‘Metro mayor’ deadline looms for Sheffield City Region

Commercial secretary to the Treasury Lord Jim O'Neill
Commercial secretary to the Treasury Lord Jim O'Neill
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Sheffield City Region has less than a month to decide whether it wants an elected ‘metro mayor’ in return for further devolution.

The deadline is Friday September 4. But so far, Local Enterprise Partnership bosses are undecided.

A LEP spokesman said: “We are working towards a devolution deal with Government, although no final decisions have been taken.”

The Treasury says it is ‘committed to building strong city regions led by elected mayors’.

But city regions that want to agree a devolution deal in return for a mayor need to submit ‘formal, fiscally-neutral proposals and an agreed geography to the Treasury by September 4’.

In July, LEP chiefs said a deal would only be accepted if it “did not disrupt private and public sector partnership arrangements” which are already in place.

It is understood they are reluctant to agree anything which could alter the existing LEP structure which includes a Combined Authority, representing the region’s nine councils. The authority, which has legal powers, is one of the few among the 39 LEP areas in England.

Last week, commercial secretary to the Treasury Lord Jim O’Neill - the man responsible for the Northern Powerhouse and the UK’s devolution agenda - visited the region to chat to LEP bosses.

Afterwards Sir Steve Houghton, chair of the Combined Authority, insisted Sheffield City Region would be “central to the success of the Northern Powerhouse.”

He added: “The visit underlines our importance to the Government’s devolution agenda. We discussed our ambitious plans for Sheffield City Region and how Whitehall officials will help us to realise them.”

LEP chair James Newman said Lord O’Neill “recognised the importance of devolving power” to Sheffield City Region.

Earlier this year Sir Stephen said that a mayor was “not inevitable” and would only be accepted if a significant devolution deal was on offer.

As part of his Spending Review, Chancellor George Osborne said he would not impose mayors but if the regions wanted to be part of the “new revolution in city government” they would need to have one.

In the Summer Budget he highlighted that an agreement had been reached with the leaders of the 10 councils of Greater Manchester to devolve further powers to the city and that talks were underway with Sheffield.

n Sheffield City Region was the second area after Manchester to be granted a devolution deal, backed by a £300m growth funding.

The LEP is now establishing five executive boards with power over strategy and spending covering skills, business growth, infrastructure, transport and housing.

It follows a City Deal in 2011, which came with £28m of Government funding, and Enterprise Zone status for development sites which have so far created a claimed 1,100 jobs.