The billion dollar questions about Sheffield City Region’s devolution deal

8 Oct 2015....Clr Leigh Bramall launches a bid to brand Sheffield as the UK's first Outdoor City. Picture Scott Merrylees SM1009/80b
8 Oct 2015....Clr Leigh Bramall launches a bid to brand Sheffield as the UK's first Outdoor City. Picture Scott Merrylees SM1009/80b
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Many questions have been raised following the announcement of the in-principle devolution deal for the Sheffield City Region, which is set to include an elected mayor.

The Star posed some of the queries to Sheffield Council and the Department for Communities and Local Government to get answers.

Peace Gardens, Sheffield city centre

Peace Gardens, Sheffield city centre

Q: When will the full in-principle deal be made public?

A: It is available already and can be viewed on the Sheffield City Region website – find it at sheffieldcityregion.org.uk

Q: Who will ultimately be in control of the £900 million of funding for Sheffield City Region?

A: The Sheffield City Region combined authority, which will be made up of the nine leaders of the region’s councils and the proposed elected mayor. The mayor will act as chairman of the authority and the leaders as their cabinet members.

Sheffield Town Hall, Sheffield city centre

Sheffield Town Hall, Sheffield city centre

Q: Which Government pot will this funding come from exactly?

The Department for Communities and Local Government has not confirmed where the £900m ‘infrastructure fund’ will come from in Government.

Q: How will the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), combined authority, councils and the directly elected mayor work together? What is each of their roles?

A: In the proposed agreement, the elected mayor will be directly responsible for the transport budget, franchised bus services, key transport routes and strategic planning but will only cover South Yorkshire, not the whole region. Transport is a county function which means non-metropolitan districts in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire cannot join the transport deal.

21 Nov 2013....Sheffield skyline SM1001/27a

21 Nov 2013....Sheffield skyline SM1001/27a

The combined authority will be responsible for all other devolved powers in the region including skills provision, employment support and joint working on boosting trade and investment.

The LEP will continue to be an ‘economic advisory board’ to the city region leaders and mayor. No powers will be lost from local councils and they will continue to perform their current functions. The deal says further powers could be agreed over time.

Q: How much will the mayor be paid for the job?

A: Nobody appears to know as the role does not yet exist in statute. In places with city mayors the salary is set by an independent remuneration panel. The Mayor of Leicester is paid £67,000 a year, although there is controversy over a recommendation to raise it to £100,000.

16th April  2013'Pictured a Sheffield city skyline showing the supertram line and city centre'Picture by Gerard Binks

16th April 2013'Pictured a Sheffield city skyline showing the supertram line and city centre'Picture by Gerard Binks

Q: How will this £900m make a difference when it is equivalent to £500 per person in the Sheffield city region?

A: Coun Leigh Bramall, deputy council leader, compared the region securing the £900m to a household having a permanent rather than temporary income, saying it would allow for ‘long term planning’.

The proposal would also allow for leaders to borrow against the £900m and attract private sector investment for major projects such as new transport connections. The aim will be to invest in projects which will in turn bring investment, more jobs and growth to the economy. In turn it is hoped that will raise more business rates that the council can now retain to fund services.

The £900m will not replace funding for core council services such as adult social care.

Q: How far-reaching are the powers over transport – will they give the region more influence over decisions such as the location of Sheffield’s HS2 station?

A: No, national projects such as HS2 are decided by the Government. The mayor will ‘be in a position to have an influence and shape the debate’ said Coun Bramall.

Q: In a nutshell, how is this deal different to the concept of a city mayor which was rejected by the public?

A: Coun Bramall said: “The last proposal was effectively to replace the council leader but that mayor would have had exactly the same powers and responsibilities, and restrictions. This one is a mayor of devolved powers – not as many as we’d like – but some of those powers and it covers the whole Sheffield City Region. It is a very different role.”

Q: Last year when South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright stood down in the wake of the Rotherham scandal, there had been confusion over who could make him do so. Who in Government will oversee the mayor and what powers will they have?

A: Locally the mayor would be elected every four years and there will be a Sheffield City Region overview and scrutiny committee. The leaders of the combined authority can amend and veto the mayor’s budget or strategies with a two-thirds majority. The Government will assess the region’s investments every five years.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said the mayor would be overseen in the same way current elected mayors and councillors are across England while a mayor which took on police and crime commissioner functions would be held ‘to the same standards as PCCs.’

Q: What role will Sheffield’s business community play in this, given the LEP was founded in part by voluntary business leaders?

A: The proposed mayor will be a member of the LEP as will other members of the combined authority. Sheffield Council says businesses have a ‘critical’ role to play and will be worked with and consulted closely.

Q: What exactly will the public now be consulted on, given that the in-principle deal has been signed and a mayor has already been agreed?

A: The consultation is still being discussed and, once launched, will run until Christmas.

It is not clear yet whether it will solely consult people on the principle of the devolution deal and mayor or the potential projects it could progress. Coun Bramall said the deal was still an in-principle one and could be withdrawn from.

Q: Realistically what can be achieved on a regional basis for £30m a year? In contrast Sheffield Council has to make £50m of cuts to its budget next year alone and a single project such as the new retail quarter is expected to cost £480m.

A: Coun Bramall said the £30m a year for 30 years would help to ‘unlock’ other investment and create projects that in turn create jobs and more growth, rather than paying for projects in isolation.

“This doesn’t change the fact we are going to get cut, we’ll get cuts anyway, but what this does is give us the power to make a difference,” he added.

Q: Will there be a formula to decide how the money is shared out across nine different local authorities or will it be on a ‘case by case’ basis?

A: Money available will be used so it has the biggest positive impact on the economy, says the council.

Investments will be made in projects according to potential for economic growth and job creation, not where they are geographically.

Q: How will the election of the mayor be paid for, given the PCC election cost £1.6m?

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “Our investment will give the area greater financial flexibility so that any extra costs arising as a result of the mayoral elections will have no impact on existing council budgets.”