Business support for the ‘One Yorkshire’ devolution ambition is draining away as the county gets left behind.
Gerald Jennings, chair of West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, has written to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid ‘encouraging’ Government to proceed with the South Yorkshire deal – and work with councils and business to ensure the rest of the region ‘is not punished’ for its lack of progress to date.
He refers to Yorkshire missing out on a guaranteed slice of the £1.7bn Transforming Cities Fund, which favours mayoral areas.
Barnsley and Rotherham and Sheffield Chambers support the South Yorkshire deal. And between them they represent thousands of businesses across the county.
Only Doncaster Chamber – which has a £337,000 contract with Doncaster Council – supports One Yorkshire.
In the letter, Mr Jennings states: ‘This is a wake-up call to our regional politicians to tell them that the train is already leaving the station and Yorkshire does not yet have a seat on it.
‘This Chamber remains strongly supportive of devolution and stands ready to support a future administration in its objectives to grow our economy and improve productivity’.
Business’ lack of enthusiasm for the troubled One Yorkshire project comes in the same week Sajid Javid re-stated the Government’s commitment to an elected South Yorkshire mayor on a four-year term - crushing Barnsley and Doncaster’s hopes of an unelected, two-year mayor.
He was responding to a question in the Commons from Barnsley MP and ‘One Yorkshire’ supporter Dan Jarvis.
Mr Jarvis said Wakefield leader Peter Box had come out in support of a One Yorkshire devolution deal encompassing the county and it now had the backing of 18 of the 20 council leaders.
He asked Sajid Javid whether he agreed that, in addition to finalising the Sheffield City Region deal, “there was now an important conversation to be had with the 18 leaders about a wider Yorkshire deal.” Mr Javid said a decision about a wider Yorkshire deal was in the hands of the local authority leaders.
But he added: “We will be going ahead with the South Yorkshire deal. We have put forward proposals to allow others to take a different route after that if they choose to do so.”
Before Christmas he offered to let Barnsley and Doncaster join a wider Yorkshire arrangement provided they consented to the South Yorkshire deal, releasing money and powers and electing a mayor on a four-year term.
The response will be a blow to Sir Steve Houghton of Barnsley and Doncaster mayor Ros Jones who were pushing for an appointed, unelected, South Yorkshire mayor on a two-year term, allowing them to join ‘One Yorkshire’ in 2020.
Now, councils across the rest of Yorkshire must decide whether to wait until 2022 or press ahead without them - as has been offered by government.
A government spokesman said: “We have always said we would welcome discussions on a widely-supported greater Yorkshire devolution deal provided the Sheffield City Region deal was not threatened.
“The election for the South Yorkshire mayor has received legislative approval by Parliament and will take place in May 2018.”
Former Sheffield MP and sports minister Richard Caborn has announced he will run for South Yorkshire mayor.