Looking at Sheffield’s strengths and weaknesses
At his installation Master Cutler Ken Cooke urged Sheffield to not undervalue itself and to emphasise its strengths to the wider world.
He said his prime aim during his term of office would be to promote the Sheffield City Region, pointing out its potential, opportunities, qualities and values.
But what are the city’s strengths and do they outweigh its weaknesses at a time when national and international competition is at its greatest?
There is still a strong culture of innovation in Sheffield and its pride of having the second highest number of patents granted per capita of any UK core city should not be underestimated.
As the Master Cutler said himself: “Sheffield is in a good place, manufacturers are for the most part busy, we have diversity in the various types of manufacturing and we have a strong and growing tradition of innovation.”
Both The University of Sheffield and Hallam University are responsible for a great part of the city’s prosperity, bringing in around 60,000 students each year, many from overseas. And looking for positives elsewhere, the annual State of Sheffield report reveals that whilst the health and education sectors remain the dominant employment sectors, overall skills are improving.
On a different note, the city’s location on the edge of the Peak District has long been hailed as a positive, creating an environment where graduates want to stay and fill high value jobs, and where companies are tempted to relocate.
There are negatives of course that present ongoing challenges. The city falls on the wrong side of the North South divide when it comes to assistance for economic growth and with a Conservative government, there isn’t really any hope of a great deal of change in spite of talk of a Northern Powerhouse – a concept that appears to be running out of steam.
To compound the challenges, the region has had a recent history of shooting itself in the foot, and the Master Cutler could be facing an uphill task in talking up the city in the face of some frightful self-inflicted harm.
Festering political squabbling is one of the region’s greatest weaknesses, highlighted by the row over devolution, an issue that has the potential to tear the city region concept apart.
While the region’s politicians continue to bicker, the ruling Sheffield Labour Party is making embarrassing errors and is finding it difficult to fulfil certain promises, particularly over the redevelopment of the city centre.
This failure to deliver the long awaited city centre retail quarter scheme is a tragedy, while the poor handling of the roadside tree issue has also heaped ridicule on the city from across the country.
These issues have been exacerbated by the question marks raised over the promised £1 billion Chinese investment in the city.
Questions are being raised into the credibility of the scheme by opposition politicians amid fears that the council may end up with a lot of egg on its face.
The debate has masked the lack of real progress in the city centre redevelopment plan, and the physical condition of the city centre does nothing to encourage the opinion that Sheffield really is a city on the move.
Mr Cooke’s ambition to ensure his city is not undervalued can be seen as a laudable and helpful aspiration, but he is clearly not being helped by outside influences.
Read the full agenda in the latest issue of First For Business.