Chair of Sheffield City Region LEP, Sir Nigel Knowles, says that looking east for UK FDI is not only a Westminster ambition

We are always taught that working together achieves more. United we stand. Teamwork makes
the dream work.

Traditionally, the UK has brought together its investment case as a whole, and via particular sectors, through Westminster, to present a united and appealing offer overseas. In the past ten years we have seen an increasingly sophisticated effort by a handful of cities to step up to the mark, at times building on the brand awareness created by a successful football club.

But things are now moving at a much quicker pace. Last year’s decision to leave the European Union, with the resulting change of government, and a change in leadership in the United States, means that we find ourselves in unique political and economic circumstances. In January this year, the Prime Minister published the framework for the UK’s new Industrial Strategy. Encouraging trade and inward investment is the sixth of the ten pillars of Number 10’s approach. Pillar nine is of even more exciting importance: driving growth across the whole country. But I’ll turn to this a little later.

Allowing municipal cities and city regions to govern themselves, allocating budgets and policies to local priorities, not only represents significant social and economic progress throughout the UK, it also brings long-term stability for foreign direct investors. In the Sheffield City Region (SCR), we fought hard for a devolution plan that will bring £1.3 billion of funding over 30 years with flexibility to spend it based on what will have the biggest impact locally. Most significantly, the funding is guaranteed.

It’s hard not to jump straight to all the innovative, enterprising and truly marvellous opportunities the SCR has for partners from around the world. The City Region comprises nine local authority areas at the strategic heart of the UK. A few hours north of London, it encompasses more than 1.8 million people and approximately 700,000 jobs. The region’s economy has an output of more than £30 billion per year and contains approximately 68,000 businesses.

But above this, it is important everyone recognises that when you invest in us – when you move people and build ideas and goods in our region – you are doing so in a part of the world where there is a strong bedrock of stability. This is rare these days, but combined with our straightforward approach to getting the job done, and generations of a sturdy business culture, global enterprises continue to stream in.

Most recently – in the past few months the commitment of international giants Boeing and McLaren Automotive has seen the SCR deliver millions of pounds to the national economy as well as new high-calibre jobs.

Luxury sports car producer McLaren Automotive decided to come to Rotherham with a new purpose-built facility at the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. This will bring over 200 jobs and a combined investment of nearly £50 million.

At the same time, Boeing announced that it is moving to the region to set up a factory at the Advanced Manufacturing Park. The multi-million-pound production facility will manufacture high-tech components for its next-generation aircrafts.

Both of these announcements not only demonstrate the confidence of these global brands in the region, but they also add to the clustering of innovation and enterprise we are building; they are a testament to the strength of the supply chain that we offer through interconnectivity by air, road, rail and high-speed broadband.

Furthermore, the government’s commitment to devolution doesn’t just empower us with greater stability. It gives us a licence, or even a mandate, to go to the world directly. One of the most exciting geographies with the greatest potential, delivering us real and significant opportunities, is Asia.

The Sichuan Guodong Construction Group recently pledged to bring £1 billion of Chinese investment for major city centre development projects in Sheffield, the first deal of its kind in the UK. This could include the redevelopment of the Central Library into a five-star hotel.

It is unquestionably the golden era of relations between the UK and China. China is open to conducting more business with post-Brexit Britain, and the feeling is mutual. In November 2016, the government unveiled the Northern Powerhouse Investment Portfolio of 13 projects offering more than £5 billion of opportunities to Chinese investors. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond then said: “The mutual benefits are clear. China is the world’s second largest economy; UK exports to China have grown rapidly and Britain is home to more Chinese investment than any other European country.”

While Prime Minister Theresa May is promoting Britain abroad in her determination to build a truly global Britain that is open for business, Sheffield City Region is delivering back home. Last year, the SCR was chosen to host the global Horasis China Meeting 2017 in November. Horasis, which has a similar status to the Davos economic summit, attracts heads of government, ministers and influential investors to investigate strategies that will shape the global economy and forge new approaches to pressing social, economic, and geopolitical challenges. In November, the SCR team travelled to Interlaken to take part in a unique handover of this prestigious event, and we look forward to welcoming the delegates here to the region towards the close of 2017.

The past few years have seen tremendous success within the region. Not all are headline-grabbers like the recent inward investment announcements from the tier-one global manufacturers mentioned above, but each element of our activity works to secure our larger objectives and vision for the region.

None of this would be possible if we didn’t have the necessary skills to attract and retain this investment. The region is committed to providing opportunities for young people to train for the modern workplace. This is also made possible by the straightforward and reliable approach here – we often refer to it as our “let’s-get-it-done” attitude. This pragmatic ethos has allowed our vibrant entrepreneurial communities to attract and lead the collaboration with multinational businesses from around the world, from East to West.

So not only are we stable and reliable, we are hungry for further partnership and growth. The Sheffield City Region offers a fantastic place to live too, with outstanding national parks, excellent schools and ever-increasing connectivity with the rest of the UK, Europe and the United States. Come and visit us soon; united we stand to build a vibrant economy in the heart of the UK – a place where the world comes to do good business.


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