Devolved powers for Sheffield closer than ever

James Newman, Chairman of Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership.
James Newman, Chairman of Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership.
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Expect an announcement at the beginning of December.

That’s the prediction of James Newman, head of the Sheffield region’s business body, on the subject of devolution.

The Local Enterprise Partnership chairman reckons Sheffield and Leeds are next in line for more powers – prised from the grasp of civil servants in Whitehall thanks to a track record that proves many things are done better – and cheaper – locally.

Manchester is to receive a raft of new powers over transport, housing, planning and policing, as well as business growth and skills. It will also get its own directly elected mayor.

Sheffield City Region’s focus is on economic development and infrastructure – and a ‘metro mayor’ is not in the plan.

James Newman said: “I think it’s important that the region understands we are at the front of the queue. Sheffield has the ninth largest economy and we are in the top three of those who are now going to get some form of devolution.

“Depending on what we ask for, we can get a deal without a metro mayor. I haven’t got a view on that at the moment. I think it’s up to the politicians.

“Our Combined Authority ought to fill the democratic deficit and we ought to be able to get collective decisions, especially around the economy.

“Manchester’s LEP has been established for 10 years, Sheffield’s is at an earlier stage, we had our first board meeting in December 2010.

“We are evolving, and our success around the Growth Deal shows we are punching well above our weight.”

The Local Enterprise Partnership sets the region’s economic strategy.

It is made up of volunteer business people and leaders from the nine councils in the city region.

The Combined Authority is made up of council chiefs from across the region. It holds the purse strings and writes the cheques with Government money. There are just five combined authorities in the country – another factor which puts Sheffield ahead of the game.

Last month Nick Clegg signed a £300m Growth Deal for Sheffield City Region – the fifth biggest deal out of all the areas in England. The money is set to land in March.

It is hoped it will help create more than 28,000 jobs and train 40,000 people.

Sheffield City Region is also at the forefront of funding for business. It was allowed to set up a local version of the Government’s Regional Growth Fund. Some £31m has now been allocated and contracts signed which pave the way for 3,000 jobs.

That works out at up to £11,000 per job – compared to up to £30,000 for the national scheme, saysJames Newman.

He said: “It demonstrates that doing things locally gives you better value for money.”

But although devolution is welcome it brings more work.

The Government gives the LEP £500,000-a-year, and the councils a further £200,000 “to run a £28bn economy”.

“Maybe we are a victim of our own success, but I worry about the amount of activity government is putting on city regions. But if the private sector wants to influence the economy then we are going to have to step up and so far, everyone seems fairly enthusiastic.”