An early Christmas present from Labour?
Plus, give the gift of good journalism this Christmas
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to our Monday briefing.
Today we lead on Labour’s big new plans for decentralising power in this country, which were unveiled by Sir Keir Starmer and Gordon Brown in Leeds earlier today. We also have all our usual reads and recommendations including a row about Christmas trees at Sheffield Cathedral, the screening of a classic movie at The Leadmill, and links to FOUR articles in this month’s Architect’s Journal all about Sheffield (including one written by me!).
🎄 There’s a brilliant new book out called North Country: An anthology of landscape and nature full of great northern writers and poets. It features four South Yorkshire-based writers including Sally Goldsmith and Ian McMillan, as well as a piece by our regular contributor Dani Cole. After speaking to the book’s publisher Saraband, we’re going to send a free copy of North Country (worth £14.99) and a personal Christmas card to anyone who either buys an annual gift subscription for a friend or buys an annual membership for themselves by midday next Thursday (December 15th).
If you’re buying a gift sub, your friend will get a year of high-quality journalism and you will get something too: a free copy of this lovely book in time (postal strikes allowing) for Christmas, along with a card from us. You can schedule your gift to be emailed to the recipient on Christmas Day 🎁.
If you’re a new member buying an annual sub, you will get the book and a card welcoming you to our community. Just click here to join now.
Get on board now and give yourself the gift of great northern writing this Christmas. This offer ends at midday next Thursday. We’ll email you to get your postal address after you make your purchase.
Catch up and coming up
We hope you enjoyed our mouth-watering weekend read — a gastronomic tour of Sheffield’s Chinese restaurants courtesy of the students who know them best.
Last week I took some time off so we didn’t publish our usual two newsletters but we’ll be back to normal this week. Our first piece on Tuesday will be a story by Harry Shukman about a Sheffield Hallam University academic who has been accused of antisemitism. And the second on Thursday will be the piece we were meant to send out last week about Sheffield’s World Cup migrants supporting their home countries at Qatar 2022.
To help fund a new way of doing journalism in Sheffield focused on serving readers rather than shareholders, please consider subscribing using the button below. It costs just £7 a month or £70 for the full year (that’s just £1.34 a week if you pay for 12 months up front). You can also buy gift memberships for others and group subscriptions.
Editor’s note: We hope you didn’t mind too much that we didn’t publish as much as we normally do last week. It’s just something we have to do every so often due to our very small team. However, as 957 of you now pay to receive our journalism every week, that could soon change. Help us get to 1,000 members by the New Year by joining today. Thank you.
The big picture: The light fantastic 🎇
Last night was the final performance of Sheffield Cathedral's annual light show, which this year focused on the Christmas story. The Manger was designed by sculptor Peter Walker and produced by the company Luxmuralis, who have projected son-et-lumière light shows at locations including the Bodleian Library and Lichfield, Liverpool and St Albans cathedrals.
This week’s weather ❄️
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say a shallow trough to the NE ushers down increasingly cold air that will stagnate over the country through this week. Confidence low by the weekend.
Monday ☁️ Largely cloudy and dull, much like Sunday, with the ongoing risk of a light shower or spell of drizzly rain. Moderate NE winds and highs of 6°C.
Tuesday ⛅ A better chance of brightness as cloud breaks. Mainly dry and cool with northerly winds easing. Highs of 5°C.
Wednesday ☀️ A cold start with a widespread frost likely. Then mostly sunny though feeling colder than Tuesday with highs of 3°C.
Thursday ❄️ 🌤️ Colder still after a frigid night. A cold front heading south could bring a brief spell of morning snow, otherwise the sun still shines. Highs of 2°C.
Friday 🌤️ After another widespread frost with a risk of ice, the day will likely play out similarly bright with a chance of a wintry shower. Highs of just 2°C.
Outlook: Remaining cold into the weekend, though confidence on any snow distribution is low at this early stage. Steel City Skies will have updates throughout the week!
The big story: Will Labour give us more powers?
Top line: Labour has unveiled plans to give towns, cities and regions more power over their economic destiny. What might that mean for Sheffield and South Yorkshire?
The plan: The party’s Commission on the UK’s Future report has been produced by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The 155-page report contains 40 recommendations on constitutional reform, including what it calls a “radical devolution of power within England”.
The report recommends towns and cities across England should be given new powers that would allow them to “drive growth and champion their areas”.
South Yorkshire would get more powers on skills, education, employment, transport, energy, the environment, housing, planning, childcare and culture.
Purse strings: The report says that England is one of the most fiscally centralised countries in the world, with almost all tax and spending powers being held by Whitehall. The impact of austerity and the Conservatives’ Levelling Up agenda also means that local authorities are increasingly forced to compete with each other to bid for money from central government.
Reaction: Perhaps unsurprisingly, South Yorkshire’s Labour Mayor Oliver Coppard warmly welcomed the report, calling the plan “bold, ambitious and serious”. However, Henri Murison, the chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (which was set up by former chancellor George Osborne in 2016), pointed out that the report underlined the clear cross-party consensus on the need to decentralise government in England. He said:
The fact that the Leader of the Opposition has adopted for his party a bold agenda for devolution and decentralisation is a huge step forward. We have a golden opportunity to use this moment of historic consensus, with the current Chancellor also committed to decentralisation, to accelerate the devolution agenda, putting local leaders at the heart of our plans for growth.
Bottom line: The fact that parties now agree on the need for more devolution in England is significant. However, the British state has an uncanny way of resisting reform (today’s report also contains a plan to reform the House of Lords, which was first attempted more than 100 years ago!). Add to that the Treasury’s historic reluctance to give spending powers away and it will still be a huge challenge to give local areas the kind of power they enjoy in other countries.
Labour selects its candidate for Sheffield Central
Elsewhere in Labour land, the party have selected their candidate for Sheffield Central after the celebrity-filled box-office contest. As predicted, Firth Park Councillor Abtisam Mohamed won, receiving 442 votes of the 846 cast. Winning 52% of the vote meant she won on the first round, with comedian and actor Eddie Izzard second on 175 votes, dentist Rizwana Lala third with 173, and Mohamed’s fellow city councillor Jayne Dunn fourth with 64.
Labour have a majority of more than 27,000 in Sheffield Central, meaning Mohamed will be the hot favourite to become the seat’s MP whenever the next election takes place. However, as we reported last month, current MP Paul Blomfield’s strong backing of Mohamed has led to some criticism that he unfairly influenced the process. The result will also be a big blow to Eddie Izzard, who put a great deal of effort into the race only to get 20% of the vote.
Home of the week 🏡
This three-bedroom ground floor apartment in Ranmoor is in need of some modernisation but has beautiful south-facing views over Bingham Park. It is on the market for £250,000.
Our media picks 🎧
Grey to Green: Sheffield’s transformational flood defence scheme 🌳 I’m a bit worried about sharing this as it’s something I wrote! The Architects’ Journal recently asked me to write about the revolutionary Grey to Green flood prevention scheme for a special edition of the magazine all about Sheffield. For the piece I spoke to people attending the monthly Pollen Market, former city regeneration chief Simon Ogden and Dan Cornwell from Green Estate.
As well as my piece about Grey to Green, there’s also an editorial praising the project, a story about whether the city centre can survive the “post-retail future”, and another article about the University of Sheffield’s iconic Arts Tower. If anyone finds a copy let me know!
The People of Park Hill 🏡 In preparation for the return of Park Hill musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge later this week, Sheffield Theatres have produced this lovely series of interviews with past and present residents of the iconic building. The interviews include a nice one with brothers Gary, Paul and Andrew Hill, who grew up on the estate in the 1960s and 1970s and remember it being “just like one big family”. The first previews take place this weekend.
Climate campaigners send mock tree for Sheffield display 🎄 A tree submitted for Sheffield Cathedral’s Christmas tree display was temporarily removed before being put back. The tree (pictured below), was designed by the Christian Climate Action Sheffield and criticised the Church of England for its links to oil company Shell. Church authorities eventually allowed it to be put back, saying they wanted to play their part in “treading more lightly on the earth”.
Things to do 📆
Theatre 🎭 On from now until Tuesday, 3 January, Jack and the Beanstalk is this year’s Sheffield Theatres annual pantomime (oh, yes it is!). Starring film and TV actor Wendi Peters, as well as legendary Sheffield Dame Damian Williams, the show is produced by the same team who created the sensational Cinderella in 2019 and promises “stunning sets, comedy, audience participation and breath-taking special effects”. Tickets are priced from £15 to £33.
Film 🍿 December sees the return of The Leadmill Cinematic with a series of special Christmas film screenings taking place throughout the festive season. Tonight’s film, Richard Curtis’ 2003 schmalz-fest Love Actually, has been criticised in recent years for problematic themes like fat-shaming and sexual harassment. However, despite its many flaws, like esteemed film critic Mark Kermode, I still like it. Doors open at 7pm and tickets are £6.
Talk 🎄 On Wednesday, 7 December, discover the ancient origins of Christmas and other midwinter festivals in this free talk at Weston Park Museum with local historian Janet Ridler (1pm-1.45pm). The talk looks at how the Christmas of today has its origins in the Victorian era, from trees and turkey to crackers, cards and carols. And it also includes local Christmas customs, including the popular Sheffield carols which still take place in parts of the city today.