MPs ask why elected mayors are being ‘imposed’ on cities - including Sheffield - in devolution

Clive Betts MP dealing with questions from the floor at the Tinsley HS2 meeting
Clive Betts MP dealing with questions from the floor at the Tinsley HS2 meeting
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A Sheffield MP asked why a directly elected mayor was being ‘imposed’ on the city region as part of devolution.

Clive Betts, Labour MP for South East Sheffield, spoke in the House of Commons as the Cities and Local Government Bill was debated.

Sheffield City Region has an in-principle devolution deal for extra powers and £900m over 30 years from Whitehall, which includes a directly elected mayor from 2017.

Mr Betts asked ‘why is it necessary to have this imposition’ of a mayor as if local leaders had come forward with their ideas of what should be devolved they should also be ‘trusted’ to decide the structure of who held the powers.

He also called for a ‘more open debate’ with the public about the plans for devolution.

Mr Betts added: “I just think we have to find ways of engaging the public more if we are going to take the public with us.”

Other issues raised around Sheffield’s devolution was the fact that powers over skills will be handled by the South Yorkshire combined authority, while others will be controlled by the mayor.

Mr Betts said that was going to be ‘more confusing than ever to the public.’

MPs from across the country questioned the need for directly elected mayors as part of devolution during the debate - with one saying the north east did not want a version of London mayor Boris Johnson.

Ronnie Campbell, Labour MP for Blyth Valley, said: “In the North East of England it seems as though you are imposing a mayor on the leaders and the feeling in the North East is that they don’t want the Geordie Boris.”

Shadow communities secretary Jon Trickett said Labour would oppose the Bill as it only offers the “pretence” of devolution and slammed plans to “impose” elected mayors on cities that do not want them.

Mr Trickett, a Labour MP for Hemsworth in West Yorkshire, said leaders of cities which rejected the idea of city mayors in a series of referenda - including Sheffield - are now being told they will be required as a condition of devolution.

He said: “The truth is that metro mayors in local areas are a precondition of devolution and that is simply wrong.

“It’s doubly wrong when the imposition of metro mayors is being applied even to areas where the local population actually voted quite recently in a referendum to reject the idea of being governed by a mayor.

“The great cities of Sheffield, Leeds, Wakefield, Manchester, Bradford, Birmingham, Coventry, Newcastle and Nottingham all voted, the people voted, against metro mayors.

“Yet the leaders of those cities are telling me that they are now being required as a condition of devolution to accept something which their own electorate rejected.

“It’s triply wrong when the Government continues to impose this single model of governance even though they do not have the legal powers to do so.”

But the Communities Secretary and Conservative MP Greg Clark repeatedly stressed that there will be no imposition of mayors.

He said the bill contains “no ability” for the Government to impose a mayor on an area like the North East.

Introducing the second reading debate, Mr Clark said the Conservatives had promised a “bold new era of devolution” and that the bill makes provision for a “bespoke approach” to handing over power.

The bill is part of the Government’s bid to devolve more powers and budgets to local authorities and combined authorities.

It would allow combined authorities to establish directly-elected mayors.

However the Sheffield City Region devolution proposals must also be approved by nine councils in the region, and will be subject to consultation.

The debate in Parliament is continuing this afternoon.