Andrew Carter is Chief Executive of the think tank Centre for Cities
On 3rd May, voters in Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield will go to the polls to elect the first metro mayor for the Sheffield City Region.
It’s an election which has been delayed because of some local opposition to the city region’s devolution deal, among those who support a Yorkshire-wide mayoralty instead
But with the election campaign under way, and candidates confirmed for all relevant political parties, it’s time to move these debates on to the big issues the new mayor will need to address when they take office.
Indeed, the successful candidate will have a unique opportunity to make a difference on the issues that matter most to people’s day-to-day lives across the city region, such as housing, skills and transport.
To help focus these debates, Centre for Cities is bringing together candidates from the key political parties for a hustings on 20th April in Meadowhall in Sheffield, to discuss their economic policies in particular.
But as a starter for ten, we’ve also published a briefing setting out what we think are the most important policy priorities for the new mayor, given the powers and influence at their disposal. These include a “quick win” to set the tone for their time in office, as well as a strategic objective and a long term vision.
Firstly, the mayor can have an immediate impact by taking action to tackle pollution in the city region, which is home to some of the highest levels of NO2 in the country. One way to do so would be to introduce a clean air charge in the city region’s most congested areas, aimed specifically at the most polluting vehicles. This might be controversial, but would make a big difference in improving air quality, and would also generate much-needed funding to improve public transport links across the city region.
A strategic priority could be to develop a spatial plan to boost the city region’s commercial centres. The UK’s most prosperous cities are those which have large numbers of high skilled businesses in their city centres, but Sheffield City Region lags behind on this front. Setting out a plan to make the city centres of Sheffield, Doncaster and Barnsley more attractive to high skilled businesses – for example, by improving office space and infrastructure – will help bring more jobs and opportunities to the city region.
Finally, a long-term goal for the mayor should be to address skills deficits at all ranges. Sheffield City Region has a higher than average share of residents with no formal qualifications, and tackling this issue will be crucial in helping those people – and the city region’s economy – to thrive. In particular, he or she should use the adult skills budget to help more working-age residents gain the skills they need to get into work.
There’s a lot at stake for the new mayor. Showing that they mean business from day one will not only be vital in building trust with people who live and work in the area, it will also be crucial in realising their vision for the city region and securing the long term future of the mayoral office.
Click here to book a place for the Sheffield City Region Economy hustings, which takes places from 8-9.30am, at the Source Skills Academy, 300 Meadowhall Way, Sheffield S9 1EA.