Who is Hannah Kitching? Meet the Lib Dem candidate for South Yorkshire mayor

Hannah Kitching from Penistone is hoping to become the mayor for the Sheffield City Region. Picture: George Torr
Hannah Kitching from Penistone is hoping to become the mayor for the Sheffield City Region. Picture: George Torr

Lib Dem Hannah Kitching wants to propel South Yorkshire to the next level by overhauling the region’s transport and making the county a better place to do business.

A relative political novice, she only joined the Liberal Democrats in 2016 a day after the Brexit referendum result and described herself as an ‘armchair politician’ before the vote.

Hannah Kitching from Penistone is hoping to become the mayor for the Sheffield City Region. Picture: George Torr

Hannah Kitching from Penistone is hoping to become the mayor for the Sheffield City Region. Picture: George Torr

But she’s thrown herself in and has been campaign manager in two council by-elections in Sheffield and Rotherham and is now tasked to take the top job in South Yorkshire for the Lib Dems.

It could be a good night for Hannah even if she doesn't win the mayoral vote. She's running in the Penistone West ward on Barnsley Council and has a good chance of winning.

Living in Thurlstone on the fringes of Barnsley and Sheffield, she can see how South Yorkshire is ‘falling behind’ other regions after previously living in Leeds and Manchester.

A mum of two, married to husband James, the pair own a manufacturing firm who export steel products across the globe. She also worked in the NHS as a physiotherapist.

Lib Dem campaigners were busy at their Sheffield HQ with local elections and the mayoral vote to prepare for. Picture: George Torr

Lib Dem campaigners were busy at their Sheffield HQ with local elections and the mayoral vote to prepare for. Picture: George Torr

Despite her dealings in industry, she adds that ‘being a mum’ is the most important job.

Hannah is adamant the four ‘squabbling’ Labour council leaders in South Yorkshire have held the region back.

She isn’t a fan of Brexit and is calling for a second referendum vote once the terms of the deal to leave the European Union is clear.

An interesting notion of Hannah’s mayoral plan is to set up a South Yorkshire office in the EU heartland of Brussels.

Sheffield Hallam prospective parliamentary candidate Laura Gordon (left) joins Hannah sorting letters and leaflets. Picture: George Torr

Sheffield Hallam prospective parliamentary candidate Laura Gordon (left) joins Hannah sorting letters and leaflets. Picture: George Torr

Transport and skills are another big part of her plan.

She wants to introducing a London-style ticketing system with contactless payments on all modes of public transport with daily price caps and wants to improve public transport in smaller communities where many residents feel cut off, particularly in the evening and at weekends.

Along with upgrades to major roads and rail connectivity, she’ll be lobbying for improvements to the Woodhead pass and extend the Supertram.

Apprenticeships are another key part of the plan including older people who might have been made redundant from a career and want to get back into work.

Hannah Kitching from Penistone is hoping to become the mayor for the Sheffield City Region. Picture: George Torr

Hannah Kitching from Penistone is hoping to become the mayor for the Sheffield City Region. Picture: George Torr

Drawing on the success of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, Hannah wants to lend more support to small businesses.

Taking a break from stuffing leaflets and letters at the Sheffield Liberal Democrats base in Sharrow, Hannah explains how she went from debating politics in the living room to mixing it up on the big stage.

“I used to spend a lot of time complaining to my husband at the kitchen table about politics,” she said.

“I never really thought politics was something you could get involved in, It was something I read about and watched on the television.

“When the Brexit referendum result happened I was shocked - it was a massive political shift that I didn’t see coming. But after the vote, I felt a really overwhelming need to do something.

“David Cameron threw in the towel and Jeremy Corbyn said we needed to get on with this as quickly as possible and the Liberal Democrats were the only ones reflecting my feelings which was we don’t think this is a great thing.

Hannah said she ‘fully respects’ the Brexit vote in 2016 but she think people should have another say when the final deal has been completed. Coming from Barnsley, a town who voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU, she’s well aware of feeling on the doorstep on the issue.

“The public voted for a destination (to leave the EU) and it only seems right that once we know the full terms of the deal, to go back (and vote again),” she said.

“South Yorkshire does need an ongoing relationship with the EU - none of that is going to change after we leave and we’re on the outside. If we stay within the EU, we still need that relationship.

It’s this continuing relationship which ultimately turns to the interesting idea of a South Yorkshire EU office.

“It’s not about keeping us in the EU,” Hannah said.

“It’s about acknowledging that South Yorkshire still needs to have a presence in Europe in order for us to trade and travel and negotiate the best deals and opportunities for our communities and that’s potentially a really good way of maintaining that visibility.”

Hannah speaks at length about the county’s transport systems.
She wants to overhaul the network and make it easier for smaller communities to be linked up with bigger ones.

Extending the Supertram to places like Stocksbridge serving using the current rail line is one idea while improving the trans-pennine routes and introducing a London Oyster card system are also high on the agenda.

“It’s crucial we develop a seamless, integrated fit for purpose transport system across South Yorkshire,” she said.

“One is infrastructure which I think is inadequate. I live in quite a rural area in Penistone and public transport is a colossal issue in smaller communities.

“We need to make it easier for smaller communities to reach bigger centres and make it easier to get across South Yorkshire in general by train, tram and bus. Then comes the connectivity across the north of England.

“A lot of these issues that need addressing are across council boundaries and that’s why this role is so important.

South Yorkshire is in deadlock. Sheffield and Rotherham prefer a Sheffield City Region deal signed by all four councils in 2015. But Doncaster and Barnsley underwent a dramatic U-turn and favoured a One Yorkshire deal.

Hannah said: “I’m not interested in squabilling over lines on maps. I have absolutely no issue with anyone pursuing the One Yorkshire deal and wider devolution but it’s clear to me as a South Yorkshire mayor, there’s a job to be done and that job is about creating opportunities for people across South Yorkshire.

“In terms of the squabilling council leaders, it’s clear to me that it’s Labour party infighting that has held South Yorkshire back - this deal was signed back in 2015 and other regions elected their mayors last year and those mayors are moving their regions forward.

“South Yorkshire has already lost out on £30 million because our four Labour leaders can’t get on with each other and that is why I’m so right for this job because I’m not part of the problem.

“Because I’ve lived in Manchester and Leeds, I can see how South Yorkshire is falling behind those other regions because these Labour council leaders can’t work together - I’m prepared to collaborate and I’m prepared to work with anyone.

“I’m not in this for one part of the county, I’m in this for the whole of South Yorkshire.”

Hannah knows she has a tough task. Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis was once tipped to run as Labour leader before Jeremy Corbyn took over and is unsurprisingly the front runner.

In a county full of red rosettes, Hannah explained how she has the conversation on the doorsteps with lifetime Labour voters.

“What I say to Labour voters across South Yorkshire is are you happy with the way your council is run? Are you happy with what this region looks like? Are you happy with the four Labour councils and every single MP, the status quo in this county.

“Because if you’re not happy and you want a fresh face, fresh voice, fresh way of working, vote for me instead.

“Dan Jarvis has already got his job, he’s already got his platform in Westminster.

“Let’s have something who will be solely focused on South Yorkshire. I feel this role in a way, is above party politics. It’s about would be the best person to take the whole of South Yorkshire forward.”