'Only the Conservatives can beat Labour in South Yorkshire' - Ian Walker on mayoral ambitions for the county
Ian Walker is not phased by the challenge he faces running for South Yorkshire mayor despite being a Conservative from Sheffield.
In the ‘People’s Republic of South Yorkshire’ as it was once coined, it's Labour through and through. Every MP was elected with a red rosette in in the 2017 General Election and the Tories have just 11 councillors out of 257 - none in Sheffield or Rotherham.
But Ian, who works in manufacturing, is optimistic the party can gain real ground in the region and elect a Tory mayor. He cites the great jobs respective mayors in the West Midlands and Tees Valley are already doing nearly one year on.
Standing on Western Road in Crookes for the photo call, a place now synonymous with the ongoing tree-felling saga, it doesn’t take long to realise the enormity of the challenge Ian faces.
Posing for photos along with activists and placards, a resident steps out of his house to heckle them.
Ian gets knocked back on the doorstep too. A resident, albeit with a cut out of Tory minister Michael Gove in his front window, takes one look at Ian’s blue rosette and turns back into his hallway. Despite this, he shrugs it off not deterred by the challenge ahead.
He’s ‘not a fan’ of the ‘One Yorkshire deal’ and cites the needs of population centres of South Yorkshire are very different to those of Harrogate and rural North Yorkshire.
Good quality jobs, training, education and investment into the region is high on Ian’s agenda and wants to use travelling the world as part of his day job to promote South Yorkshire with an even bigger platform.
A non-executive director at the former South Yorkshire Health Authority, he said he’s always ‘wanted to give back to the community’.
He’s also a trustee of charities in the area and was formerly chairman of Sheffield’s Training and Enterprise Council.
Ian said his role working with trade unions, the four local authorities and technology firms helped to secure over Â£2 billion of EU funding for South Yorkshire and has been part of trade missions which has seen staff from the British Embassy in Tokyo return to the UK to see the Advanced Manufacturing Park along the Sheffield/Rotherham border.
“We need to get some much needed self confidence back that we can go to Government and other funding institutions and put a real case forward to bring real investment in South Yorkshire," he said, overlooking Westways School and the memorial trees.
“We want to address real hardship and inequality in the region and the best way to do that is jobs and good quality ones too. Education and training is one thing but it’s also about making South Yorkshire the best place to start up a business. We want to get the county back on the map.”
The conversation touches on Tory mayors in other parts of the country and the work they’re doing. He feels he will be able to work with Government much more effectively than other candidates in this race.
“We’re missing out on so much - we need to get South Yorkshire working properly together. There’s too much infighting between the local councils and this needs to end so we can go to Government and bring a real case for investment.
“I would also have the ear of Government - It is unusual for a Conservative in South Yorkshire it’s a very strong Labour heartland but we are a strong second in the region, only we collectively can beat Labour in the county.
“It needs someone independant to step above those local party politics and say we need to be responsible for the future of our citizens. I would bring that investment to this region in education, training for our young folks so they get those good quality jobs.”
The change of heart by Barnsley and Doncaster councils from a Sheffield City Region devolution model to a wider Yorkshire deal has had council leaders at a stand off.
But Ian is a firm believer in the Sheffield City Region model and think it will benefit the county the most.
“From my experience, the clear evidence is city regions drive economies - that’s what the focus is,” Ian said.
“I don’t think people in Doncaster have got that much in common with people in rural North Yorkshire, what they relate to is that local neighbourhood.
“There is no point getting devolution to then give it back up again. The kind of issues which are faced in Barnsley are very different to those faced in Harrogate - we need to focus on what’s important for South Yorkshire.
“This is a very different scenario to Leeds which is more of a financial centre, we need to focus on what we’re good in South Yorkshire and that’s manufacturing and producing goods for export that people want to buy.”
Ian is confident he can cause a real upset by beating bookies’ favourite Dan Jarvis.
“I would say to voters who have backed Labour before is look at their track record. Every Labour government has left office with more unemployment than it started. The Conservatives are about creating wealth for people.
“I’ve spent my life in the manufacturing industry in my home county of South Yorkshire and I’m determined for us to get our act together.”