As we look towards the New Year, it is important to reflect on the year that has just gone. 2018 has been a bitterly divisive year. For the first time in my life, our country feels fractured and disunited. The challenges posed by austerity and post-Brexit uncertainty are huge and getting bigger. Overcoming these will not be easy, but I know we will rise to the challenge.
Alongside the challenges, there have also been real successes, such as significant progress on the passage of the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill. This Bill will save lives and give hope to the thousands of people who are currently on organ donor waiting lists up and down the country. Thanks to everyone who has supported me with this vitally important campaign.
Another thing that has been again apparent this year, is that for too long Barnsley has not received the same level of attention or investment that areas like London and the South East have enjoyed.
Our public transport infrastructure is not fit for the 21st Century. It is simply unacceptable that the trains that run between Barnsley and Sheffield are over 30 years old. Whilst it is welcome that new stock will be introduced from next year, this is symptomatic of the wider problem of a lack of investment in the North.
This May, I was elected as the first Mayor of the Sheffield City Region (SCR) and I have been working hard to deliver my manifesto commitments. Just this week, the SCR have agreed a City Region Transport Vision to build a transport network that connects our communities and enables people to travel to the places they need to go to.
I have submitted a city region bid worth £120 million to the ‘Transforming Cities Fund’ that will be used to upgrade our transport infrastructure and improve connectivity across South Yorkshire.
I persuaded the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to appoint the Regional Secretary of the TUC onto its Board – the first agreement of its kind in the country - ensuring that working people are represented throughout the decision-making process.
I laid the foundations for a Regional Homelessness Network that will bring together our local authorities, charities, leading experts and those that have first-hand experience of homelessness, in order to devise a regional strategy to tackle the scourge of homelessness.
I have implemented the 'Working Win' pilot programme to support those who are out of work, or are struggling in their current job due to a physical or mental health condition.
I secured Living Wage Accreditation for the SCR Combined Authority and I am working with businesses across South Yorkshire to promote the benefits of paying a real living wage for both businesses and workers.
And, in partnership with UK Music and the Musician's Union, I have established the Mayor’s Music Board – to promote access to creative learning and enrich our cultural offer.
As we reflect on the progress made in 2018, it is vital that we also recognise the work and challenges that lie ahead. Whatever else the New Year brings, we can be sure that Barnsley’s unstinting sense of community and solidarity will mean that we can face those challenges head-on.
Finally, I was fortunate to enjoy a wonderful Christmas surrounded by family and friends here in Barnsley. I hope that you all had a relaxing and enjoyable Christmas and wish you all the very best for 2019!
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 28th December 2018.