£900m devolution deal ‘in the balance’ in Sheffield City Region

The region's prosperity is at risk, business chiefs say.
The region's prosperity is at risk, business chiefs say.
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£900m plans for devolution in South Yorkshire ‘hang in the balance,’ threatening jobs and stability for thousands of people, according to business chiefs.

Political wrangling, chaos in central government and silence from local leaders have sparked fears the project is going belly up.

Sunset over St Mary's Church and the city of Sheffield Where construction work is taking place on Thursday January 5th 2016. Picture: Chris Etchells

Sunset over St Mary's Church and the city of Sheffield Where construction work is taking place on Thursday January 5th 2016. Picture: Chris Etchells

It comes after Chesterfield and Bassetlaw pulled out of plans worth £900m and bringing more local powers in return for an elected mayor.

It leaves just the four South Yorkshire councils still in the mix.

But business leaders fear the leaders could let the deal slip away.

Sir Nigel Knowles, chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership - the region’s top business body - said a lack of commitment “risks everything.”

Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber.

Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber.

He said: “Our devolution deal hangs in the balance. We recognise that as a consequence of Chesterfield and Bassetlaw withdrawing from the mayoral combined authority process and because of the changed national political landscape, the devolution agenda is changing. The answer cannot be to do nothing.

“This risks everything in terms of economic growth and opportunity. We all need to maintain a focus on growth and make devolution happen.”

Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber, said devolution meant jobs and stability for thousands of people. And it would unlock funding for huge projects like the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District and a logistics hub round Doncaster Sheffield airport.

He added: “At this moment there is little leadership, political or private. We are being let down. It is time the political controllers in this region made a decision about what they want and what deal they are prepared to do.

Paul Houghton, senior partner at Grant Thornton in Sheffield.

Paul Houghton, senior partner at Grant Thornton in Sheffield.

“We have gone from the front of the devolution process to the back. Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham have theirs in place. Come clean, tell us what the deal is, and get it done!”

Paul Houghton is head of accountants Grant Thornton in Sheffield and was a member of the Local Enterprise Partnership for years.

He urged politicians to “put the people and prosperity of the region first”.

“We stand at a critical point in our region’s economic life. Are we going to grab the devolution opportunity available to us, with all that gives us in terms of local empowerment to invest in skills, infrastructure and the business opportunities which will drive our future growth?

“Or are we going to lose it over a political squabble? Our local political leaders of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield need to understand the gravity of their actions at this point.

“Delivering on a devolution deal with government is about jobs for the average man or woman in our region, it’s about life opportunities, it’s about train and bus services, it’s about our children’s future.

“So, if any of our political leaders are thinking of dabbling with local infighting on who the city region mayor might be and playing with our futures as a result, the business community urges them to put politics aside for the sake of the people – the people who elected them.

“Let’s get on and deliver the deal and put the people and the prosperity of this great region first.”