About This Blog

The public should know all we can about the business of the decision makers that affect our lives, our wallets and our democracy. This is a record of my efforts to try and improve the levels of transparency and accountability within Sheffield City Council and others. To shine a light on how decisions are made and where the money goes. If I can also help others to find their own voice and influence along the way, then that is a bonus.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Vibrant Sheffield – Live Lab.

Last Thursday, 12th May, I attended the event titled above. The tag line for the event was “Help turn Sheffield into the leading city in Europe for innovation and creativity”. The aim, through a series of round table exercises and group discussions, was to attempt to develop ideas and strategies, wild or practical, to move the city along that journey.

It cannot be denied that this first event was well staged by Grant Thornton, one of the UK's leading accountancy firms, and that they had managed to get over 200 movers and shakers from around the city into one room for the purpose of promoting the city as a hub for innovation and creativity. I'm still not sure why my invitation was approved, I'm a bit of a curmudgeon about happy clappy positivism and the initial impact during the mixer over coffee and a DJ's loud dance beats was not encouraging. It was difficult to talk and be heard, though I guess it made sure we were all wide awake.

I'm not about to go into detail about the activities of the day, that will be well documented on Grant Thornton's own website and will develop with the events that follow around the UK. What I aim to do is give my impression of whether the event addressed the aim it proposed.

With a get to know you type exercise out of the way, each table first addressed the essential strengths of the city. From this, it became very clear that there are so many areas in which Sheffield is a leading city and yet we don't make the most of that knowledge, experience or enthusiasm in a way that raises our hearts, our profile or our own awareness. From the traditions of the 'little Mesters' that is alive and well in our new co-operatives, making their mark on the city, Our universities working with manufacturers to push the innovative ideas they create, to our already vibrant cultural city (Tramlines, Festival of Debate, Year of Making), Sheffield has a great deal going for us.

The second stage was a 'dream' stage to consider what we would like to see Sheffield look like if we awakened from a deep slumber in the year 2026. This was actually a bit inspiring in that, particularly from the younger element, many people commented on addressing the wealth gap in the city and hoping that we would have healed the East-West gap in health, opportunity and wealth. Then again, many were also wanting a city of full employment and high economic ambition or so digitally high tech we could all exist in our own bubbles without ever leaving home.

Finally we had a stage of looking for the ideas we had that would really make a difference to the event's aim and then pitching those to the rest of the room. Interestingly a good number of these related to fostering the conditions for innovation and creativity, rather than concentrating on business and economic drivers. From pedestrianising the city centre and a community owned city, developing and investing in sustainable industries for energy and housing, to the more traditional economic ideas like an international conference centre and a funding circle retaining investment in the city region.


There were, for me, some glaring omissions in the event itself and the way ideas were filtered out of the mix.

Other bloggers, have already commented on the alarmingly white, middle class, male, make up of the room. Very few BME participants, few from a challenged background (“200+ powerful people”) and certainly far less than 50% female participation. Not entirely the organiser's responsibility, people self select for these types of events but it needs addressing to prevent this becoming a dream for a minority audience.

There was also something incongruous about an event of this nature being hosted by a company that, on it's own website, offers “Our support for managing your tax risk spans many issues. These include helping you avoid creating a taxable presence in a country; ...” particularly when this country's tax regime is responsible for the austerity measures currently hamstringing our public services, investment in our infrastructure, and driving personal debt to unprecedented levels.

Finally I would like to comment on the extremely large elephant that was in the room. This whole event is based on the assumption that we can continue to maintain a growing economy. Also, to some extent it was based on the idea of competing in a global economy as the way to achieve this. Many of the contributions from the room edged around this issue, talking about sustainability and the power of small businesses in Sheffield, but that main thread was not really challenged. Within that is also the forecasts from some quarters that by 2050, 85% of traditional jobs will be automated or unnecessary.

We need to look over that cliff and look for the innovative and creative solutions that will ensure the best of the ideas the event delivered will happen.

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