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Our city deal was a devolution game-changer

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Now, I might be proved wrong, but after five years of banging at the gate of Fortress Whitehall, the country’s great cities may at last be getting a response.

For a stronger UK economy that is productive and isn’t as dependent on London, we need to use all our assets – and that means our cities.  

Back in 2012, Sheffield struck a city deal which marked a vital step towards creating a modern state that is fit for today’s local and global challenges.

Let’s be clear: compared with the powers available to global cities we compete with, there is still a long way to go. But with devolution at the top of the political agenda, it’s a good time to reflect on the deal which while piecemeal, was a game-changer in the devolution debate. Where Sheffield has gained new powers, we have used them wisely and delivered local results in a way Whitehall cannot.

More local control over the skills system was an absolute priority for me because the old Whitehall model was failing Sheffield’s people and businesses.  

The deal enabled Sheffield City Region to control £23.8m of skills investment. Since delivery started in 2013, we’ve created 1,948 additional apprenticeships and provided training to 1,151 employees, giving businesses the skills they need to grow.  

The businesses are predominantly SMEs, but they’ve backed the model with over £11.5m private investment in training and wages.

The skills deal was the foundation we built on in our growth deal and most recently in our devolution agreement. By 2017, we will have a completely locally designed skills system.

But it wasn’t just about skills. Successful cities need high-quality modern infrastructure to connect people to jobs, businesses to markets and cities to each other.  

The city deal meant we gained control over major transport funding. We prioritise investment on the schemes which have the greatest impact on the city region’s economy.  

With further funding secured in the growth deal, we can deliver our £600m infrastructure programme. The £280m first phase includes key transport schemes that will unlock development in Sheffield city centre and across the city region.

And there’s much more – like the UK’s first tram-train and our local growth hub, which will deliver the tailored business support and export expertise that businesses in the city region need to grow.

The city deal was only the first step. We need to go further and we’ve got a lot of catching up to do when you look at the success of cities elsewhere.  

Let’s not get too distracted by ‘powerhouses’ and governance models. Let’s give our cities the power to transform local services and local economies – it’s better for people, better for businesses and better for the UK.

Julie Dore (Lab), leader, Sheffield City Council

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