Made in Sheffield – more than just a brand.
The Star has launched a business promotion campaign, “Made in Sheffield” to promote the excellence of its various products ranging from sauce and steel to technology and aerospace. Great idea, but the people of Sheffield need more.
For Sheffield, the “friendly” city, to become Sheffield the friendly productive city, we need a moral and material infrastructure of good citizenship, governance and well-run services to complement the industrial investment The Star describes. And so do the businesses. It is a two-way street. The Council provides the platform for industry and industry pays fair wages, good conditions and secure jobs, and its taxes.
As Jane Jacobs would say: “It is an interdependent system”.
There is a good British precedent for this, as I have mentioned before, i.e. Sir Joseph Chamberlain’s tenure as mayor of Birmingham in the 1860’s and 70’s when it became known as the best governed city in the industrial world. He was both a successful industrialist and civic visionary under whose leadership rates were actually reduced while there was significant investment in services, health and education, which greatly improved. And all around the great city the other centres prospered too.
A good business person and great political leader is a rare combination; but they can make great allies if they have shared goals.
A good contemporary model is the state of Vermont in the USA. It has about the same population as Sheffield and its senator is the doughty Bernie Sanders, who would have won the presidency of the USA, had the Democrats had the sense to have elected him.
Bernie Sanders cut his political teeth as the mayor of Vermont’s largest city, Burlington, which is actually only the same size as Ecclesfield. But it really punches above its weight. It has the highest living wage rate in the USA at £8.20 an hour for council contracts (the UK is £7.20), and the lowest unemployment rate – half the national average at 3.4%.
Bernie’s vision was for more affordable housing, locally owned SMEs, greater community engagement in planning, and job development, realised through practical planning strategies that reinforced these goals. This inevitably meant confronting developers who did not get this vision, something Bernie is very good at, personally and politically.
Bernie eventually won over one of the richest and most influential developers, Tony Pomerleau, and he helped Bernie transform Burlington. Here is a summary of some of the achievements: The city’s largest housing development is now resident-owned; its largest supermarket is a consumer-owned cooperative; one of its largest private employers is worker-owned; and most of its people-oriented waterfront is publicly owned. The publicly owned Burlington Electric Department (Utility) recently announced that Burlington is the first USA city of any decent size to run entirely on renewable electricity.
Not bad for an eight year tenure of a socialist politician under the right wing presidency of Ronald Reagan!
The secret? Constancy of Purpose, as Dr Deming would say, plus solidarity with the working and middle classes, and subsidiarity in decision-making, as the Pope would say. Bernie was also collaborative (on his terms) and won over many of the businesses because of Burlington’s stable environment and high propensity to spend.
Another thing, there is no mention of outsourcing; just plain contracting, at living wage levels, not lowest cost. “You don’t want people working 40 hours a week and living in poverty,” says Sanders. “We understand when you put disposable income in the hands of working people, they will spend that money in their communities, and that creates more jobs”. Hence the high propensity to spend; a gift to local industry.
Bernie Sanders understands what it takes to create stable communities. It is no accident that Vermont became the safest state in the Union with him as senator. But, as we found out last year on Monday 22nd, this is the last thing that Islamic fundamentalists want, when Manchester, that bright, breezy, successful city, endured a terrible tragedy.
The following Thursday, as I walked across to the Catholic Cathedral to Mass, the siren for the 11 o’clock one minute silence sounded for Manchester. Fargate in the City Centre froze. The minute passed. A young girl comforted her weeping mother as we all the recalled the enormity of the crime. Two policemen stood quietly by their vehicle, their rifles across their chests, and I mentally thanked them for their vigilance and low profile.
Then I became really angry. These services, the police, the social and council workers, have suffered cut after cut by the remorseless Treasury, implemented by Theresa May, the then Home Secretary, despite protests and warnings from every quarter – as had the fire and ambulance services, and the doctors and nurses who worked tirelessly to treat the victims.
Floral tributes to the victims of the attack in St Ann’s Square in Manchester city centre
The very fabric of our security and well-being is being threatened, just to balance the books – which they have significantly failed to do!! The Home Secretary clearly cared less for her citizens than for achieving Osborne’s arbitrary fiscal targets. What a lack of moral imagination. She is now Prime Minister!!
This is the equivalent of company directors caring more about their shareholders than their staff or customers and running the business down to increase the share price. Great companies like Unilever, John Lewis and Honda reject this distortion, as did great Prime Ministers like Attlee, who, with no money in the Treasury, still set up the NHS, National Insurance and increased social housing.
What a contrast.
Businesses and communities need a new government, one that really does care for its people, and provides the funds for its councils to meet their citizens’ basic needs.