'˜Misinformation' row over devolution poll in Barnsley and Doncaster

Barnsley and Doncaster councils have been accused of publishing '˜misinformation' on devolution ahead of a poll of residents.

Sir Steve Houghton
Sir Steve Houghton

Both authorities put explanatory notes on their websites - after pressure from campaigners - before a polling form and leaflet is sent to every voter next week.

But Barnsley has run into criticism for calling One Yorkshire a ‘deal’ while both claim it ‘could be in place by 2020’.

Sir Steve Houghton and Doncaster chief executive Jo Miller.

Barnsley also refers to a Sheffield City Region ‘proposal’ when it has been ratified in Parliament and £900m, powers and an elected mayor are there for the taking.

Both also omit anything from government which has repeatedly insisted it will not allow either borough to join a One Yorkshire arrangement unless they finalise their own deal.

Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton and Doncaster elected mayor Ros Jones called the polls - at a cost of £250,000 - to gauge support for their ‘One Yorkshire’ devolution ambition.

It has no legal weight, although both leaders have said they will “fully consider” the results.

Sir Steve Houghton and Doncaster chief executive Jo Miller.

But they are refusing to reveal the contents of the explanatory leaflet before it is sent with polling forms next week.

Campaigners fear it will be based on their websites which also fail to state:

* One Yorkshire doesn’t exist even as a verbal offer

* Only 15 of 20 councils say they want One Yorkshire

* Last week’s Budget showed the government favours funding regions with mayors. Yorkshire received nothing.

* The choice on the polling form should be between ‘South Yorkshire’ and ‘Yorkshire’ because that is the geography the mayor will preside over.

* Mayoral combined authorities can borrow against their devolved cash

* Barnsley’s ‘funding gap’ between 2010 and 2020 will be £115m.

Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber, said: “I would really like to see the information that is sent out to support people making a decision in the poll. It must help them understand what we could lose by turning down the offer on the table.

“We need to get beyond politics and vested interests and be straight with people and tell them properly the potential consequences of not taking the deal.

“The only thing that guarantees us anything is the devolution deal for South Yorkshire which gives us £900m over 30 years.

“We can also borrow against it and use the money to support projects and investments to deliver high quality employment and skills that the region badly needs.

“Asking people to chose between a Yorkshire or a Sheffield City Region deal is disingenuous. The only deal on offer is the South Yorkshire devolution deal. The information must reflect the truth of that.

“I believe the question that is missing is, ‘Do you agree it is better to grab the deal in South Yorkshire that is on offer and work beyond that to explore a potential Yorkshire deal in a two step process?’”

The majority of the funding for the region currently is through the Regional Growth Fund which is due to finish in 2021, he added. It was all committed and there was no certainty Government would replace or continue it.

On Twitter, Gareth Bruff, commented: “Shocking misinformation from @BarnsleyCouncil - #oneyorkshire doesn’t exist.”

A DCLG spokesman said: “A Sheffield City Region deal, worth around £1bn, has been agreed, legislated on by Parliament, and partly implemented – and Government has been absolutely clear it will not undo it.”

A Barnsley Council spokeswoman said the leaflet would go through a “robust approval process.” And would be “balanced and unbiased.”

She added: “It will not be finalised until the polling date. To make sure that everyone receives the same information at the same time, we will publish the leaflet on 1 December, the date the polling packs are posted.

“The information on the council website and included in the leaflet will be balanced and unbiased. It will go through robust checks to make sure electoral rules are being followed.

“Barnsley Council will not issue any additional information. Barnsley Council will be encouraging people to vote but we are impartial in terms of the information we provide.

“Political parties and other organisations may provide their own information or run campaigns in support of either vote. This would be separate to the work of the council.”

Doncaster Council’s website lists the benefits of devolution.

It states: ‘Devolution will bring benefits to Doncaster in a number of key areas including more money invested in our area; better places to live, learn, work and do business; and better roads and public transport.

‘Devolution will bring new powers and funding to Doncaster to improve infrastructure, transport, skills, housing and business growth. Working together with other local towns and cities, we can speak with one voice nationally and make better decisions about important economic growth’.