LEP Chair James Newman steps down

Published 15th December 2015 at 4:39pm

It’s over five years since James Newman, former Master Cutler and a Yorkshireman born and bred, took on the brand new role of first Chairman of the Sheffield City Region’s Local Enterprise Partnership Board. The office of Master Cutler had already seen him working closely with many of the Sheffield City Region’s major business and civic Leaders, and he could foresee the potential for business and local authorities, working in partnership together, to move the City Region’s economy forward.

As he prepares to hand over to his successor, Sir Nigel Knowles, at the end of the year, he looks back on five years of development and some of the key successes of the LEP.

One of the key areas of achievement has been in the amount of inward investment activity, which is critical to the growth of the SCR. James says that the LEP recognised this very early and focused on inward investment from overseas, alongside exporting, as a prime means of growing the City Region.

And among key early moves, of which he is justly proud, was the decision to support the long-awaited FARRS link road from the M18 to Doncaster Sheffield Airport. This is now set to open next January with the £1.7bn project creating the international gateway to the Region as well as acting as a major development corridor that includes the largest inland port in the UK, 5,000 new homes and an expanding international airport and logistics hub.

Other major projects, which James and the LEP are now looking forward to coming to fruition after many years of effort from many people, include the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District (AMID), the National Rail College in Doncaster, and the successful and high profile Enterprise Zones across the SCR. The Region’s creative and digital sectors are blossoming, and the world of the health and outdoors is emerging as a powerful economic driver.

James believes the catalyst for these successes has been the ability to see the bigger picture, and the willingness to work together shown by both the public and private sectors.

“The legacy I hope to leave behind will be a strong private and public sector partnership and direct private sector involvement in economic decision making. The SCR LEP has a strong reputation for delivery and good governance nationally. It’s seen by investors as well as Government as a more joined-up and better performing place to deliver the growth and jobs we all want to see happen.”

Looking back over the last five years, he said: “I was delighted to be invited at the very beginning to help bring the local business community to join with the Local Authorities and form the LEP. As a Yorkshireman and a businessman, I felt I had something to contribute to the drive to create growth, investment and employment. The UK was in the middle of a recession, we had a new Coalition Government, and a different kind of local leadership was required. The private sector had to lead the way and I believe we have fulfilled the role, which the Government at the time identified as needed to stimulate the economy at local level.’’

“My experience in my year as Master Cutler helped me believe that I could provide some of that leadership, as the role of the Master Cutler is to act as an ambassador to promote business, especially manufacturing and technology. I thought there was clear value in utilising my experience through the exciting new mechanism of a newly formed City Region-wide economic structure.

“There was no strategy in place for what LEPs were going to do, and there was definitely very little money available at that point. We had to set out what we thought was the best structure and how it would work as a true equal partnership between the public and private sectors.”

And five years later, he sees the Sheffield City Region as a huge success.

“It has made a great amount of progress, particularly in the way the private sector engages and how both sides see the economy as a driver of wealth creation and jobs. Traditionally the two cultures worked somewhat differently and it has not always been easy for the two to come together. But both have adapted, utilising each other’s strengths – the public sector in providing the ‘heavy lifting’ resources and accountability, whilst the private sector provided the commercial drive and identified the opportunities to grow. A good combination, which all involved should be proud of.”

And as he anticipates handing over the reins to his successor, he wishes both Sir Nigel, the LEP board and their partners on the Combined Authority every success in carrying on the good work that has been achieved so far.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the Sheffield City Region grow even more and consolidate on the very solid foundations that have been laid since the LEP was formed. I shall miss the many friends and valued colleagues on the LEP Board, the very committed and bright people  in the joint SCR LEP and CA Executive Team and many others in other LEPs and Government, whom I have worked with over the last  last five years. I will be watching with close interest what I am sure will be a bright future.

“I plan to have a few weeks’ holiday and then sort out my office, which my wife refuses to clean or even enter! I have an important role to continue to perform at Finance Yorkshire to ensure they create a permanent legacy fund to invest in  Yorkshire SMEs and I am looking forward to helping to grow a small plc, Fishing Republic, into a much bigger one, although I will not be taking up the sport!

“I am also leading the merger of four large charities into a very large one, which has similar frustrations and issues as creating the LEP. Hopefully, someone somewhere will find me a big difficult job to do to give me a new challenge. So not so much a retirement but a change of roles and new things to achieve!”

15th Dec 2015