Why Sheffield City Region Needs a Mayor of Steel
At the CBI Sheffield Annual Dinner, Director General Carolyn Fairbairn welcomes new metro mayor Dan Jarvis; calls for more action on skills, transport and productivity; and explains why a customs union and regulatory alignment would be best for Britain.
It’s wonderful to be back in Sheffield this evening.
Not only is there sunshine but we meet here less than a week after the election of the first Mayor of Sheffield City Region, Dan Jarvis.
And can I just say a heartfelt congratulations from all of us at the CBI and our members.
At the CBI, we are great believers in the power of grassroots.
We believe in the value of scale.
We believe in the value of communities, government and business working together to thrive in a competitive world.
According to McKinsey; by 2025, 600 cities around the world will account for more than two-thirds of global GDP.
And 200 of those cities will be Chinese.
They are our competitors and customers of the future – something you already know more than some about.
There is no reason why Sheffield City Region should not be on that list of 600.
If it has the ambition, the vision and the leadership.
And now, it will have a strong voice that can resonate across Yorkshire.
A voice that in today’s politics can deliver not only soft power but also hard cash.
Both of these things can be used to make a real difference.
In a recent CBI survey, Yorkshire was the region most optimistic about what devolution could achieve.
So many things are going right here in Sheffield City Region.
It’s a region already home to many great businesses at the top of their game.
Sheffield Forgemasters has had its highest order book in five years.
Sheffield City Region's Growth Hub has reported another record-breaking year.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Sheffield led the Industrial Revolution.
In the 21st century, it’s leading the Digital Revolution.
The University of Sheffield has been named a founding member of the new Institute of Coding.
Your Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) is now famous and spreading its wings.
It’s joining forces with Derby City Council to establish a £13 million innovation facility.
And Sheffield Hallam’s new Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre is investing millions in technologies that will improve health across the world.
These are great examples of local authorities and business working together to build this region into a magnet for innovation.
With a global pull that’s so strong that Sheffield Airport has had to expand, creating more than 70,000 jobs and adding over £3 billion a year to the economy.
All this is fantastic stuff. But there’s still lots more to do.
And for the new mayor, we would like to put a few things on the to-do list from the perspective of the businesses of Sheffield and beyond.
Last year, Paul Dreschler our President came here and talked not just about the successes – of which there are many.
But he also presented a business manifesto to improve the things that aren’t working so well.
These are the skills shortages, the poor transport links, and the productivity levels that still aren’t where they should be.
The pace of change to fix these things is still too slow.
The CBI knows this better than anyone.
We hear the concerns.
Concerns that domestic issues are getting lost in the Brexit debate.
We can’t let that happen, particularly now.
Whatever kind of Brexit we have, we must focus on competitiveness and how UK based firms can win globally.
Because that’s what brings jobs and rising living standards
A lot of the answers start local.
This year, we have increased our teams here and across the North of England.
These are people who can tailor what we do to what you need.
In the Industrial Strategy, we saw many CBI recommendations become policy.
These include sector deals, a long-term approach and a focus on place and region.
But we know from members that three things could make it even better.
First, clear communication from Government on how they will really deliver the industrial strategy.
Second, ensuring sector deals are joined up with local industrial strategies – and that this happens quickly.
And third, making sure that regional industrial strategies put skills, talent and people first.
There is no single priority greater than preparing our young people for the jobs of tomorrow.
The Industrial Strategy is not yet strong enough on this.
Our surveys show that skills shortages are running at their highest level since 1974.
The apprenticeship levy is not yet working properly.
The new T-level system could be a fantastic step forward for our country.
It would support much-needed skills in digital, construction, creative and technical.
But it needs to be a real joint venture between government, academia and business.
And we need more joining up to enable schools and businesses to collaborate.
There are simply hundreds of different business school programmes – and that’s just in Yorkshire.
It’s no wonder that schools and firms are confused and opt-out.
So let’s work together to change this.
If there is one shared priority – and I heard it from businesses here today – it would be to use the new voice of Sheffield City Region to champion a skills revolution right here, right now.
We are here to work alongside business, government and your new mayor to achieve this.
And yes, using our influence in Westminster when needed.
We are backers of devolution.
May I take this chance to say a huge thank you to Beckie Hart, our director and her great team.
And also to our brilliant chairman, Richard Flint.
You couldn’t be in better hands for this new and very exciting chapter for the region.
Now, no speech at the moment would be complete without a word on Brexit.
At the time of last year’s dinner, Brexit negotiations had just begun.
Businesses wanted to remain but they are pragmatists.
And from June 24, my mandate from CBI members has been to get a good Brexit.
And that fundamentally is about preserving barrier-free trade with the EU.
We have 324 days until we leave. Not exactly a long time.
But it may help lower heartrates to pause for a moment and think about how far we’ve come.
A transition arrangement was ruled out by both sides a year ago.
I know because we were the first to call for a period of no change to give firms time to adapt.
And at the time, we were not exactly greeted with applause from either Brussels or Westminster.
But now we’re within touching distance.
Many of our members had been preparing for the worst.
Last October, 40% told us they had postponed or cut investment.
Now, many have been able to take their finger off the Plan B button.
Both sides are listening to business. But there is much still to do.
And we need your help.
We need to resolve the issue of the Northern Ireland border.
And this is far from easy.
At the CBI, we’ve taken a clear position.
Unless and until a viable alternative is ready and workable, a new customs union between the UK and EU is the best option for Britain.
This decision is ultimately a decision about jobs.
In particular, those high-skilled, high-value jobs that rely on just-in-time supply chains. Just like those represented by the AMRC.
Economics and prosperity must be put before politics and ideology.
At the same time, we need to agree the rules and regulations that will govern our trade.
Because while a new customs union is 50% of the answer to frictionless trade, the other 50% is regulation.
We published a report last month based on thousands of conversations with companies.
It covers 23 sectors – from architects to zoos.
What we found is that firms value being close to Europe.
They value high alignment.
And this is what we are here for.
To be a dispassionate voice.
To bring evidence not ideology.
Over the past year, we’ve really raised the voice of business in the Brexit debate.
And we are rallying businesses across Europe to do the same.
It is cutting through and we will continue to do it.
So thank you for your support.
Thank you for your voices.
And do keep it coming as we are at such a critical moment.
So I’d like to end with a final thought.
Some might see what’s happening here – the digital revolution, the innovation hubs, the advances in technology – as a departure from Sheffield's past.
From its extraordinary heritage in heavy industry – in iron, coal and steel.
But of course, what’s really happening is a continuation of that past.
A continuation of the entrepreneurship, the innovation and the pioneering spirit that will drive global trade.
This will ensure Sheffield will be one of the regions to feel its benefits most strongly.
Now it’s time for politicians and business to work even more closely together.
To attract more investment, build more companies and create more good jobs.
And at the CBI, we will do everything we can to help make that happen.
And show the rest of the country what great local business leadership can really do.