Business leader takes aim at councils over delay to plans for South Yorkshire mayor

Richard Wright
Richard Wright
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THE DECISION to delay the election of a new mayor for South Yorkshire has been attacked by a leading business figure.

Richard Wright, executive director of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, claimed the decision showed “politics and parochialism” was being put ahead of progress on improving the area’s economy.

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He was also fiercely critical of the decision of Barnsley and Doncaster Council to confirm they are exploring alternative options for taking on devolved powers from the Government.

It was confirmed last week that the election of a Sheffield City Region mayor due in May would be put back for a year.

The creation of a new elected mayor was a condition of a deal struck with the Government in 2015 for councils in South Yorkshire, Chesterfield and Bassetlaw, to take over major powers and funding from Whitehall.

However growing tensions between South Yorkshire councils over HS2, a legal ruling over the devolution deal before Christmas and the desire of some council leaders to look at other options led to the election being delayed.

Mr Wright said: “Having spoken to a lot of business leaders there is an air of resignation.

“They suspected politics and parochialism would get in the way of positive progress and they are proved right yet again.

“Is there any wonder that anti establishment votes like Brexit, and increasing support for more radical views is occurring? We get what we deserve.

“Too many of our politicians live in their own world far away from everyday reality. It seems that points scoring between political parties, or different communities, is more important than proper long term decisions that have the capacity to positively impact on the livelihood of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.”

Following the decision to delay the Sheffield City Region mayoral election, Barnsley and Doncaster councils have said they want to explore the idea of having a single mayor for the whole of Yorkshire.

West Yorkshire council leaders and North Yorkshire County Council have also expressed interest in looking at the idea further.

Mr Wright said he was “flabbergasted” at Barnsley and Doncaster’s positions.

He added: “Before you accuse me of being anti-Yorkshire I am not. I’m just pragmatic.

“If we can’t get agreement between the Local Authorities in the Sheffield City Region what hope have we across Yorkshire?

“There isn’t even a Combined Authority in Hull and Humber, and Leeds, West Yorkshire and the rest couldn’t even agree on a devolution proposal.

“A Yorkshire LEP [local enterprise partnership] is light years away and the proposal is a distraction in the short term.

“Lets get just get on with what we’ve started. It won’t stop future developments but is the right thing to do now.”

Mr Wright said the Sheffield City Region mayoral election should be held in the autumn at the latest.

Newly-appointed director for the CBI in Yorkshire Beckie Hart has said the delay in reaching a devolution settlement for South Yorkshire represents “an opportunity” for the region.

Ms Hart said the postponement would give business, local and central government leaders the chance to “take stock and work together to create jobs, drive inward investment and underline the attractiveness of the region as a place to do business”.