‘Breakthrough’ devolution deal waits on Sheffield and Rotherham

Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones
Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones
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A ‘breakthrough’ agreement on devolution in South Yorkshire is being held back by council leaders in Sheffield and Rotherham, the Mayor on Doncaster has claimed.

In a blog post published yesterday, Ros Jones states that both Doncaster and Barnsley are now prepared to jump on board with the SCR and fall under the remit of a South Yorkshire Mayor, subject to conditions.

These conditions include a mayoral term reduced to two years, allowing for transition to a fully devolved Yorkshire in 2020, and an option to withdraw from the SCR in two years’ time.

She said that the only thing holding the deal back now was the agreement of council leaders in Sheffield and Rotherham, who she accused of potentially scuppering the hard-won breakthrough.

She said: “In December, residents in Doncaster made it clear that they want our town to become part of the new Yorkshire devolution deal, which is being proposed by 18 out of 20 councils in Yorkshire (all except Sheffield and Rotherham).

“More than 45,000 Doncaster residents voted in the poll and 85 per cent of them said they would prefer the Yorkshire proposal over the existing Sheffield City Region deal.

“In May, an election for a Sheffield City Region Mayor will be held, which was originally agreed in 2015.”

In February ahead of a meeting with the Secretary of State, the 18 council Leaders from across Yorkshire, including Doncaster and Barnsley, wrote to the Prime Minister.

The letter states: “We all believe that South Yorkshire should benefit from its devolution deal first, and that a Mayoral election with a two year term should proceed in May 2018.

“As part of this agreement, we also all believe that a joint commitment should be made now between Government and local government in Yorkshire for a Mayoral election in May 2020 involving any councils who decide to join a Mayoral Combined Authority for the widest possible Yorkshire geography.”

Mrs Jones said that this letter represents Doncaster’s position, and is in line with the “clear wishes set out by local residents in our recent Community Poll”.

She added: “This position would see us continue with the existing Sheffield City Region agreement until May 2020, when the new Yorkshire deal would come into force. Both Doncaster and Barnsley would then be able to join the new Yorkshire deal from the outset, in line with the democratic mandate set out by our residents.

“Following an invitation made by the Secretary of State, earlier this month the Yorkshire Leaders submitted more detailed plans describing how the new Yorkshire devolution deal could work.

“The letter from the Yorkshire Leaders closely mirrors public statements made by the Leaders of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Councils. Each of us recognises that the election will take place in May, and has publicly talked about shortening the term of office for the Sheffield City Region Mayor to two years, ending in May 2020.

“Sheffield and Rotherham are clear that they want to see new funding and powers flowing to the Sheffield City Region as soon as possible. Both Doncaster and Barnsley support that position, on the condition that we are also able to leave the Sheffield City Region and join the new Yorkshire deal when it begins.

“Without that commitment, Doncaster and Barnsley risk being locked into the Sheffield City Region deal against the wishes of our residents, businesses and the position of the other Yorkshire Councils, and we would be given no guarantees of being able to join the wider Yorkshire deal in the future.

“To achieve a breakthrough, the Secretary of State understandably expects South Yorkshire Leaders to collectively agree a way forward and make a proposal.

“Following discussions between the Councils supported by Lord Kerslake, a former Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council and former Head of the Civil Service, a proposed letter was drafted on behalf of the four Leaders which (along with the letter from the Yorkshire Leaders) sets out this solution.

“Doncaster and Barnsley agreed the text of the letter three weeks ago. We are ready to move forward with a practical solution that would deliver new funding and powers as soon as possible, whilst ensuring the views of our residents and businesses are respected.

“However, Sheffield Council has not yet agreed the letter. Rotherham is also yet to agree the letter, although it has previously agreed similar drafts.

“A widely supported proposal has therefore been put forward which we believe meets the needs of all parties, reflects the positions of all 20 Yorkshire Councils and, with the support of Government, could resolve the issue of devolution in Yorkshire. However, we are currently continuing to wait for agreement from Sheffield and Rotherham, so that we can start the process and have a unified position on devolution across the whole of Yorkshire.

“Clearly this is disappointing, as the situation could have been resolved some weeks ago. However, we will continue working to deliver our collective ambition of a wider Yorkshire devolution agreement, which involves Doncaster and Barnsley from the outset.”

The authorities are proposing that:

*South Yorkshire elects a Sheffield City Region Mayor in May 2018

*That term of office is then reduced from the current four years to two years, ending in May 2020

*Consultation starts this year to give the new Mayor powers and bring £30m of new funding per year to the Sheffield City Region

*At the same time, supported by the Government, a new wider Yorkshire agreement is developed, with the election of a Yorkshire Mayor taking place in May 2020

*In May 2020, Doncaster and Barnsley would join the wider Yorkshire deal. Sheffield and Rotherham could choose to join the new Yorkshire deal, if they wish.

Sheffield and Rotherham councils were both given the opportunity to respond to Mayor Jones’ statement.

The leader of Rotherham council, Councillor Chris Read, said: “Rotherham has engaged constructively in proposals to bring devolution to South Yorkshire consistently over the last two years. I look forward to the selection of the Labour candidate later today and want to see whoever that person is elected so we can all move forward as soon as possible after May 3.”

Councillor Julie Dore, leader of Sheffield City Council, said: “Sheffield has consistently supported the South Yorkshire devolution deal and we remain committed to doing everything possible to get the deal agreed. We want to progress the South Yorkshire deal as soon as possible and I look forward to working with the new mayor once elected on 3 May to allow all parts of the city region to move forward and to benefit from devolution.”