Sheffield Chief Executive Bob Kerslake has boundless optimism for Sheffield's future. He say's he had no doubt that Sheffield is on the up from its low point in the 1980's. (“Three reasons for being creative in everything we do” The Telegraph July 2nd 2004). His evidence is that new businesses choosing to locate here, the city centre is undergoing transformation and unemployment is low.
There is however a problem when you begin to look more closely at the issues. The new “Creative Sheffield” economic plan for the city's regeneration is based on two assumptions:
1. That making the city more competitive internationally will benefit us all.
2.That there are no limits to the Earth's capacity to support our over-consumption.
The idea that multinational corporations will create jobs and wealth that will trickle down to make us all prosperous may sound good, but there is evidence that this doesn't always happen. Top of the league in attracting inward investment in 2001 was Grimsby. The result there has been broken communities, job insecurity, low wages, unemployment and unaccountable multinational businesses who have no long term commitment to the local people or the environment. We also hear that high levels of inward investment in two other northern cities, Manchester and Leeds, have not helped close the gap between rich and poor. Sheffield should learn from theses examples.
Taking an international perspective, the World Bank has concluded that the consequences of changes in terms of trade are far greater for the poor than for the middle or wealthy classes. The poor are far more vulnerable to shifts in international prices, and multinational corporations will not consider the residents of Sheffield when they close their low wage operations in the city to take advantage of other areas that can offer them greater profits.
Furthermore, we are all living way beyond our means. Oil and material prices will continue to rise as countries like China compete for the Earths limited resources. The latest news on climate change is that the Greenland ice cap is melting 10 time faster than was earlier thought. A seven metre global rise in sea levels won't bring deck chairs out in Doncaster The human costs could make the millions who died in the wars of the last centuries seem like a skirmish.
The new city wide Economic Board should make a real effort to open up the decision making process in a truly democratic way, take a realistic view of the current world situation and come up with ideas that are truly “creative.”.
Concern for the environment should be the central driver, not an afterthought. By all means develop high tech research and manufacturing businesses, but look at how they could respond to the growing market for products to meet the challenges of climate change. Any new buildings should include state of the art energy efficiency. The transport infrastructure should not be left until the economy has "caught up". And yes, of course, any new jobs should be accessible to Sheffield people both in terms of training and location.
We are told “There is no alternative” but a city that plans a regeneration programme that cares for the Earth's limited resources, respects all its people, and builds on the strength of the local community is possible.
(Co-chair Sheffield Green Party)
Bernard Little (editted by Dan)