Sheffield City Region: International Perspectives & Ambitions Post-Brexit

On 26th March the BFPG co-hosted an event with the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce on the city and region’s international links and ambitions with around 80 people from across the region’s business and cultural communities. We were very grateful for the support and input of UBS as well as of Sheffield City Council, and grateful to the FCO for supporting this event and the national engagement work of the BFPG.

The panel included:

Dean Turner, UBS

Paul Brummell, Head of Soft Power and External Affairs Department, FCO

Kate Skarsten, Economic Counsellor, The U.S Embassy

Richard Wright, Director of Policy & Representation, Sheffield Chamber of Commerce

The panel started with an overview of the current global economic context from Dean Turner. He emphasized that the UK as a whole, and Brexit in particular, is in relative terms, just one small element in a complex and evolving international economic picture. This is an important reason why the UK, its regions, and individual businesses, have a strong incentive to encourage some sort of way forward on Brexit in order to focus on the wider challenges facing the world. Paul Brummell from the FCO offered a wider context to this, whilst also explaining how Sheffield’s traditions and global links offered particular incentives and opportunities to build on its rich international heritage for local, national and international benefit. Kate Skarsten from the US Embassy echoed the message about the scale of future opportunities for the UK and particular cities such as Sheffield; especially through new economic partnerships as is being proposed between the UK & UK post Brexit. The role of sub-state actors was emphasised too as individual cities, regions (and States in the US) and others are increasingly pioneering their own global links. This is important and welcome if coherence and coordination on a national level is maintained. Richard Wright concluded by reflecting on how effectively Sheffield had positioned itself to date. He made the key point that small and medium sized business in particular are important targets for encouraging greater exports, and yet currently we lack sufficient tools for bringing them into these conversations. Audience discussion continued this theme, but also raised the issue of infrastructure and the lack of sufficient connectivity between the city, region and world supporting exports and investment. Points were also raised about ensuring central government was best positioned to respond to the regions international priorities, as well as how Sheffield is integrated within the Northern Powerhouse, and relationships with other cities in the region.


The second panel was Chaired by Head of UK Regions Kathy McArdle. Taking Sheffield’s current international plans as a starting point, the session considered what more needs to be done and how the UK government might more effectively support the city and regions ambitions in years to come.

The panel included:

Dan Bates, CEO, Sheffield Theatres

Gordon Macrae, Gripple Ltd

Neil Cleverley, Twinkl

Caroline Cooper Charles, Film Producer and Strategic Development Executive, Screen Yorkshire

Edward Highfield, Director of City Growth, Sheffield City Council


The conversation here revolved around the relationship between the values the city and region projects and the business relationships and reputation it enjoys. Dan Bates fed back insights he had developed working with theatres in South East Asia, including building links with Sheffield. Culture, connectivity and building deeper cross-cultural understanding were key to understanding and opening new market opportunities. These themes were echoed by other panelists, though with the point being made that the city and region itself need to concentrate on what makes it different to competitors, and focus on making the most of this advantage. Gordon Macrae also made the point that for this strategy to succeed, regional business needs to become far better at exploiting opportunities to generate commercial advantage. Too often innovations from the region are capitalised upon business overseas. Caroline Cooper Charles built on this by pointing out that even within the UK film production is disproportionately clustered around London, meaning that what is claimed to be a national success story really doesn’t serve the interests of much of the UK. Overall there was a recognition that the limited capacity and attention span available for regional concerns from central government, made even more extreme due to Brexit, meant that Sheffield and the region would increasingly need to show leadership and identify bespoke strategies and routes to pursuing their international ambitions. This risks fragmentation and so coordination through the Northern Powerhouse as well as other regional and national structures where possible is key.  However crucially, it is clear that whilst Sheffield has no shortage of skills or capacity to embrace and pursue a bold international strategy, it needs confidence and a strong sense of identity to succeed fully. Nurturing this is as much a cultural as a commercial priority, and a good reason for combining the efforts of both.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the BFPG. The BFPG is an independent not for profit organisation that encourages constructive, informed and considered opinions without taking an institutional position on any issue.
Tom Cargill

Tom Cargill is Executive Director of the British Foreign Policy Group. He has worked in various roles in the public, private and NGO sectors, including at the charity for children in care Believe, as well as 10 years at Chatham House (The Royal Institute of International Affairs) followed by 4 years at the engineering, procurement and construction multinational Bechtel. He is the author of numerous reports, chapters and articles on international and foreign policy issues.