Yesterday, the Government announced that South Yorkshire will be in Tier 3 restrictions from 2 December. I’ve been clear that we must not stay there a moment longer than we have to, which is why I’m pushing for a clear roadmap out of restrictions and for fairer economic support package for our residents and businesses. This week’s Spending Review was a golden opportunity to provide that immediate support; deliver on the Government’s manifesto commitment to level up the North of England; and reward those workers who have kept our country going. It was an opportunity that the Chancellor failed to take.
Across our economy and public services, we’ve seen millions of unsung heroes saving lives, keeping our communities going and supporting the most vulnerable. The police, firefighters, care workers, council staff and so many more have put themselves in harm’s way to help us. Their herculean efforts deserved proper recognition and reward. Instead, the Chancellor’s decision to freeze their pay – which due to inflation will be a real-terms pay cut for millions – was a real kick in the teeth. Not only does this let down our public sector workers it is economically illiterate and deeply irresponsible, hampering our economic recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic. The rationale of freezing public sector pay because of the economic hit sustained by the private sector defies logic – how can reducing the spending power of millions possibly help to drive recovery in the private sector? It’s further evidence of levelling down by this government.
Ahead of the Spending Review, we needed a ‘New Deal for the North’. Yet rather than driving ahead with investment in the North in response to the biggest economic shock in generations, the Chancellor has stuck to a tired approach of simply tinkering at the margins. Rather than the unnecessary pilot he announced on Wednesday, we need a substantial, devolved and ambitious Shared Prosperity Fund to kick start economic recovery and renewal across the North. Whilst it is welcome that the Government have finally heeded my call for the Treasury Green Book rules on investment to be rewritten, the long arm of the Treasury continues to tighten its grip. The Government previously told Mayors we would lead the economic recovery, yet the Levelling Up Fund and Restart schemes involve yet more top down control and represent another flawed attempt to deliver the recovery from the centre. Instead, Ministers need to let go and back local leaders with investment and powers so we can get on with the job of driving the transformation of our economy from the North, rather than a desk in Whitehall.
Here in South Yorkshire, we are stepping in where the government have failed. Since I was elected Mayor, we’ve delivered £319 million in investment for vital projects and unlocked more than £100m for regeneration opportunities; including committing £5.5 million of our own funds to kickstart nine ‘shovel ready’ flood prevention projects – delivering on the issues that matter to local residents and communities. We have created or protected 15,000 jobs; our pioneering Working Win programme has helped 6,000 people back to work. We are working tirelessly to build back better from the Coronavirus and create the stronger, fairer and greener regional economy we all want to see. In short, we’re putting our money where our mouth is, delivering where the government falls short and demonstrating the practical impact devolution can have on people, communities and regional economies.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 27 November 2020.