Is Caborn the right man for Sheffield City Region’s top job?

Richard Caborn needs no introduction, so let’s cut to the chase: does he want Sheffield City Region’s top job?

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 5th August 2015, 1:55 pm
Richard Caborn
Richard Caborn

Responsible for the prosperity of almost two million citizens. Required to bang private and public sector heads together locally. Able to schmooze right up to the highest levels of Government and business. And with the charisma and contacts to get things done.

That’s what the boss of the Local Enterprise Partnership is required to do - and the position is about to become vacant when James Newman steps down after five years.

Elected mayors might be coming, but until they arrive, this is the top job.

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So it seems a fair question to ask of the former trades unionist, MEP, MP, trade minister, sports minister and now Sheffield business ambassador.

Caborn’s enthusiastic flow is halted, but only temporarily - he’s been asked tougher questions than this.

He replies: “If people believe I can make a contribution I would give it very serious consideration.

“It depends what you want. If you want a diplomat or the head of a big company I’m not your guy. Everyone knows who I am and what I can do best.

“I’m a politician through and through, but you also need an understanding of what the LEP can do. We have a Tory government for the next five years, therefore this area has to move within that envelope.

“That administration is now saying, ‘we want to develop the North and increase the competitiveness of the British economy’.

“It’s within these circumstances I can make a difference. Politics is the art of the achievable and I still have very strong connections in Whitehall and Westminster.

“I call a spade a spade, which gets me into trouble sometimes. But I love doing this type of work, bringing people together. I get on with a lot of people, I can drive projects and I’ve accumulated a pretty good address book.”

Anecdotes are peppered with names including Mandela, Beckham, Ecclestone, Jacques Delors, Willy Brandt and, of course, Tony Blair.

Achievements range from helping to bring The Olympics to London, the Tour de France to Yorkshire and the BBC to Salford, to establishing Regional Development Agencies and UKTI, helping to set up the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, part of Sheffield University, and even introducing Freedom of Information requests - now a staple source of stories for newspapers.

Jobs-wise, he’s a paid advisor for the AMRC, an unpaid business ambassador for Sheffield City Council - and the chair, or president, of countless organisations including the Youth Hostel Association, the Football Foundation, and the Trades and Labour Club, Work-Wise and the Chinese Business Innovation Centre, all in Sheffield.

He’s been attending Sheffield United games since he was eight and used to be on the board, but had to resign when he became a minister. That doesn’t make him a paying punter though.

“I just walk in,” he reflects, “like I do most places.”

Richard Caborn, aged 71, is focused on 2050.

By then three big schemes he’s involved in should hopefully be up and running.

But will he?

“I will keep going while ever I can make a contribution. It’s a privilege to work with so many outstanding people in Sheffield.”

He still runs half marathons and works hard, although he’s trying to keep weekends free these days.

“As a minister it was 24-hours a day,” he reminisces.

So what’s he on with?

‘City Centre 2050’, as he likes to call it, is a plan for a £480m retail quarter in Sheffield.

He was made business envoy for the city council in November in the hope he can pull a few strings.

He said: “It will not just be about shopping.”

He laughs off suggestions anchor store John Lewis is getting cold feet after 12 years. He says he’s known Andy Street, the group’s managing director, “for many years.”

“All signed up,” he says.

‘Care 2050’ includes plans to mix sport, teaching, science and business across the city. It includes an Olympic Legacy Park on the former Don Valley Stadium site, set to include a school, college, research centre and a rugby and a basketball team.

He’s helped pull in Sheffield Hallam University, the city council, the NHS, £14m funding from Government and £1m from Toshiba.

The third project is well underway.

‘Factory 2050’ is the first building in a new advanced manufacturing park on the former Sheffield City Airport.

It is just across the road from Sheffield University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, around which a cluster of hi-tech businesses have sprung up.

And who helped establish the original AMRC 15 years ago? A certain trade minister who secured £6m of Government funding.

In the AMRC, university researchers work with paying industrial partners to solve technical problems and make breakthroughs.

The whole area is now designated an Innovation District, a model for how firms can work together.

Caborn believes the Tory Government can be persuaded to expand this model as part of the Northern Powerhouse to rebalance the economy, boost an under-utilised north and ease an over-heated south-east.

He added: “The Government will get the support of people in the North if it starts to address that.”

The full version of this interview is in The Business magazine, which covers Sheffield City Region. To subscribe, email [email protected]