The founder of South Yorkshire’s pioneering Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre says the nation can survive the uncertainty of Brexit if industry and political leaders focus on excellence and unite after “two years of division”.
Professor Keith Ridgway, Executive Dean of the AMRC Group, a cluster of world-class centres for industry-focused research brought together by the University of Sheffield, praised his “inventive and resilient region that thrives on solving problems”.
And he told The Yorkshire Post that despite Brexit uncertainty paralysing many investment decisions the biggest brands in aerospace and automotive, namely Boeing, McLaren and Rolls-Royce, invested in local advanced manufacturing facilities.
Firms resorting to stockpiling materials as fears mount of ‘catastrophic’ no deal Brexit
He said: “Whatever the outcome of the Brexit debate, we will more than ever need to nurture and strengthen this win, win, win partnership between industry, university research and government. In academia we call this collaboration.
“But what it means is working together. The last two years have been years of division. No matter what happens next we need to come together. Industry and government. Industry and research. Council and council.
“If we do that and keep a relentless focus on engineering excellence – the quality that has been the industrial and social backbone of this region and the North for centuries – we not only survive these troubled times.”
Professor Ridgway spoke as a report to go before the Sheffield City Region local enterprise partnership, made up of leading business and political figures, warned of the potential local impact of Brexit.
The report says South Yorkshire’s export market is heavily dependent on the EU, with 57 per cent of the value of all goods going to this market.
This means the region is more exposed than others to the negative effects of potential increased delays and tariffs, while firms with extensive links to the bloc through trade or its supply chain are even more at risk.
Tariff and non-tariff barriers of the kind which could be imposed under certain forms of Brexit could result in extra costs on business of between five and 10 per cent in the Sheffield City Region on key sectors such as advanced manufacturing.
The report adds that many firms are waiting to see what happens with Brexit before thinking about how it might affect them, meaning officials in the county need to help them consider the potential implications.
A fall in the number of EU workers, especially lower-skilled employees, would pose a challenge for logistics and manufacturing which are dependent on them.
And with some 10,000 international students studying at Sheffield Hallam and the University of Sheffield, as well as large numbers of staff from the EU, higher education also has good reason to fear a no-deal Brexit.
The European Structural Funds that provide regeneration funding will need to be replaced after Brexit, and the Government has committed to do this with a UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
But according to the report, there is a risk that the Sheffield City Region does not get the same amount it would have done if the UK had not voted to leave the EU.
In a section outlining possible opportunities, the report says Brexit gives locals a chance to enter the labour market, while the weaker pound could help boost exports.
It said: “Businesses have a pivotal role to play in helping build the local skills base post-Brexit. The Sheffield City Region needs to support businesses to recruit from the local labour force, which could involve filling employment gaps by trying to reach harder to reach groups.
“Trade relationships are likely to change post-Brexit and an opportunity is potentially more trade with emerging markets like India and China.”
'Preparing for Brexit is the key to everything I do'
Yorkshire’s only metro mayor says preparing his region for Brexit is the key to everything he does and the “prism through which I view my mayoralty”.
Dan Jarvis, who was elected as mayor of the Sheffield City Region last summer, said that regardless of how the UK leaves the European Union, “it’s my job as mayor to do all I can to ensure our region’s communities and businesses do not become poorer post-Brexit”.
The Barnsley MP said: “(Preparing for Brexit) is key to everything that we do, from creating good jobs to attracting investment, growing an inclusive economy and building infrastructure fit for the 21st century.
“I’ve already submitted evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Post-Brexit funding, and joined with mayors across the UK to argue that post-Brexit funding should be devolved to regional decision-makers.
“Now, the Sheffield City Region Growth Hub is publishing a toolkit for all businesses where they will be able to carry out a self-assessment which will advise them about their strengths and weakness in six key areas, including innovation and skills.
“Even though it’s a matter of weeks away, nobody really knows what a post-Brexit Britain might look like. Make no mistake; whatever comes to pass, I am determined to ensure our region’s economic growth continues.”
The majority of MPs in Labour- dominated South Yorkshire say they will vote against the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal next week.
Doncaster MP Caroline Flint, one of the few Labour MPs who has previously suggested she may be willing to support it, said: “The Sheffield City Region is right to seek to prepare businesses for the potential shock of a No Deal Brexit. I have not had one business appeal to me to support No Deal.”
At Prime Minister’s Questions this week, Sheffield MP Gill Furniss pressed Mrs May for assurances that no deal would be avoided for the sake of her constituents employed in the steel sector.