Sheffield City Council explains what’s enabled the city to improve its performance on the Vibrant Economy Index.
Five years ago, Sheffield’s economic reality looked very different to today. In 2013, the city ranked in the bottom 40% of the Vibrant Economy Index. Today, Sheffield has climbed 96 places to hit the national average, making the city the biggest climber overall.
Sheffield is a city that is changing. Our economy has become stronger, more resilient and more vibrant over the last twenty years. We believe our best days are ahead of us as a thriving city that’s proud of its past and optimistic for the future. There’s a real understanding of where our strengths are and what we need to do to capitalise on them.
Playing to our strengths
Those strengths include a highly skilled workforce. We rank in the top 20% of areas nationally for dynamism and opportunity, and have over 140,000 people educated to Level 4 or above. We have significant specialisms around advanced manufacturing, healthcare and digital. Our focus on promoting Sheffield to firms working in these sectors has resulted in attracting significant global inward investment from Boeing, McLaren and a number of other blue-chip companies in the last few years. Average salaries have grown by 13% since 2011.
We’ve also recognised a number of less tangible assets that we are actively promoting. The quality of life in the city is second to none, while the cost of living in Sheffield tends to be lower than many other big cities. With the Peak District within our boundary we are the only city in the UK that includes part of a national park, providing great opportunities for leisure and recreation. Alongside this we have a thriving cultural sector with significant strengths in music, art and theatre. These really make Sheffield an attractive place to live, work and play. Branding Sheffield as ‘The Outdoor City’ has been a real selling point in getting major companies, like HSBC, to invest.
All this suggests we're on the right track, but there’s a big ‘but’. Inclusion – the way the whole of the city's population benefits from growth and investment – is a continuing challenge. This is the one area on the Vibrant Economy Index where we score in the bottom 20% nationally. We still have areas of significant deprivation and low aspiration, high numbers of people with long-term sickness or other issues that mean that they are unable to participate in the labour market. And this contributes to one of the other areas of focus for the city at the moment: productivity.
Although a national issue, the productivity challenge is key for Sheffield. We need to create the conditions for quality jobs, rather than run the risk of becoming a low-wage, low-growth economy. So we’re working hard to connect everyone in Sheffield to the city’s success. In particular, we need to make sure that we equip young people with the skills they need to succeed in the economy, and that people have the opportunity to progress and develop within work. As a city we have made good progress on tackling these issues. Since 2013, 1,500 jobs have been delivered by programmes helping those furthest from the labour market, and the city council has supported over 900 young people to secure apprenticeships in the same period.
The trap we might have fallen into before is thinking that economic policy sits in one place and social policy sits somewhere else. However, we believe that the two need to be intimately connected. An economic strategy needs to start with what we want to achieve for the people who live here. That means developing a whole set of interventions that contribute to good outcomes: good health, good education and a decent home. All of these are pre-requisites to being able to participate fully in the economy and to secure and sustain good quality work. If we don't get education, health and housing right, then our ability to create economic prosperity is limited because there will be a group of people unable to help drive or to benefit from the city’s growth.
A shared sense of endeavour
We have a really clear, bold and shared narrative that the big anchor institutions – Sheffield City Council, the two universities, the NHS and the larger businesses – all understand and can get behind. This is a narrative that recognises the strengths and assets of Sheffield, as well as the areas that the city needs to work hard on. This shared sense of endeavour across all the key players is vital.
In terms of what more businesses can do, we have been struck by the US model. There, big businesses have a really clear understanding of their link and commitment to a place. To think of it as corporate social responsibility puts it in too much of a box. It’s more that their purpose is to support the place where they operate because they recognise that doing this is in their business’s best interest.
In Sheffield, we don’t have any big businesses headquartered within the city region – inward investment tends to be from big national or international businesses that aren’t based here. The question is: how do we work with them to recognise the importance of place and what they can do to support that?
Major local businesses have been excellent in stepping up to play their part. We also have a huge and very diverse SME base that we are working with, to support them to grow and play a full part in driving the economy forward. They already play a major part in the supply chain of our key anchor companies but we want to work with them to do more. Since 2013, our RISE graduate apprenticeship schemes has already supported 274 SMEs to create 371 jobs and helped those companies to generate and capitalise on new ideas. We know that our strengths around advanced manufacturing, healthcare and digital generate new investment opportunities and good growth performance for local companies, but there is still more to do to support more of them to take advantage of these.
Making growth more inclusive
What more can we do to make sure economic growth is inclusive and benefits everyone in the city? Certainly, as the council, we have a role to play in supporting people to progress in their careers and what they aspire for their children to achieve at school, and feel that there’s a world out there that’s open to them. We are committed to working with people to enable them to participate fully in the economy, from obvious things such as developing transport links between home and works to softer, but critically important things like digital skills.
We’re also thinking about how to tap into people’s skills, knowledge and experience for the benefit of others. As a city, one of our core values is fairness. How do we make sure that we identify and capture economic success, working with successful businesses to benefit our city as a whole? Finding an answer to that question could really accelerate our progress as a city and make our achievements over the next five years even more impressive than over the last.