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South Yorkshire devo deal hits the rocks

The Sheffield city region combined authority has hit the rocks after two councils voted against taking devolution plans to the next stage.

At a crunch meeting yesterday (18 September), the leaders of Barnsley and Doncaster councils voted against launching a public consultation on mayoral powers relating to devolution.

Following the meeting, Barnsley leader Steve Houghton and Doncaster mayor Ros Jones issued a joint statement, which said the Sheffield city region proposal is ‘too small’ and a Yorkshire-wide deal would be ‘economically and politically advantageous’.

‘It will allow strategic interventions and public service reform,’ the two leaders added. ‘Brexit requires us to organize at scale to get us to where we need to be.

‘The Yorkshire coalition of the willing is coming together and collaborating. Seventeen councils are signing up to a wider Yorkshire collaboration. We need to be part of this – even if we have to wait.’

Four local authorities – Barnsley, Doncaster, Sheffield and Rotherham – all signed the devolution deal with the-then chancellor, George Osborne in 2015.

However, a group of 17 local authorities – including Barnsley and Doncaster – called for a Yorkshire-wide devolution deal during the summer.

In a statement, the Sheffield city region combined authority said ‘as things stand’ an election for a directly-elected mayor for the combined authority is still get to get ahead in May 2018.

‘The mayor will chair the combined authority, have equivalent voting rights to existing local authorities at its meetings, and also have some powers relating to bus franchising,’ the statement added.

Speaking after the meeting, Sheffield council leader, Julie Dore, said the South Yorkshire devolution deal is ‘a good deal and the only one on the table which is ready to go and will immediately bring extra money to the region’.

‘The Government have definitively ruled out a Yorkshire Deal, which is consistent with their previous position and does not come as a surprise,’ she added.

‘We hope that a way forward can be found to make sure that we can still bring the investment and powers to the region that we need. That is what we will be working to do going forward.’

While the leader of Rotherham council, Chris Read, commented: ‘Two years after signing the agreement in good faith, our inability to make progress in South Yorkshire will almost inevitably mean fewer reserouces to bring more jobs to our local economy.

‘However, we should also be clear what today’s decision does not mean,’ he added. ‘It does not mean that there will be more mayoral election in South Yorkshire next year.

‘Unless the government chooses to change course, the order for that election is already laid. The election itself is expected to cost one million pounds to run.

‘It simple means that when the million pound mayor is elected they will have no formal powers and no budget.’

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: ‘It is very disappointing that South Yorkshire councils have pulled away from their devolution deal, which would see the area benefit from around £1 billion of new government investment.

‘We remain ready and willing to work with local leaders to implement the deal and have no intention to undo the legislation that has already been enacted in Parliament, including legislation for a mayoral election in May 2018.

‘We’ve been absolutely clear that we will not consider a deal for the whole of Yorkshire,’ added the spokesman.

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