'Sheffield first and then we'll talk Yorkshire' - Leaders gather for special debate on devolution divide

Left to right: Backing a 'One Yorkshire' deal - Coun Richard Foster, leader of Craven & Distrct Council in North Yorkshire, Keighley MP John Grogan, BBC Radio Sheffield host Toby Foster - backing a South Yorkshire devolution plan is Coun Chris Read, leader of Rotherham Council and Coun Julie Dore, leader of Sheffield Council. Picture: Andrew Roe/The Star
Left to right: Backing a 'One Yorkshire' deal - Coun Richard Foster, leader of Craven & Distrct Council in North Yorkshire, Keighley MP John Grogan, BBC Radio Sheffield host Toby Foster - backing a South Yorkshire devolution plan is Coun Chris Read, leader of Rotherham Council and Coun Julie Dore, leader of Sheffield Council. Picture: Andrew Roe/The Star
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Politicians from both sides of the ongoing devolution divide in South Yorkshire met for a special debate on the economic future of the region.

The event was organised by all five South Yorkshire newspapers - The Star, Doncaster Free Press, Sheffield Telegraph, Rotherham Advertiser and Barnsley Chronicle - and hosted by BBC Radio Sheffield.

'One Yorkshire' backer John Grogan, MP for Keighley in West Yorkshire came as one of the panelist because the leaders of Barnsley and Doncaster failed to turn up despite repeated requests. Picture: Andrew Roe/The Star

'One Yorkshire' backer John Grogan, MP for Keighley in West Yorkshire came as one of the panelist because the leaders of Barnsley and Doncaster failed to turn up despite repeated requests. Picture: Andrew Roe/The Star

But despite repeated requests to attend, both Doncaster Council Mayor Ros Jones and Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton, failed to show up.

Both u-turned on the idea of a South Yorkshire deal which would see 1.3 billion to spend over the next 30 years. The deal offers new powers and funding to improve infrastructure, transport, skills, housing and other drivers of business growth.

Both favour a Yorkshire wide deal.

Leaders of Sheffield and Rotherham are backing the South Yorkshire proposal which all four leaders signed in 2015 with the then Chancellor, George Osborne.

The audience was made up of academics and business leaders. Picture: Andy Roe/The Star

The audience was made up of academics and business leaders. Picture: Andy Roe/The Star

A referendum in both Doncaster and Barnsley will ask people if they prefer a Yorkshire wide deal or to go ahead with the Sheffield City Region option.

The government has said the only deal on the table is the South Yorkshire proposal.

The debate, hosted by Toby Foster at BBC Radio Sheffield, saw John Grogan, MP for Keighley and Richard Foster, leader of Craven and District Council argue for the One Yorkshire side.

There was consensus from the panel was a South Yorkshire deal should go ahead and discussions could take place in the future about a wider proposal in the future,

'One Yorkshire' backer Richard Foster, leader of Craven & District Council in North Yorkshire, came as one of the panelist because the leaders of Barnsley and Doncaster failed to turn up despite repeated requests. Picture: Andrew Roe/The Star

'One Yorkshire' backer Richard Foster, leader of Craven & District Council in North Yorkshire, came as one of the panelist because the leaders of Barnsley and Doncaster failed to turn up despite repeated requests. Picture: Andrew Roe/The Star

In the audience, a raft of business leaders, academics and politicians from the Yorkshire Party who aim for a regional government for the county.

Chris Whitwood from the Yorkshire Party, who stood for Doncaster Mayor in 2017, said the leaders of Sheffield and Rotherham were 'not being ambitious enough' but Coun Read hit back saying the region could 'end up with nothing'.

Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore commenting on the situation said: “It looks like a mess. We have a situation where four local authority leaders signed a deal back in October 2015.

"In effect, we’ve taken this decision three times with delays to the election for a South Yorkshire mayor.

Rotherham Council leader Coun Chris Read is backing the Sheffield City Region deal. Picture: Andrew Roe/The Star

Rotherham Council leader Coun Chris Read is backing the Sheffield City Region deal. Picture: Andrew Roe/The Star

“What I hope we can achieve is to have the debate around the pros and cons of a South Yorkshire deal that we have on the table, an actual deal and debate the concept, because it’s not a deal and no one has agreed it, on something different.”

Rotherham Council leader Chris Read said: “We have an obligation to take this forward - and we need the money coming into the region now.”

"We have signed up to this deal - I was a late convert to devolution as a concept but we have this deal that we've agreed which brings extra money, powers and decision making to South Yorkshire.

"I think we have an obligation to move that forward regardless of what may come in the future in terms of geographical footprints but we need this and we need the money now."

Keighley MP John Grogan said: "There is a compromise available here but we've got to move within weeks on this by the end of because we're losing out as a county in South Yorkshire and as a city in Sheffield. We're losing out massively to Manchester, Liverpool and London.

"We've got to do a deal, we've just got to do it.

Sheffield Council leader Coun Julie Dore is supporting the Government backed South Yorkshire based Sheffield City Region devolution plan

Sheffield Council leader Coun Julie Dore is supporting the Government backed South Yorkshire based Sheffield City Region devolution plan

Grogan suggested proceeding with the South Yorkshire deal and going ahead with mayoral elections in May but all council leaders across Yorkshire coming together to discuss a wider Yorkshire mayoral election with a suggested date of 2020.

The Keighley MP said the plan had the backing of the Arch Bishop of York and the Yorkshire Trade Union Congress.

He added: "We need to get on with this but at the same time, Doncaster and Barnsley need to come through as well and feel comfortable about the process

"A lot can be done by the January 31. If the 17 council leaders across Yorkshire put forward this one county proposal in a month then it can be done for people to come together. It's complex but it's not rocket science.

"It's got to be worth getting all Yorkshire council leaders in one room for those talks.

"One of the reasons why I'm backing a Yorkshire wide deal is the mayors in Manchester and London do not want. They don't want a powerful Yorkshire mayor with a cabinet made up of council leaders.

"They don't want that because that would be the number two mayor behind London and for the first time the region would leapfrog the North West."

Backing a 'One Yorkshire deal' Richard Foster, leader of Craven and District Council in North Yorkshire said: "I wouldn't have a problem with a two stage deal. The Sheffield deal is signed - they're in a position where they have a deal. We don't have anywhere else in the rest of Yorkshire and by that, we're losing out.

"Yorkshire taxpayer money are going into Manchester and Liverpool and everywhere else because there is no deal on the table.

"We've always been in the position that we want the biggest footprint we possibly could but I don't think other leaders want to stop the South Yorkshire deal going ahead - it's a case of, could it be combined into a Yorkshire one at a later date.

"The leaders of Barnsley and Doncaster have had a change of heart halfway through and doing this for the whole of Yorkshire makes the biggest amount of sense."

Ms Dore said she put a proposal to Doncaster and Barnsley back in September to 'move forward' with a South Yorkshire deal but added: "I've always said I would sit around the table with anyone that makes a better offer to Sheffield.

"If there is a Yorkshire deal to be done, because at this moment in time, the Government have clearly said there's not interested, but knowing the effort and the time it took to get a South Yorkshire deal together, it can't be done in a matter of weeks, a matter of months is also unlikely.

"My message is, lets do the deal on the table and in the future if that option is available and it offers something better to Sheffield, then I do not object to engaging with that process."

Coun Dore was keen to stress this deal was a 'economic one' and not one for 'regional government.

"Sheffield and South Yorkshire's economy is very different to rural parts and the coastal parts of Yorkshire."

Coun Read added: "I'm sure we'll get to some arrangement around the Sheffield City Region and then we are happy to have conversations about what may lay down the line.

"But what I'm not prepared to do is spend my time theorising how that might work, the powers it might have, how that operates when we've got a job to do now bringing money in and spending it benefiting Rotherham and the rest of South Yorkshire."

Mike Cotton from the Barnsley Chronicle, Nancy Fielder, editor of The Star, Sheffield Telegraph, Doncaster Free Press, Andrew Mosely, Rotherham Advertiser editor and Katrina Bunker, editor of BBC Radio Sheffield

Mike Cotton from the Barnsley Chronicle, Nancy Fielder, editor of The Star, Sheffield Telegraph, Doncaster Free Press, Andrew Mosely, Rotherham Advertiser editor and Katrina Bunker, editor of BBC Radio Sheffield