Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg today hit back at criticism of Sheffield’s devolution deal - saying it focused on ‘bread and butter’ priorities for local people.
The deal, announced today, will give combined authorities in the region more control over transport, housing and skills decisions from Whitehall.
Making decisions to prepare for the HS2 rail link, tackling ‘troubled’ roads like the M1 viaduct at Tinsley and allowing councils a say on which public land to sell and regenerate were included in the announcement.
Speeding up house building, helping businesses export and handing the city responsibility for the adult skills system – to boost apprenticeships and give more people skills – were also featured.
Smart bus tickets similar to London’s Oyster card system could also be implemented under the scheme.
However, the deal has come in for criticism – with Yorkshire First calling it ‘second rate’ compared to Manchester’s and others questioning how it sizes up.
Others said it ‘lacked commitment’ and that Sheffield needed more funding rather than controls.
Mr Clegg, Sheffield Hallam MP, told The Star while riding a bus in Sheffield to speak about the deal today: “It is a different deal, but it is very similar in terms of providing full control over the adult skills budget in the Sheffield city region.
“It will mean authorities here work with the bus companies to move towards a better, simpler, clearer, easier-to-use bus system. More homes will be built on publicly owned land and more businesses will be able to attract jobs to the local area.
“Speaking personally, I don’t think it matters if the deals on either side of the Pennines are not identical, that’s the point of decentralisation and devolution.
“Manchester chose to wait until the next Parliament to have a mayoral model and include policing powers
“We’ve decided on this side of the Pennines to focus on the bread and butter things that people really do care about such as getting on buses on time in an affordable way, getting jobs, getting homes, getting skills for local people.”
Manchester’s deal has been hailed as a £1 billion package, but no figure has been revealed for Sheffield.
Mr Clegg said both schemes were ‘fiscal-neutral’, meaning they delivered more control over funding rather than extra cash.
He said Sheffield would control its share of £2 billion spent on skills, while £19m was involved with the Sheffield to Rotherham tram-train service but ‘we shouldn’t pretend to people money exists when it doesn’t’.
He said: “I think this is part of an exciting journey because it means for the first time in generations a bunch of decisions will be taken locally that formerly were taken by officials in London.”
The devolution deal announcement was delayed for over a week and it is thought that discussions over whether Sheffield would have a metro mayor - as Manchester has - were a sticking point.
Mr Clegg did not confirm that but said: “This last week there was a lot of backsliding in Whitehall and there was a real attempt to weaken this deal and so I had to dig my heels in to make sure it was as full and ambitious as indeed it now is.”