Sir Steve Houghton: why I pulled Barnsley out of £900m Sheffield City Region devolution

Sir Steve Houghton and Doncaster chief executive Jo Miller.
Sir Steve Houghton and Doncaster chief executive Jo Miller.
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Barnsley and Doncaster have pulled the plug on Sheffield City Region’s £900m devolution deal - this is how Sir Steve Houghton explained his decision.

All four councils had legally signed up to the deal three times and while the money and powers are no longer available, a mayor with no functions is still set to be elected, at a cost of £1m, the government has said.

From left: Sheffield leader Julie Dore, Doncaster chief executive Jo Miller and Barnsley leader Sir Steve Houghton at the Combined Authority meeting.

From left: Sheffield leader Julie Dore, Doncaster chief executive Jo Miller and Barnsley leader Sir Steve Houghton at the Combined Authority meeting.

Sir Steve, the longstanding Barnsley leader, said he wanted to be part of a bigger deal with more influence over issues including Brexit, which will happen in March 2019.

He also had concerns over the costs of HS2 and Supertram and wanted closer relations with Leeds City Region, which Barnsley is also a part of.

He said: “They are 30-year deals and in the two years since they were signed a lot has changed. When this started, no one was more supportive of devolution than me. I still support devolution.

“Two years ago we were looking at a city region of nine councils. I have concerns about taking a much smaller deal forward.

Sheffield City Council leader Julie Dore.

Sheffield City Council leader Julie Dore.

“We’ve got to make sure of the financial advantages in the best way and have the economic and political impact of Manchester. An opportunity for the public sector to inform the economy and make strategic interventions for the economy and beyond. The Coalition of the Willing can make it work.

“Devolution is best suited where people come together to make it work and it’s not imposed. That’s not to anyone’s advantage. When we have looked at all that, those issues have weighed heavily on us. Many have made it clear they want South Yorkshire to be part of the Coalition of the Willing.

“In recent weeks 17 councils are saying we can commit to that on a wider scale. Our view in Barnsley is we should continue to work with them. We are prepared to wait for the prize.

“I accept the Secretary of State is reluctant to do that, our challenge is to persuade him.

Sir Steve explains his decision.

Sir Steve explains his decision.

“In a whole Yorkshire deal without South Yorkshire, South Yorkshire is the poorer relation. A whole Yorkshire mayor on the national stage would be second only to London, we want to be part of that.

“I’m always open to interim arrangements if we can have assurances as part of Yorkshire, but the reality is Sheffield City Region would stop and a mayor would have to vote themselves out of a job and that’s unlikely. It could take four or five years in which time the Coalition of the Willing would disappear.

“We are also concerned about finances. HS2 and the replacement of Supertram will be a massive drain on finances. My view is government should be picking that up, in my view it is grossly unfair we should be paying for it.

“In Brexit, we need scale to have influence, a Yorkshire footprint to make sure we get where we need to be. Legally, the government can do what it wants with this deal. Pushing through a mayor which many wouldn’t want would be a mistake and I would ask the government to reconsider.

Ros Jones, Julie Dore and Sir Steve Houghton.

Ros Jones, Julie Dore and Sir Steve Houghton.

“We are part of Leeds City Region partnership and maintaining and increasing those relations are absolutely crucial to us. I believe all the benefits are capable of being achieved on a wider deal, we could achieve even more.

“We don’t want to proceed, I believe the best future for Barnsley is in a wider deal.”

Later he said: “Even though these are difficult times we continue to work together. I won’t resign, I’m doing what I believe is best. It’s not about leaving South Yorkshire, but even further back we are part of Yorkshire.”

A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government re-stated that Barnsley and Doncaster could not be part of a wider Yorkshire deal.

“It is very disappointing that South Yorkshire councils have pulled away from their devolution deal, which would see the area benefit from around £1 billion of new government investment.

“We remain ready and willing to work with local leaders to implement the deal and have no intention to undo the legislation that has already been enacted in Parliament, including legislation for a mayoral election in May 2018.

Doncaster chief executive Jo Miller, who tweeted the borough's commitment to One Yorkshire ahead of the meeting.

Doncaster chief executive Jo Miller, who tweeted the borough's commitment to One Yorkshire ahead of the meeting.

“We’ve been absolutely clear that we will not consider a deal for the whole of Yorkshire.”

Sheffield will move forward with “positivity and ambition” following the death of the region’s £900m devolution deal, City Council leader Julie Dore has said.

She had shown the city was a place “you can do business” after honouring her side of the plan over the last two years.

“I have proved I can work with anyone in Government, even though I may disagree with them politically.

“We worked with George Osborne to agree this deal in 2015 and the Department for Communities and Local Government. And I’m on good terms with relevant ministers, including business secretary Greg Clark.

“We have stuck to our word throughout this and shown that Sheffield is a place where you can do business. Sadly it seems Barnsley and Doncaster have burned their bridges.

“But we carry on, and Sheffield will move forward with positivity and ambition.”

Rotherham leader Chris Read, who also supported the Sheffield City Region deal, said: “Two years after signing the agreement in good faith, our inability to make progress will almost inevitably mean fewer resources to bring more jobs to our economy.”

Sir Steve Houghton and Julie Dore with then chancellor George Osborne signing up to devolution in 2015.

Sir Steve Houghton and Julie Dore with then chancellor George Osborne signing up to devolution in 2015.