Cllr Chris Read, Labour Leader of Rotherham Council, speaking at the launch of the Rotherham Together Partnership Plan held on 29 March 2017, said:
Thank you for taking the time to join us today, and for all that you do for our community day in, day out.
I’m really pleased to see so many people here today. We’ve a couple of hours to take a break from the day to day, to take stock, to lift our sights, and look to the future.
Thank you to Elena and Kellie and Kate and Waheed and Michael – and everyone else who has worked so hard these past few weeks to put this event, and this plan together.
And to all the fabulous people you are going to hear from today who are integral to making the plan into a reality.
What we wanted to do was to put together not a traditional, measures, outcomes, tick box plan, but something that gives a better sense of where we are, and where we’re going.
Not a list of aspirations, but a tangible, meaningful prospectus based on what we already know and are confident that we can deliver.
One of the great privileges of this job is that I get to meet thousands of people. I get to hear all sides of our Rotherham story.
This weekend I was lucky enough to meet Rotherham children of African heritage taking part in Mama Africa’s Young Minds Together project.
But I also remember meeting a guy in my own ward who wasn’t voting for me, because amongst other ways he wanted to stop the world, he wanted end the adverts for overseas charities being on his telly.
I’ve met with former steelworkers who were losing their jobs as the global market turned against them.
And I’ve met with apprentices at the start of their careers who are going to build McLaren supercars at the Advanced Manufacturing Park.
I remember, at the start of our Views from Rotherham consultation, nearly two years ago now, meeting the indomitable men and women of Kimberworth Park Over 50s at the Chislet Centre – their pride hurt by the coverage of our town that then seemed very raw indeed.
I can remember one lady telling me that she wished we could go back in time. When I asked how far back she would go, she suggested 1985 – to the middle of the miners’ strike. And with all due respect she was a bit surprised that I didn’t agree with her.
I’ve sat with some incredible women, who survived the kind of abuse most of us struggle to comprehend, and told them that we would do better.
And I watched the faces of their abusers as they were sent down for a very long time.
This is who we are: straight talking, friendly, unbroken.
Many of you here took part in our big conversation as we came together for that Views from Rotherham consultation.
I remember the young fire cadets, worried about saying the wrong thing.
The worshippers at Ridge Road Mosque.
The firemen worried about Eastwood.
The primary school children who upset me when they spoke about how scary they found the drunks in Maltby.
The parish councillors with strong views about their own communities.
The guy at Thurcroft who’d come to shout at me.
The young people in this room who got bored and wandered off.
And everywhere we went, people told us that the best thing about Rotherham is its people.
We heard about the importance of our parks and green spaces. We declared that we would get Rotherham cleaning, and we launched our Love Where You Live volunteer scheme. Already we’ve 250 people who’ve signed up to be part of it, right across the borough.
We heard the dismay about the town centre – even from people who hadn’t been there for years – as if it physically represented a sense of decline and loss.
And of course we heard again and again the frustration, anger and dismay about the failings of the authorities to keep children safe.
In our Partnership Plan over the last year, we made a start by committing to get people talking, cleaning, working and shopping.
More than a thousand people have taken part over the last 12 months. We’ve cleaned the streets of the town centre, brought together people who’d never met for a cuppa and a natter, we sponsored the Apprentice of the Year awards and the town centre shopping guide.
Many of you here today helped to make it happen. Thank you.
But I think that our consultation missed something else. Because Rotherham people are resilient people. Year after year, decade after decade, we’ve faced down challenges and we’ve dealt with difficulty.
In fact, if we’ve had a flaw, it’s that we’ve kept our heads down too much.
We haven’t understood why the rest of the world can’t see all the brilliant things about our borough, when they stare us in the face.
If folks down south wanted to think of us as smoggy and grey, that was their loss.
If the marvels of Clifton Park, or Roche Abbey, or Rother Valley went unnoticed, they were still there.
Too often, we’ve worried about what we had to lose and settled for being “a bit below national average”, as though that was somehow good enough for us.
If you were in my class at school, you probably thought you’d have to move away to find work.
In fact, I spoke to a very good secondary school teacher a few years ago who told me that he hoped his best and brightest would go elsewhere.
We lost our faith in ourselves. Some amongst us even started telling the people that we met on holiday that we came from…. Sheffield.
Now we’re starting to see that turn around.
When we negotiated our Devolution Deal with government 18 months ago, someone asked me why I bothered. Didn’t I know that we’d been here before and we always lose out?
But in the last few months we’ve secured £12m of investment to refurbish Rotherham interchange, a million pounds worth of road improvements, £1.5 million to purchase Forge Island, £4.5 million towards the HE Campus that you’ll hear more about later.
By the end of this year, 97% of South Yorkshire will have access to high speed broadband.
That doesn’t sound like losing to me.
When McLaren announced a £50 million investment manufacturing high performance sports cars at the Advanced Manufacturing Park recently, they did so after ten years of engagement with Sheffield University. Cutting edge research will take place in the Lightweighting Centre on the Sheffield side of the boundary. 200 modern manufacturing jobs will come to the Rotherham side. Those first apprentices are already on site. The world doesn’t stop half way down the Parkway, and we do better when our neighbours do better.
And no one can say that we’re not punching our weight.
Now Boeing have announced their first manufacturing plant in Europe, right on our doorstep.
Tomorrow I will formally open the new Metalysis Materials Discovery Centre on the AMP, working on new technology and commercial production methods for high value materials including titanium and graphene.
There’s evidence of iron smelting in Rotherham that dates back nearly a thousand years. In 1850, Rotherham workers produced the iron for Brunel. In the twenty first century, not only will we still be making high value steels with Liberty House bringing security to the former Tata site, but we’ll also be the home of the modern materials making helicopters, planes and supercars.
That’s the future that we’re building together.
We’ve secured more than a million pounds recently for Wentworth and Elsecar, we did so alongside our colleagues in Barnsley.
The fastest growing airport in the UK is on our doorstep in Doncaster.
Whatever disagreements we have about the route, I want Rotherham youngsters studying at the new HS2 Rail College at Doncaster Lakeside, 15 minutes away from my ward.
When I was little I used to know a gentleman in his eighties who had never left Rotherham town. But that’s not the world we live in today.
We all do better, when we rise together.
We called the Plan we’re launching today “A New Perspective” because it requires us to take a different point of view, to get the outside world to take a new look at us.
This is a unique moment.
The Plan we launch today sets out a number of game changers that will change lives in our borough.
I’ve touched on skills and employment. Later we will hear from Phil Sayles about the exciting plans for a £12 million HE campus in the town centre. It cannot be right that we have less provision for higher level skills in our town than anywhere else in the City Region.
Our schools are consistently above the national average at GCSE and A-level. Our primary school results are amongst the best in the region.
Tomorrow night I’ve the honour of presenting an award to one of the top apprentices at the AMRC.
As we move towards our target of creating 10,000 more jobs over ten years, we need to build the economy and the community that our young people deserve.
I was really pleased this week to see that we’ve got the final go-ahead from government for the Gullivers Valley theme park on the Pit House West site at Rother Valley.
It will be a £37 million investment, creating hundreds of jobs, and a leisure facility that puts us on the map.
When you think of how long that site has been undeveloped, and the proposals that never came to fruition, our thanks should go to Julie Dalton and her team and everyone that has made it possible.
We’ll hear later this afternoon from Julie Kenny about the pioneering work that’s being undertaken to save Wentworth Woodhouse, that iconic building that for too long has been hidden away from public view.
A few months ago, my geography teacher from school sent me a copy of a letter sent by Tom Paine to Thomas Jefferson, in which he mentions meeting Edmund Burke in Rotherham and going on to stay at Wentworth Woodhouse.
13 years previously he had written Common Sense, inspiring many of the advocates of the American Revolution, which somehow seems apt.
In May, Wentworth Woodhouse will be the backdrop to the biggest music event that Rotherham has ever hosted, meaning we will have gone from Tom Paine to T’Pau.
We’re turning the corner.
Through the place shaping work that many of you have been involved with, we’ll tell our new Rotherham story, led by our private sector pioneers – so that everyone will know that Rotherham is a place of engineering excellence, in a marvellous green setting, which is not constrained by its boundaries.
But “marvellous” might not be the first word that springs to mind when you think of our town centre.
Like many others across the country, it’s had its retail offer hit hard over the years.
The competition not just from Parkgate but also Meadowhall, and Sheffield and Doncaster further afield, have demonstrated that we can’t just replace the same old rows of shops.
And we owe a debt of gratitude to people like Chris Hamby for leading the remarkable regeneration of High Street, and the development of our independent shopping offer.
Connection to Sheffield supertram network is on its way, with the UK’s first tram trains now expected to arrive in town next year.
But we know it’s time to go further, and later on we’ll hear about our progress towards a new masterplan.
In addition to Forge Island, this week the council took ownership of the former courts building, giving us a key strategic site that we will seek to develop. The former Tesco building will have been taken down within the next few weeks.
And we’ve secured more than £30 million of government funding to support housing development along Sheffield Road and on Wellgate.
Taken together, new leisure, housing and transport developments will breathe new life into our town centre over the years to come.
If you’re keeping count, I reckon I’ve referenced well over £160 million of additional investment coming to Rotherham over the next few years.
But anyone here who works in our public services will tell you that seven years of austerity have hurt.
Across the country now there is recognition that the way we support vulnerable people is creaking and has to change.
I’ve said before that we are behind the curve in Rotherham in how we provide social care.
Over the last ten years the adult population of Rotherham has grown by less than 2%. But the population aged over 65 has grown by 10%.
Even if we weren’t facing the biggest cuts to public services for a generation – and in local government the biggest cuts in history – we still ought to be making a services join up better.
That’s what our pilot, The Village, in the central area of Rotherham is already doing. And as we roll out those principles, including opening the new Urgent Care Centre at the hospital later this year, it will impact directly on the lives of thousands of residents.
All of this is important.
And whilst I’m at it, I haven’t mentioned our roads investment programme, or the ambitious housing plan we must soon sign off, including more council and social housing, or the remarkable work that’s being done to improve our services for the most vulnerable children, now being recognised by Ofsted, or what will be done to bring together public services in neighbourhoods to better meet local needs.
All of these game changers will alter people’s lives.
The dignity of work, and purpose, and money in your pocket.
The decency of living in a welcoming environment.
The confidence that comes from belonging in a place that matters.
But we can make all these changes, we might still not be whole.
The country faces this challenge today.
We’ve got to find a way of coming together as a community again.
We can’t move forward in 2017 if some amongst us are too scared to leave their homes, or their neighbourhoods, or to come into the town centre.
The world around us moves at what sometimes seems to be breakneck speeds. But we can’t afford for people to opt out. For anyone to think they stand outside the rules.
And we can’t afford to be afraid of each other.
So Emma Sharp’s going to talk to you this morning about how we build stronger communities, and over the next few weeks we will spell out more clearly some of the work that lies ahead.
How we can become more whole.
I’ll finish with this thought.
I say all this today not because we don’t face enormous challenges – we do.
I say it because if anyone can meet those challenges, we can.
When I became leader of the council, I quoted Lincoln’s famous message to Congress;
The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise – with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.
Rotherham is our home.
It is our community.
It is where we draw on our past to build a future we can all share.
The occasion is still piled high with difficulty. But we’re still rising.”