NICK CLEGG has criticised the Government for making the people of South Yorkshire “jump through hoops” to get a devolution deal.
Speaking at his first Lib Dem conference since his party’s defeat at the General Election, the Sheffield Hallam MP and former party leader said the Chancellor has not yet convinced people that the Northern Powerhouse vision will involve a genuine transfer of control.
The Sheffield City Region has secured an agreement that gives it devolution over some transport, skills, housing and business development and is ahead of the six other Yorkshire bids.
However, commenting on the Government’s demand for a mayor structure before powers are handed over, Mr Clegg said it imposes a “straitjacket” on communities.
He told delegates in Bournemouth: “It’s a mistake that George Osborne is now doing – something that I prevented him from doing when we governed together – to only provide devolution with so many strings attached.
“I think if a great city like Sheffield chooses to govern itself in a way different to the way George Osborne wants then it shouldn’t be up to the Treasury to start dictating on a mayor.
“Cross parties in Westminster think that it’s to impose a straitjacket.”
Mr Clegg said the Chancellor has so far given with “one hand and taken away with two” when it comes to powers for Yorkshire, listing the electrification pause on the Midland Mainline, and the siting of the new HS2 station outside Sheffield city centre as examples of the crumbling Northern Powerhouse concept.
“Most people aren’t focused on the governance, they want to know if this is for real or not and at the moment, they don’t think it’s for real,” he said.
“That’s what matters to people – as much as devolution gets discussed in pubs and around kitchen tables. They want to see what it means in practice.”
Before the third day of the conference and just hours before Mr Clegg was due to give his speech, a controversial book by Lord Ashcroft about David Cameron alleged that the then Lib Dem leader blocked him from gaining a senior position. Mr Clegg said: “I don’t remember that at all. No. I am so uninterested in this stuff, David Cameron didn’t block ministerial positions that I would make and I didn’t seek to block his ministerial positions.
“There’s only one position, but that wasn’t a ministerial position. It was floated at one point of nominating Michael Howard as our man in Brussels and I just said no, no way, we’re not going to have a ‘touch of the night’ representing us in Brussels. But that’s a completely different thing.
“If Conservatives claim that it was me, they may well have done that because they spent all their time constantly getting themselves out of tight corners by blaming me but no I don’t recollect it. Otherwise I find this whole vendetta between Lord Ashcroft and David Cameron descending into something pretty sorry and sordid.”