Sheffield City Region Inward Investment: North star - Martin McKervey

Sheffield City Region Inward Investment is a public/private partnership tasked with ensuring the growth of a rebalanced local economy and promoting the region to national and international business. Board member Martin McKervey makes the case for why the area exemplifies the government's plans for a northern powerhouse, how the HS2 project could transform the region, and the benefits of the area's particular human capital offering.

When Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced his plans to maximise the economic hotbed in the North of England last June, it was with the aim of harnessing the most rapidly growing region in the country, and using this energy to transform it into a major player on the world stage.

Taking on this task is the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), for which Sheffield is about vibrancy, confidence and about being business-focused.

"George Osborne famously described the area as a 'northern powerhouse'," says LEP board member Martin McKervey. "The LEP is making this a reality by investing heavily in skills, infrastructure, innovation and growth sectors to compete in the global economy."

Since graduating from the University of Sheffield School of Law, McKervey has worked for in Sheffield for 30 years, first at Russell & Creswick joining the Sheffield office of international law firm Nabarro LLP in 2000.

The law firm also has offices in London, Manchester, Dubai and Singapore. He now also serves on the board of the LEP, working to drive investment to the region he's come to call home.

Framework for success

The LEP has a solid, albeit ambitious, plan for growth, focused on growing skills, investing in infrastructure, and fostering business development. It's a framework that has been designed to create 70,000 jobs in ten years and bring 6,000 extra businesses to the region, and develop an economy that can compete nationally and internationally.

"That plan is the bedrock upon which we have done certain deals with the government, and also foundation for our growing private sector," says McKervey.

It stands to reason that growth is driven by private enterprise and the state working in tandem to drive investment, as well as jobs and skills creation.

"Sheffield's LEP is defined and shaped by a very strong collaboration between our public and private sectors," he says. "We're unified and committed to growing our economy, and two key measurements for that are creating jobs and attracting investment.

"It's not just collaboration in words, it's also in actions: how we act and what we do. Our work is defined by a very clear focus on the strategy that we've put together."

High-speed skills

A perfect example of where these ideas meet is in the government's high-speed railway plan, also known as HS2, and the impact it will have on the area. High-speed rail is set to significantly reduce journey times between London and Sheffield, and improve connectivity with fellow 'northern powerhouse' cities. It is vital that the northern powerhouse functions as a single labour market creating critical mass and a virtual 'super-city'.

"High-speed rail connectivity of the type that HS2 is envisaging is absolutely critical to attracting companies to our City Region and to invest in the wider UK," says McKervey. "It's about maximising the potential of our cities, and it's also about the broader economic agenda that HS2 will bring in terms of investment, jobs and skills."

The rail sector in Doncaster is booming, attracting companies such as Hitachi, Wabtec, Volker Rail and Unipart Rail. McKervey argues that many of the children in the City Region's primary schools will work on HS2 and these other projects, and it has prompted the construction of the National High Speed Rail College in Doncaster. This, he hopes, will create a global hub for the next generation of rail engineers, expanding the City Region's human capital offering and building on its already highly skilled workforce, and central to this ambition is the area's manufacturing sector, for which the core philosophy is that it is necessary not just to move with the times, but to change them.

"We are world-leading in terms of advanced manufacturing, and that's advanced in the context of IT, creative and digital," says McKervey.

An example of this is the University of Sheffield's flagship cluster of R&D facilities, the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), which works to resolve advanced manufacturing problems for global brands such as Boeing, Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems. McKervey argues that this is a success the LEP has, in the past, been too humble about promoting.


"What's going on at this site is quite frankly something we don't shout enough about," he says. "This is the coming together of advanced manufacturing, the world of academia, and the knowledge economy. Rolls-Royce says this is 'world class', and it is right."

The AMRC is capable of achieving major reductions in the time it takes to build vital aerospace components, a skill demonstrated when it helped Messier Dowty win the contract to supply the landing gear for Boeing's 787 Dreamliner: the first time such an order had been won by a company outside the US.

Rolls-Royce opened its new £110-million blade-casting facility next to the AMRC this year, cementing the relationship between industry and R&D.

The latest addition to the City Region's 'innovation anchors' is the £43-million aerospace Factory 2050, under construction at the Sheffield Business Park. This stunning, circular building will combine a range of technologies.

It is hoped the futuristic design will inspire schoolchildren considering a career in engineering. The area is home to the AMRC Training Centre, a hub for apprenticeship training.

"I have never been anything other than excited about this, and we have a training facility on site," he argues. "These are kids who are currently employed by other companies, and are released to do an apprenticeship programme. Everyone who completes has a job: this is something we're hugely proud of."

Choice for international investors

"Investors won't have to look too far for some recent cases of big investments," McKervey says, arguing that plans to build a £400-million leisure facility on the outskirts of Chesterfield in Sheffield City Region will transform the town's economy.

This project, called Peak Resort, will provide a year-round leisure, health, sport and education destination on the edge of the 550m2 of Peak District National Park. The partnership between US investor Grand Heritage Hotel Group, which is investing £400 million, and a UK development company, too, will create more than 1,300 permanent jobs and deliver a phenomenal boost to the leisure industry in the Peak District.

The City Region also has hopes to nurture its own hub for IT innovation; significant money was earmarked in the last budget for the establishment of a £3.5-million tech incubator, and with universities nearby it all contributes to making the area attractive for graduates.

"This is about attracting start-up technology companies into the three major cities of the north, creating a platform for them," says McKervey.

Incentive to grow

Apart from the obvious attractions of being located in a region with a highly skilled workforce and a strong manufacturing sector, companies can benefit from business rate relief and enhanced capital allowances at strategic M1 locations and Doncaster Sheffield Airport.

A new £56-million link road is under construction joining the airport to the M18, meanwhile, unlocking big new investment opportunities.

"There are fiscal and tax structures that the Sheffield City Region LEP has been given authority by the government to offer to business, defined around our Enterprise Zone," McKervey reveals.

Enterprise Zone

To date, this hugely successful Enterprise Zone has attracted 19 new companies and created 880 jobs. The latest company to choose the popular Markham Vale Enterprise Zone location is Great Bear Distribution, drawn to the area by the City Region's strong logistics sector.

"There are capital allowances available, such as business rate relief, and a menu of fiscal propositions, says McKervey."We have a menu of propositions that, in whole, or in part, could be very attractive to companies looking to invest here."

Sheffield City Region Inward Investment board member Martin McKervey.