Council chiefs are unconvinced by the idea of a single Yorkshire mayor under devolution – with one saying blanket county-wide policies ‘simply wouldn’t work’.
Leaders in both South and West Yorkshire are negotiating Government deals to get extra powers handed over from Whitehall, while ministers are demanding the creation of directly elected mayors in return.
Tour de France hero Sir Gary Verity is one person who has suggested Yorkshire could be ‘united’ under one mayor to stand on an equal footing with Manchester, which has had ‘far-reaching’ devolution agreed already.
On a visit to Sheffield Minister Greg Clark said it was ‘absolutely up to the local and business leaders’ if they had a Yorkshire mayor or separate ones as he could not impose anything under current laws.
Sir Steve Houghton, chairman of Barnsley Council and the Sheffield City Region combined authority, said leaders did have ‘concerns’ about a Yorkshire mayor as it did not fit the economic footprint of the region, which has 22 councils and encompasses a diverse region from Scarborough to Rotherham.
He added: “Public sector reform is simply too big and given the diversity of Yorkshire to have one policy that covers all of it simply wouldn’t work.”
“If we are looking at public sector reform because of austerity it is better to do that on a sub regional level.”
He said leaders believed it was better for the four parts of the region, also including the north east and Humber, to work independently and then collaborate when required or to push the Yorkshire brand.
In South Yorkshire, it is hoped more powers on housing, transport, skills, infrastructure and business support could be handed over in a devolution package.
Leaders want to see how significant the deals are before agreeing to have a directly elected mayor, which is what ministers are demanding in return.
Talks are set to take place over the next four months, with any deal announced in line with the Government’s spending review.
What South Yorkshire leaders said:
Sir Coun Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council
“Public sector reform is simply too big and given the diversity of Yorkshire to have one policy that covers all regions simply wouldn’t work. So we think that would be too big and what the best option would be would be to have four regions and then to collaborate when we need to look at Yorkshire wide work.
“The point of devolution is to put decision making closer to people so why would you stop at a regional level? You need to bring it down to a sub regional level where we can make the best decisions for each area.
“We want to collaborate on some things but the number of things we have to collaborate on at a Yorkshire level, is very small, and that doesn’t need a whole Yorkshire model.
“It would be incredibly difficult to make one policy that fits Scarborough, Rotherham, Halifax, Richmond and Hull – it is best to let these areas develop their own ideas.
“While I do understand the Yorkshire brand, and that works, we’ve got to be honest with ourselves and say Yorkshire is a very large and diverse region and the Government arrangements need to reflect that.”
Coun Leigh Bramall, deputy leader of Sheffield Council
“We haven’t ruled anything out of the negotiations because that is the whole point of negotiations, and the positive thing is that there are lots of ideas being put forward.
“It’s fair to say that one of the benefits of the city region is that it actually overcomes some of the issues Sheffield has had as a city historically. We’re not just about South Yorkshire, it includes north Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and the Peak District and these areas are important to us.
“I think if a Yorkshire arrangement was going to have any chance it has to first overcome those issues. City regions are a strong area where people live and work in, there are lots of people travelling between Sheffield and Doncaster each day, so there is a look at doing mayors at the city region level and I think that would probably be the option at the moment.”
Coun Chris Read, leader of Rotherham Council
“It is a difficult one because the reality is I’m not 100 per cent convinced by a South Yorkshire mayor, for me that will be a trade off for the powers we can claw from Whitehall.
“If having a mayor is what we’ve got to do to get the money secured then that is what we have got to do but I am still working my way through where that might mean, so to say the model of a Yorkshire mayor with a combined authority that doesn’t yet exist is another step.”
Ros Jones, Mayor of Doncaster
“My concern is what is best for the area and I do believe devolution is best for the area because we have got a greater understanding of what is happening in these areas than Whitehall does.
Whether a full Yorkshire model is the right way forward, people need to look at all the pros and cons.
“It shouldn’t be a case of Manchester has this, what should we do, it should be about what is best for the region.”