Devolution deal just a sleight of hand

Sheffield city skyline showing city centre 'Picture by Gerard Binks
Sheffield city skyline showing city centre 'Picture by Gerard Binks
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Martin McKervey’s puff on behalf of George Osborne’s Sheffield City Region project (Star Two, December 30) was little more than platitudinous froth.

The £900 million ‘devolution deal’, he told us, is ‘an exciting development’ for our region, one which will ‘grow our economy for the benefit of everyone’. Since the last occasion economic growth produced a universal improvement in people’s lives was during the postwar settlement brought to an end by neoliberalism, I can only assume Mr McKervey has little time for history.

I suspect that, like many business representatives, he’s focused solely on the economics of Osborne’s plans and is uninterested in their political and social implications. No doubt our chancellor, that most ideological of Tory politicians, will be hoping for a similarly myopic and depoliticised response to his offer when Sheffield’s decision makers meet later this month.

£900m seems generous but spread over 30 years it’s a relatively modest amount to be investing in one of the hubs of the so-called Northern Powerhouse. More importantly, it’s a figure that should be set in the context of a 50 per cent reduction in central government grants to our city since 2010. Indeed the reduction for the present financial year alone will be over £40m. In other words Sheffield City Council, like similar authorities everywhere, is being subjected to a financial good cop/bad cop routine. Clearly there’s a political snare being set.

The nature of the snare becomes clear when you look at how Osborne’s ‘beneficence’ will operate – not through the present system of local government but through a mayoral system that has already been rejected by the electorate.

It makes sense from Osborne’s perspective to move control over the money he wishes to disburse further away from the voters and their local councillors. After all, the people who live in cities like Sheffield have proved time and again they can’t be trusted to vote correctly. In his vision of the future, Labour councils as a whole will become progressively emasculated (as he thinks they deserve) and local government will move closer to being a matter of what’s best for a few bigwigs and a scarcely accountable private sector.

We’re being asked to cede another element of what makes us citizens in favour of what? More sleight of hand from the people who brought you the trickle-down effect and other conjuring tricks? If Osborne cared about local democracy he’d be making those with power over our communities more accountable, not less.

Kevin Hanson

Carr Road, Walkley, S6