On Friday 4th December Sheffield First, with New Start, NEF and CLES, hosted a roundtable discussion looking at alternative models of economic growth, with a particular interest in how we can ensure that growth is fair and inclusive, so that it benefits everyone in our city and not just a few.
This is a major concern in Sheffield; our city was one of the first places to run a Fairness Commission, and we have built on its work by developing the Our Fair City campaign, focused on raising awareness of the challenges people are facing and encouraging action to tackle them.
There was a lot of real interest and import raised during our conversation – we heard a useful précis of the challenges facing Sheffield and its institutions from the council, and from Portland Works and Regather on work they are doing to reinvigorate the local economy of Little Sheffield, a small neighbourhood just outside the city centre ringroad.
The outcome of the meeting was a cross sector commitment to develop
Sheffield’s understanding and approach to good growth.
We also spent a fair amount of time discussing the desirability of growth; in short, the outcome was that no-one thinks we don’t need growth (a misunderstanding that gets in the way of constructive debate too often). The question is: are we pursuing the right model to generate fair and inclusive growth, or what some have termed ‘good growth’?
The general feeling in Sheffield is that we don’t discuss enough what good growth actually means. And when we start discussing it, as we did on Friday, different people have different interpretations, with some focused on environmental sustainability, others on social good, and others emphasising the need to support economic growth and profit.
But, as we agreed at last week’s meeting, good growth could (and should) mean all of this: with as many people as possible being able to access reasonably paid and secure employment, a city that develops in a way that values the environment and also supports its vulnerable residents.
The outcome of the meeting was a cross sector commitment to further develop Sheffield’s understanding and approach to good growth. The meeting agreed to write to the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership asking them to support, and hopefully offer resources to develop, this initiative.
We also agreed that it is important to develop case studies and stories demonstrating good growth in practice, building on the history of cooperation and radicalism in Sheffield and celebrating local work. And we committed to holding a one day conference in 2016, hopefully in partnership with NEF and New Start with the idea of showcasing projects and generating commitment and momentum.
For me, the key thing is: if we are to get those responsible for setting economic strategy to listen to calls for a fairer and more inclusive approach, then we will need to build a strong and coherent case for a better way. This means developing stories of success, and shouting about them. Hopefully, in Sheffield we are about to start doing that.
Sharon Squires is director of the Sheffield First Partnership and a Champion of the Our Fair City campaign.