EU.

Groups ranging from Unison and the Humans Rights Consortium, to those from the universities, consumers’, womens’ and childrens’ sectors impressed on me the ramifications of Brexit for Northern Ireland. Indeed, nowhere are the stakes higher.

Particularly vulnerable is the delicate and hard won peace settlement underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement – an intentional peace treaty which has been supported and underpinned in a number of ways by the EU.

Whilst there is a consensus that the Brexit negotiations must not jeopardise the peace process, with its unique and bespoke settlement, it seems this is not being born out in the current wording of the EU Withdrawal Bill (or the Repeal Bill).

At the heart of this is how the devolved nations are being treated in the Bill.

Devolution was at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement. The institutional framework put in place was to ensure Northern Ireland politicians could pass laws which reflected the unique, particular circumstances of a society which had been adversely affected by the conflict.

But Clause 11 and Schedule 2 of the Repeal Bill completely undermine the concept of devolution.It prevents the devolved authorities in Northern Ireland from amending retained EU laws in a way that is not consistent with the UK government’s policy.

In other words, Northern Ireland may no longer to put in place policies that reflect the very special circumstances that exist there. As it stands, Clause 11 will restrict the ability of Stormont to modify retained EU law, instead imposing a unified approach to devolution orchestrated from Whitehall and Westminster.    

This interference and undermining of devolution has ramifications for equality and rights explicitly stated in the Good Friday Agreement, which gives equal rights and protections to citizens of both Northern Ireland and Ireland – including rights for all to Irish citizenship.

Nor is it clear what the status will be for the North/South Ministerial Council and therefore North/South cooperation and the British-Irish Council. The bill as currently stands also raises questions about the status of the Common Travel Area (CTA) – a special border-free zone comprising the UK ,the Isle of Man, the Channel Isles and Ireland   – and formed before membership of EU. And what now of things like the operation of the single energy market, and those other existing contracts that are “whole island”? What about things like sharing of cancer treatment facilities?

The unknowns are greater than the knowns. What is known is that the bill as drafted contains no provision to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process from the negative effects of Brexit. Instead, the bill undermines the agreement through the interference with the devolved functions of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

If this is not enough, the other real injustice is that no one is there in Whitehall and Westminster to really advocate on Northern Ireland’s behalf. The DUP has publically said very little, which is unsurprising given its agreement with the current government. Sinn Fein refuses to come to Westminster, and Stormont has not met since January.

This vacuum means that whilst some – including Barnier – have expressed concerns, there is no consistent stream of parliamentarians who have this at the front of their minds.

The Repeal Bill Alliance has tried to move forward some of the connecting, networking, and advocacy, but as civil society organisations we are not in the chamber in the House of Commons for those critical debates during the Second Reading. While we have created a space and platform for civil society voices from Northern Ireland to be heard and to collaborate with others, it cannot replace the role of legislators in the UK parliament.

As we embark on the next step of Second Reading and beyond, it is hoped that the special circumstances of Northern Ireland and its people will be at the front of all politicians’ minds. The Repeal Bill Alliance will endeavour to help and support the growing civic groups that are determined to be heard. And we know that no MP, of any persuasion, would want to have as their legacy that they were part of a process that undermined the peace in Northern Ireland.

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The biggest economic challenge facing our society – too many people left behind

Speculation is rife about the  budget and what Chancellor Philip Hammond will do. Despite the usual attempts to damp down expectation it is what rabbits he can pull out of the hat. One rabbit that is unlikely to materialise is the one that resolves the biggest economic challenge that faces the UK – the growing number of people left behind or  “just-about-managing”.

Prime Minister May’s promise to have an economy that “works for everyone” is simply not happening. We are failing woefully short and there are still too many individuals and communities left behind. Evidence from the Resolution Foundation suggests we are on course for the biggest rise in inequality since the days of Margaret Thatcher.

The disparities in Sheffield are all too plain to see. Last year End Child Poverty found that around 40% of children living in the Brightside and Hillsborough constituency were living in poverty. This is set to increase as a major slowdown in living standards means typical households will see almost no income growth and the poorest will actually see their incomes decline due to stagnation in pay and rising inflation.

As working-age benefits have been frozen in cash terms the poorest are not shielded from the impact of inflation which means that poverty will increase whilst those in better, secure employment will fare better.

Sheffield City region has lost about £1.1billion since 2011 due to austerity cuts and welfare reforms. Poor jobs growth means that an estimated additional 70,000 jobs are required to “narrow the gap” with other parts of the country. And Sheffield region has the highest proportion of people in low paid work – nearly a quarter are below the recommended living wage.

This impacts on everyone. It’s not just the costs to the individual in poverty, it’s the costs to the economy and the social fabric of the city.

Poverty costs according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report last August (Counting the Cost of UK Poverty) is about £78 billion a year across the UK . Of this £69 billion, £1 in every £5 of all spending on public services, is needed because of the impact and cost poverty has on people’s lives.Then there is the £9 billion in lost tax revenue and additional benefits spending resulting from dealing with the symptoms of poverty. It is equivalent to 4 per cent of the UK’s GDP.

All cities have to face two major challenges – adapting to outcomes and causes of climate change, and responding to growing inequalities. Sheffield has responded to these by setting up a Fairness Commission and a Green Commission. In the last year our Fair City has been campaigning to bring about real step change to the lives of those who are the most disadvantaged.

But this needs politicians to recognise the causes of poverty and inequality and THEN have the political will to do something about it. The Chancellor may announce a new school building programme but new schools in Sheffield, irrespecitve of whether they are grammar schools or not, will do nothing if children enter school hungry, cold and suffering from lack of sleep.

We need to see the government do a number of things. First, remove the freeze on working age benefits so their value keeps pace with rising prices, and let the poorest keep more of what they earn. Second more targetted support for those out of work, and to address the mismatch in Sheffield between jobs available and the skills we are developing. Third is to invest far more in early years (hey, why not call it Sure Start?)

If people are serious about the city then they can also show their commitment by embracing the aims of Our Fair City. The Fair Employers Charter has a significant number of signatories but everyone in the city should be commited to paying the living wage, and signed up to employment practices that support and nuture the next generation. Sheffield Fair Money means that residents have access to fair loans and advice from a not-for-profit community benefit society. And the recently launched Financial Inclusion strategy identifies the most effective help for those most vulnerable to financial shocks.

Government could give much better support to those groups working at the sharp end on training and development opportunities to low paid employees and put much more emphasis on local procurement to stimulate local economies. Stable and affordable tenancies across the social and private rented sectors is a key to stable communities –  and in an ideal world linking rents to local earnings.

If Philip Hammond decides that its more of the same  we will get the same results – more children in poverty, greater regional disparities, growing inequality. The cost for ignoring all this is huge. If Theresa May is serious about no one left behind then whats in the Budget would be a good way to demonstrate that she means what she says.

Jane Thomas, Our Fair City Advisory Group

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Yorkshire : Take Back Control

The promised elections for a mayor for Sheffield City Region, and the powers that come with that new post, will now not happen in South Yorkshire this year. The recent consultation carried out by the Combined Authority was found to have short comings after Derbyshire County Council took the CA to court. There can be no further movement until this is rectified and another consultation undertaken – but time seems to have run out as notice of election has to be laid by 26th of March for a May election.

The stalling of the devolution deal in South Yorkshire is a painful reminder of the dog’s dinner that constitutional reform is in the UK. In the case of South Yorkshires the inability to get agreement even before the first hurdle is reached is symptomatic of far wider problems.  The current government under May does not seem to have the appetite for taking devolution seriously. Osborne had some cunning scheme that he could appeal to the North  without really thinking past Tory marginal seats.

The fact is that the no one has clearly articulated the case for devolution or the right and appropriate constitutional settlement for a modern 21stcentury UK. The ambitions for the city regions have been articulated but not how they fit into the wider constitutional jigsaw. What is clear is that there is still unfinished business that started with the devolution agenda of the first Labour government in 1997 and the subsequent inability to resolve the “English question”.

Brexit has also brought to the surface some of the fundamental problems successive politicians approach to devolution as a concept. “Take Back Control” cried the Brexiteers. Yes cried the masses. The result? Control, as and when it come, will go back to Westminster and Whitehall – the very same political elite and establishment that many voters are railing against at the moment. Control will not be devolved down in any meaningful way until we have proper devolution and we are some way off that – even for those who live in Manchester.

This point is started to gain traction.  John Mann used the backdrop of Brexit when he argued convincingly on Radio 2 recently for regions to have some determination on immigration quotas. He has a point. As we all recognise know there is a huge difference between labour markets in the South East and the North and different skills shortages. If managed migration is going to happen then why not let the regions or city regions have their role in determining what best suits their local economies.

South Yorkshire may have missed the boat this time but it gives us all time to get our ducks in a row and to make the case for a much clearer, cohesive and stronger settlement. And it gives Yorkshire some breathing space to work out exactly what it wants, and how it wants to see future governance for the future. A settlement that gives us the clout and voice that will gives us that contril that is being promised. I have never been convinved that South Yorkshire would carry enough weight (certainly if Business rates play a central role in future funding) with somewhere like Manchester. But a strong and powerful Yorkshire with its world famous brand could really be something. The time to start putting the case for this starts from today.

I didn’t vote for Brexit and am still horrified about the potential consequences, especially for a university city like Sheffield. But now you mention it yes I would like to take back control. I’d like this not be some tinkering round the edges but a dynamic recasting of the British state that puts it in a modern context and without having to resort to that square mile in London to fix everything.


Devo Yorkshire – an update: what is clear is that nothing is clear

First posted November 18, 2016, in Devo-Ed,

As the government announces the proposed route for HS2 it appears that the train may well have left the station for Yorkshire in terms of the devolution deals. As Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool start to campaign in readiness to elect a mayor next year, Yorkshire remains in disarray over the form and shape devolution should take.

This is somewhat disappointing given that over the years much has been made about the cohesiveness of Yorkshire culturally and about “Brand Yorkshire” and yet ironically when it comes to its future governance there is no clear consensus.

Andrew Percy, the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, said that elected mayors will still be part of the deal, confirming that mayors remain central to the government’s devolution proposals. Many in Yorkshire have wanted to see a Yorkshire wide devolution covering the whole county of five million people with an economy larger that Scotland – a deal that Percy is reported to support, along with North and East Yorkshire Council leaders.

However South Yorkshire council leaders, along with Chesterfield and Bassetlaw, agreed a draft City region deal with the government last year. As it stands, City Region mayoral elections for Sheffield City Region are still scheduled to go ahead next year but these were supposed to have been finalised two weeks ago and placed into statutory orders at the end of October.

Two things have muddied the water for South Yorkshire. The first is that the question of the inclusion of Chesterfield into Sheffield City Region is now the subject of a legal challenge by Derbyshire County Council. If the courts decide to uphold Derbyshire challenge that could pave the way for a wholesale review of the way the region is pursing devolution.

The second is the rather late intervention by Doncaster Mayor Ros Jones who now appears to be throwing cold water on the idea of a deal for South Yorkshire (despite having agreed to it last year) saying “We need a conversation with Government as to whether a deal can be done without a Mayor, which is our preferred option”.

The government have not helped matters with HS2. Doncaster are very unhappy about the recommendations for the proposed station and route of HS2 – and in Sheffield there is not even a solution yet on the table to this.

What is clear is that nothing is clear. Many in South Yorkshire now worry that the reservations expressed by Doncaster, and the intervention of Derbyshire County Council could permanently derail the devolution deal – and the additional £30million a year funding allocation could walk out the door. The Chamber of Commerce for South Yorkshire is supportive of the deal and now fears that any delays will result in missed opportunities in terms of jobs, skills and investment – something that is now even more crucial with the Brexit vote.

Next Monday 28 November, the Yorkshire All Party Parliamentary Group of Yorkshire MPs will be meeting the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, who no doubt will then be questioned – and lobbied – by MPs on the state of the devo deals. It is reported he is no fan of the Yorkshire wide solution – although Andrew Percy, a former co-chair of the APPG, is. But irrespective of that Yorkshire needs to get its act together and in particular, South Yorkshire needs to know if it’s got a devolution deal or not.

Dont let the most vulnerable in Sheffield “drop off a cliff” in tomorrow’s autumn statement.

I sit on the Advisory Group for Our Fair City campaign, a campaign that came out of the Fairness Commission in Sheffield. The fact that the city is becoming more unequal and seeing greater numbers of people in  dire straights is simply unacceptable in an econmy as large as ours. These are often people who are in work but on such low wages, or zero hours contracts, that they simply cannot make ends meet. These are people who are increasingly relying on food banks, something we should be trying to eradicate – instead we have seen the number grow over the last year.

So those of us campaigning in Sheffield for a Fairer City will be in urging the Chancellor to do the right thing in tomorrow’s Autumn Statement and make sure that fairness and help for the most vulnerable are at the heart of policy announcements.

 Chair of Sheffield’s Fairness Commission and Fair City Advisory Group, Professor Alan Walker said

“On Monday the Prime Minister told the CBI that people don’t want a cliff-edge; they want to know with some certainty how things are going to go. But it is not the business community she should be saying this to but all those who are “just about managing” and those who are really struggling to survive.

Research tells us that the combined impact of welfare cuts will leave struggling working families worse off by more than £2,500 a year by 2020. She must now live up to her promise made in July to help ordinary working class families hit so badly by the Government’s welfare cuts.” 

Our Fair City campaign, launched by the Fairness Commission last year is asking the Chancellor to announce:


  • Abolition of the proposed freezes on in-work welfare benefits and the £30 a week cuts to disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), due to kick in from April 2017.


  • No income tax give away especially, for higher earners,  and tax incentives to housebuilders  to be replaced by simply commissioning them to build affordable housing. 



  • Follow our lead in Sheffield by offering cheaper credit to those who are struggling and indebted. This is a win-win solution helping people to become more financially independent and manage their money better rather than giving what little money they do have to predatory loan sharks.




  1. According to State of Sheffield 2016 report there are now 47% of workless households of working age deemed to be “ in poverty” whilst 60% of all working-age households in poverty have at least one person in employment
  1. Speaking at a recent Fight for Fairer Food event in Sheffield recently Demi Ennals, Chair of Sheffield’s Food Bank Network said that there are currently 19 foodbanks in Sheffield and the number is growing. The event, held as part of the Festival of Debate, heard from a range of people who are affected by food poverty or those working towards reducing food inequality and noted that over £400 million worth of food is wasted in Sheffield every year.
  1. According to new research from End Child Poverty Action the Sheffield constituency of Brightside and Hillsborough was listed as the 14th worst constituency in the country, with 39.7% of children said to be living in poverty. In Sheffield Central constituency 34.95% of children are in poverty (after housing costs). http://www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/poverty-in-your-area-2016/


  1. Sheffield’s Fairness Commission launched the Our Fair City campaign in 2015 to combat inequalities and make Sheffield a fairer place. It follows a report in 2013 by the city’s Fairness Commission, which found Sheffield’s population is one of the most divided in Britain. http://www.ourfaircity.co.uk/.  Along with a Fair Employers Charter the Campaign has also launched Fair Money that is a not-for-profit loan scheme offering loans, credit and savings accounts from a number of responsible providers https://sheffieldmoney.co.uk/


Jane Thomas

Have we our own rust belt in the North of England?

So much has happened in the last week that it’s been hard to really try and define what on earth we are all about and where we are going. Whilst commentators and pundits try and work out if orange is the new black (nod to over the pond) back here we are trying to work out if Brexit means Brexit. And whether we are about to replicate America – or if America has just replicated events over here.

People seem to have been genuinely surprised and shocked at the EU referendum result and the USA presidential elections. Actually if you reflect for any length of time all the signs have been there for years. Technology speeds up pace of life and inevitably the pace of change. What would have happened over a generation now takes a few years, what happens over a decade much less. This has been building for some time and has just exploded ibn a rather elctrifying way.

Two things worth reflecting on – both relating to Sheffield. The first is the new report by Christina Beatty and Steve Fothergill[i] from Sheffield Hallam University  which examines the legacy of leaving the old industrial bits of our country to rot. It shows how the destruction of industrial jobs has fuelled spending on welfare benefits and in turn intensified the budgetary problems of successive governments. Major job losses since the early 1980s were heaviest in the central belt of Scotland, the north-east of England, along a line that stretches along the M62 from Liverpool to Hull, and extending southwards down the M1 into the Midlands. Unsurprisingly a similar distribution for incapacity benefits, tax credits and projected losses from welfare cuts follows this map.

As manufacturing declined, so the financial sector grew more powerful with Gordon Brown noting recently that the UK has in effect become two countries, with the prosperous south-east decoupling from a permanently struggling north. Indeed the similarities between parts of our country and the USA rust belt are all to clear to see.

This is not a new phenomenon but something rooted in the destruction of jobs decades ago and why some of us were campaigning so hard from the late 1990s to have a robust regional policy in place, alongside proper devolution of powers and money.

Instead successive Chancellors, and the Treasury, have misdiagnosed the problems of “worklessness” and high welfare spend and ended up punishing those already hit by decades of lack of investment from governments of any sort. This is now becoming our rust belt – and South Yorkshire is included in this – and if we want to see the evidence of this then it’s worth reading this report.

The second thing that happened here in Sheffield  was last weeks  annual SPERI lecture given by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. In it she called for a shift away from austerity and a move towards major investment in jobs and public services. In a wide ranging speech she talked about how the EU referendum result presents us all with major challenges. Obviously Nicola Sturgeons primary concern is to protect Scotland’s interests but this was a sweeping lecture touching on a number of themes and putting down some real markers for the forthcoming autumn statement from the Government.[ii]

Like the Beatty and Fothergill report the basic message is the same – the roots of what we have just witnessed this year, both here and in the USA, should come as no surprise and have had their roots in actions and activities over the last two decades. Work now has to benefit everyone and inclusive growth is a matter of basic morality as well as being based on sound economic principles.

In Scotland the Fair Work Convention is articulating this with a vision that by 2025, people in Scotland will have a world-leading working life where fair work drives success, wellbeing and prosperity for individuals, businesses, organisations and society. Here in Sheffield the Our Fair City Campaign has similar aspirations through the work being done on Fair Money, Fair Futures and Fair Work http://www.ourfaircity.co.uk/.

The recent elections have if nothing else exposed the deep gulf between the lives people live and what the policy makers are giving them. The questions is now how political leaders are going to respond. Much will rest over here on the next 12 months – the autumn statement, Northern Powerhouse, Brexit, the reality of an Industrial strategy. People in the North are showing both what the problem is, and offering solutions – its time now for leaders to step up to the plate and grasp some of this.

[i] http://www4.shu.ac.uk/research/cresr/sites/shu.ac.uk/files/cresr30th-jobs-welfare-austerity.pdf

[ii] The whole speech can be found here


BREXIT – Worst case scenarios for Sheffield’s Universities?


As we enter the fifth month since the historic referendum vote on the EU the continued debate about the actual details (such as the triggering of Article 50 or whether we are staying in the Customs Union) is just adding the confusion. We know we have had a referendum and we know the result – but that is about the extent of any certainty.

So whilst we are all left pondering what Brexit really means nationally we really need to reflect what it means here for us in Sheffield.

Whilst the referendum result in June in Sheffield matched the result nationally for some of us that in itself was quite a shock. Sheffield, City of Steel, has relied heavily on EU money since the early 1990s helping to rebalance the economy after the demise of the steel and coal industry. Some £1 billion has come into South Yorkshire from EU funds and much of that has ended up in Sheffield – through job creation programmes and things like redeveloping the city centre, road transport schemes and the Advanced Manufacturing Park. So it did seem rather short sighted, ungrateful even, to give the EU a thumbs down after the bail out.

But it’s not just about funding. Sheffield is undisputedly a University City.  With some 58,000 students at the two universities the student population accounts for over 10% of the overall population (currently at 563,749 residents according to the latest figures from 2014). Sheffield Hallam is the 6th largest university in the UK, with 31,508; the University of Sheffield nearly 26,000. Add to that the 16,000 students who enrol at Sheffield College and you have a vibrant and young city population – but one heavily focused on post -16 education and learning. And we know that young people – when they voted – voted overwhelmingly to Remain.

In the end just 6,000 votes decided the outcome in Sheffield but it still seems at odds for a city with a clear bulge in the population in the 20-24 age group and with a significant increase in the level of international migration recently.

From the universities point of view it is also an outcome they did not want. Universities in particular are global institutions – with students from all round the world studying at UK universities with active international collaborative research and funding projects in many departments. But whilst the outreach is global the most beneficial relationship has been with the EU –   since 2007 the University of Sheffield has participated in 353 projects with a total value of €1.087M of which the University received £164.5M.

The importance placed on Europe explains why the White Rose Consortium (a strategic partnership between Leeds, Sheffield and York universities) launched a new office in Brussels earlier this year to influence ER research policy.

The day after the referendum result Professor Keith Burnett, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sheffield said “Yes I am gutted that this is the decision which has been reached, and certainly not only for myself…. I wonder what [staff and students from abroad] must be feeling, and think of what they have already said to me – practical questions about what this means for their daily lives, work opportunities and residency.

Academics engaged in projects with other EU universities drawing on EU funding wonder about the future of their work. What of Erasmus and other kinds of educational exchange? Brexit may have other consequences too, on our economy or on the investment choices of our major commercial partners. It could mean further tightening of immigration rules.”

The uncertainly within the sector has massive repercussions for Sheffield as a city. Universities are business incubators and are regarded as one of the essential pillars to support a growing local economy. Add to that a graduate pool that chooses to stay in the University City and you have a massive accelerator to growth.

But for Sheffield the role of the universities is seen as central to determining the city’s future. Since the decline in manufacturing Sheffield has fallen back onto the public sector (NHS, local government and the universities) to provide local jobs. Between 1971 and 2008, the manufacturing sector in Sheffield declined by 74 percent, shedding 120,000 jobs – 52 percent of the jobs created in Sheffield between 1995 and 2008 were in the public sector. Increasingly it is the universities that have provided some optimism for future growth. And it is very evident, both in their physical presence in the heart of the city, and by the active role the universities play in leadership roles in the city.

This is no better seen than by looking at the flagship Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre ( AMRC). Established in 2001 the AMRC was a £15 million collaboration between the University of Sheffield and aerospace giant Boeing, with support from Yorkshire Forward and the European Regional Development Fund. The expansion has been rapid and in December 2015 the AMRC launched Factory 2050, a cutting edge advanced manufacturing research facility. This along with the growing cluster of advanced manufacturing and technology firms around Sheffield and Rotherham  has led to a proposed “innovation triangle” that will connect the AMRC  and wider Advanced Manufacturing Park with businesses in the Don Valley and Sheffield city centre.

This is not to claim that the research that the University of Sheffield undertakes is the only game in town for Sheffield – look at some of the remarkable things that have come out of the Cultural Industries Quarter – but its role in driving growth and in particular addressing and meeting the challenges of skills mismatch has been vital for Sheffield’s regeneration.

Chris Husbands, the vice-chancellor at Sheffield Hallam, says that his researchers are already seeing significant effects. He told Newsnight on July 5th: “Since the referendum result, of the 12 projects that we have people working on for submission for an end-of-August deadline, on four of those projects researchers in other European countries have said that they no longer feel that the UK should be a partner because they don’t have confidence in what the future is going to hold.”

How the universities’ will positon themselves internationally in a post Brexit world is yet to be determined. Whilst exchanges like Erasmus are important, both universities have maintained a wider recruiting, exchange and research portfolio that means that they are not over reliant on European students or funding. Yet the degree of uncertainty for the sector and for research is destabilising. This against continuing uncertainty for the UK economy does not help places like Sheffield given the central role of the HE sector as a stimulus to the local and wider economy.

As Chris Husbands said in that same interview it is the uncertainty that is most worrying – “Leaving the EU doesn’t necessarily mean being outside the European research network…. And it may be that there’s where we end up.

“But it’s not where we are now and in that uncertainty people are making decisions about what might happen – and like all people planning for the future, they’re planning on a worst-case scenario.”


Richmond Park

Sometimes in politics we are forced to do things that make us uncomfortable, or take us outside of our comfort zone because we are breaking with tradition. This is one such time. The issue of whether Labour should stand a candidate in the by election of Richmond Park raises questions about pacts and collusions and integrity and principles. But for me it is also about seeing the much bigger picture of the outcome. And that is where I come firmly down on the side of NOT standing a Labour candidate.

Quite simply if there is a straight fight between Goldsmith and the Lib Dem candidate then then Goldsmith may get his just deserts. And if we are talking principles here then the biggest thing anyone can do after the absolutely disgraceful way he conducted his mayoral campaign is to make sure Goldsmith is kicked out from public office.

Before anyone starts talking collusion then they need to ask why the Tories are not fielding a candidate. What arrangement has already been reached with Goldsmith about his role in supporting the Government if he is re-elected? As it is the Tories are allowing him a straight run back in – and that will have come at a price.

There is another bigger picture her too, and one that I wrote about yesterday. In the absence of a sensible voting system we have to use the system we have got to get the best outcomes for the world we want to see. For me it is how we can best get the social justice, fairness and environmental outcomes we so desperately need. And in certain circumstances that may mean making some uncomfortable decisions about alliances and pacts. But that is the hard reality of politics I’m afraid.

It’s also not a decision to be made that often. In the majority of elections and in the majority of cases the electorate should be given the opportunity to have a choice of candidates to choose from. But sometimes circumstances dictate otherwise. Batley and Spen is one where other parties stood aside for all the right reasons – and with grace. The circumstances with Richmond Park are nothing like Batley and Spen. However the hate and vitriol that Goldsmith spread during the mayoral election also means this is no ordinary candidate in no ordinary by election.

It may also get us to think slightly differently about the way we do politics in the future – and think about outcomes. During the General Election of 2015 Labour spent money (that we did not have) fighting Caroline Lucas in Brighton. This meant the Greens spent far too much money fighting her seat and not enough on Norwich. If Labour had done things differently we could have spent that money more wisely in a couple of other marginals and the Greens spent it on Norwich. The result could have been three less Tories – and two more Labour and one more Green MP. For some that’s tantamount to treason but to be quite honest I would take three less Tories any day – especially given the narrow majority May has.

We haven’t got a voting system that’s fit for purpose but we do have the ability sometimes to make other choices that bucks the system. A system that has given us a right wing government on 24% of the vote. This is not making the case for collusion and pacts but every once in a while there comes a time when the choice is stark. So before we get too quick to embroil ourselves in a by election we can’t win let’s spend some time carefully considering what Lisa Nandy and others are saying.