Bishop of Sheffield speaks in debate on economic leadership for cities

“Sheffield Cathedral has recently celebrated its centenary, together with the centenary of the diocese I serve. This has been marked by a £3 million reordering of the medieval church to make it truly a place for all people and contributing to building confidence across the whole region.”

14.03.27 Bishop of SheffieldOn 11th December 2014, Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Shipley led a take-note debate in the House of Lords on the case for enabling economic leadership for cities. The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Revd Steven Croft, spoke in the debate. He highlighted the importance of local democracy in enabling economic flourishing, noting the recent commitment by the Sheffield City Council to become the ‘fairest city in Britain.’ He highlighted the importance of community integration, investment in infrastructure and a broad engagement with local democracy as key attributes of a flourishing local economy and called on the Government and future governments to prioritise strategies to improve local democracy.

The Lord Bishop of Sheffield: My Lords, I take this opportunity of formally welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, of Hunters Bar, to your Lordships’ House and I congratulate him on such an excellent maiden speech. It was my privilege to work with him in his time as leader of Sheffield City Council. He was and is held in great respect by the faith communities and many across the city and region. As he said, he is a native of West Yorkshire and, like me, was called to live in South Yorkshire. It will be apparent to many already that he brings significant experience of leadership of one of our major cities. I know that he will be an excellent advocate in this House for Sheffield and its region, and for the north of England in the years to come. I thank him for his short, sharp, non-controversial maiden speech and, in particular, for his emphasis on the reality of the city region and on collaboration across different perspectives. It was a speech so deeply steeped in local experience, yet with a truly international perspective.

I warmly welcome the debate. The economic flourishing of our cities and regions is key to the economic prosperity of our country, as so many have said. The city I know best, Sheffield, as you have already heard, is poised and well placed to take advantage of the new deal for cities. It has a long history of manufacturing and craft, particularly in the steel industry. There is a flourishing partnership between manufacturing, local government, the universities and the voluntary and faith sectors. The quality of life for many is high. The city has the highest retention rate of graduates of the two universities of any city in the country. Recently Sheffield City Council committed to the aspiration of becoming the fairest city in Britain—a reference not to its natural or physical beauty, as some would say it is that already, but to greater equality of wealth and opportunity into the future.

The question of economic leadership for cities is complex. The proposals made by the Government and others have, perhaps naturally, reflected a focus on the creation of unitary authorities and new kinds of city mayors. There is a paradox, it is thought, that most of the larger cities are seeking greater economic devolution but have turned down by referenda the possibility of mayoral systems. I believe that there is wisdom in the cities which declined to have a mayor, according to their local circumstance. Local democracy is a vital part of economic leadership. That leadership needs to be broadly based, using the gifts of all. That broad base is better served often in a medium-sized city through a council leader and cabinet model of leadership than through the creation of the new office of an elected mayor. New structures of government should not be a condition of greater investment or devolution of powers.

The strengthening of economic leadership for the future will rest in the long term on the widest ownership of the democratic process locally, which encourages local people to guide and lead their own communities. This in turn will stimulate the vital integration of skilled migrant and ethnic-minority communities in the life of the city. A new forum for engagement between civil society and the Muslim community began recently in South Yorkshire and is an excellent example of this.

Investment in transport and infrastructure is vital across the region. There needs to be excellent leadership in manufacturing, finance and chambers of commerce. The city region needs to be able to compete in global markets. Its ability to project a vibrant and positive image is enhanced through sporting connections, tourism and developing a global brand. We saw a brilliant illustration of this in Yorkshire earlier this year in Le Grand Départ, which has had a significant effect on the local economy and morale.

Sheffield Cathedral has recently celebrated its centenary, together with the centenary of the diocese I serve. This has been marked by a £3 million reordering of the medieval church to make it truly a place for all people and contributing to building confidence across the whole region.

Economic leadership for the long term depends to a high degree on investment in education and skills locally. Earlier this year, I made a visit to the Sheffield College, a fine example of a further education college which has reshaped its curriculum by listening to the needs of local industry. There is a specific focus on the needs of local manufacturing, the digital industry, tourism and sport. I hope that the present Government and the next Government and all parties will have the courage to continue to develop an ever stronger and more coherent vision for local democracy leading to the economic growth of the cities, working through parish, district and city councils, which can enable even more citizens to give of their time and skills for the flourishing of our great cities.


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