We’re facing huge challenges this year, amid a pandemic that is still infecting our people and damaging our economy. But we’re not just going to fight fires - we’re getting on with making South Yorkshire stronger, greener and fairer. Here are my priorities.
First and foremost is keeping our businesses and communities afloat in the short term - while we work for a recovery that tackles the deep-seated problems that have long held us back. We want to do more than return to a broken status quo.
The immediate focus is the many businesses & people that need help right now. We’re supporting companies that have fallen through the cracks of national support, both those forced to close & those who stayed open but are being badly hit by the difficult conditions.
That includes businesses in the supply chains downstream of shut-down sectors, and self-employed businesses with fixed property costs. We’ve allocated funds to local authorities for them to support our people, businesses & communities.
We will invest at least £350m this year to get spades in the ground across the region. We will support people back into work through our Kickstart programme, and help young people and businesses secure the apprenticeships they need.
We’ll invest in our businesses and help them access the support they need to adapt and grow, and I’ll be leading efforts to drum up trade for South Yorkshire, starting by hosting a virtual delegation from India. We’re going global.
As COVID restrictions ease, we will launch a new campaign to encourage people back to visit our region – and get our leisure, culture and heritage sector back on its feet. South Yorkshire is going to be #openforbusiness.
We will put our new £35m Adult Education Budget powers to use to help people find and get on at work, and to fill the skills gaps holding our economy back. And I’ll work to address the underlying health problems – and inequality – which made us more vulnerable to COVID.
It’s vital we keep on track to reach net zero carbon emissions no later than 2040. Better public transport is key to this: we want to make it an easy choice. People will see improvements to walking and cycling, and revitalised train stations.
We will see more trees planted through our work with the South Yorkshire Nature Partnership; more EV charging points; and more housing retrofits. We have a plan to get to net zero, while boosting our economy and quality of life – we’ll push on with every part of it.
Despite everything, in 2021 we will begin to see the difference devolution can make. We’ll fight for more powers for South Yorkshire, and resist Whitehall’s creeping centralisation. We need them to give us the tools for the job – and trust us to do it.
There is a very tough road ahead – but it is a moment full of opportunity as much as it is full of challenge. I believe we can do so much more than just survive. Together, we’re going to build a better South Yorkshire for us all.