This has been a year of highs and lows.
Here in the Sheffield City Region there has been a great deal to celebrate. We’ve made huge strides in improving our transport network aided by the appointment of Dame Sarah Storey as our Active Travel Commissioner; she’s doing a fantastic job in encouraging and enabling more people to walk and cycle.
Across the City Region, with a leading role played by the Local Economic Partnership (LEP), we’ve ensured transformative projects get off the ground, ranging from Barnsley’s Digital Media Centre 2 to Grey to Green in Sheffield, the new Gulliver’s resort in Rotherham and the revamped Wool Market in Doncaster.
I recognise that while we’ve driven changes which will make a real difference to the lives of people who live, work and want to invest in our region, for many people this has been a challenging year. There are families across our region who are still recovering from last month’s devastating floods, and my thoughts are with them during what will be a difficult Christmas. Meeting residents impacted by the flooding who are stoically carrying on has been a humbling experience.
Earlier this year, I was similarly humbled to meet Richard Ratcliffe and to offer my support to the campaign to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. My thoughts remain with Nazanin and her family, as she spends yet another festive period without freedom.
As we enjoy the company of those close to us, we should all take a moment to think of those who are not so fortunate. Those who need the support of food banks, those who are homeless and those who are in desperate need of help.
Additionally, we should think of those men and women who will work through the festivities; NHS workers, firefighters and police officers, and of course our Armed Forces personnel who will continue to protect us and our country’s interests both at home and abroad.
Volunteers will be giving up their own Christmases and spending time away from their families to work for organisations such as the Samaritans, helping those in crisis. These people are often the silent and unsung heroes who play an incredibly significant role over the Christmas season in particular when mental health issues can sadly become acute for those affected. Recent research by the charity MIND shows that eight out ten of us feel under more pressure during the Christmas period. We need to look out for each other – families, friends, neighbours – and be prepared to sensitively lend a helping hand for those who around us who are struggling.
While reflecting on the year that’s passed, Christmas is a time to prepare ourselves for the year to come.
Looking ahead to 2020, many of us will be making resolutions. As Mayor of the Sheffield City Region I’ll be pushing ahead with my own priorities – improving our economy, transport, our environment and promoting our region’s wonderful cultural offer.
I’ll be working hard with leaders to bring increased powers and resources to our region, with the aim of further boosting our economy, improving our infrastructure, and ensuring we have a transport network fit for the 21st century.
I’ll also be continuing my campaign to gain compensation for those passengers who are still forced to travel on Pacer trains on our rail network. Public transport is vital, and I’m glad more than 7,000 people responded to the public consultation for our independent Bus Review. I’m therefore particularly looking forward to receiving the findings of that Review from Clive Betts MP, and putting the panel’s recommendations into action.
Early in 2020 we should also hear whether our £220m Transforming Cities Fund bid was successful, which has the potential to fund game-changing active travel and public transport improvements across South Yorkshire.
We’ll also soon be launching a public consultation on the Sheffield City Region’s new Strategic Economic Plan (SEP). The SEP will define how we plan to grow our economy, improve the prosperity of our people and our businesses, and make the region a better place in which to live, work and invest. This is a top priority for the Sheffield City Region, for me, and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and will guide our work in the years to come.
Next year we’ll start the search for our first Culture Commissioner, as part of my aim to promote our region’s cultural offer. This is set to be an exciting piece of work, and I hope we can amplify the creativity, the innovation, and the courage our region has in spades.
But the most pressing issue next year, and indeed the years that follow, is the environment. After our declaration of a Climate Emergency in November, the work we deliver around our energy strategy and in tackling climate change is of profound importance. This challenge is being faced by us all, and I will be ensuring that the climate is at the forefront of our plans and activities.
Like my late friend Jo Cox, I will never concede to the notion that what divides us, is more important than what we have in common. All who serve the public have a duty to work for and with the whole United Kingdom, and to remember that its future is in their hands.
They bear the great responsibility of seeing that the forces dividing us are confronted, rather than fed – and that we work to bring people together, not force them apart.
The dangers we face are real. And the eyes of history, will be upon us all. There is a lot of work to be done but a lot to look forward to in 2020.
I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.