Devolution package had to be rushed out before Whitehall changed its mind

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SHEFFIELD’S DEVOLUTION package was rushed out late in the night amid concerns the Treasury could claw back powers and cash if it was delayed any further, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.

Whitehall officials came close to agreeing a hand over of powers and transport cash to Sheffield last week, but a reluctance to give the go-ahead reappeared before the final deal was signed off.

The Sheffield devolution package announced by Nick Clegg yesterday was rushed out at around 9pm on Thursday following what the Deputy Prime Minister described as sometimes confrontational talks with the Government departments.

The final package, criticised by some as being a weaker version of that offered to Manchester, is thought to have faced opposition from the Treasury, where Chancellor George Osborne has a made it clear his preference is for new powers to only go to city regions committing themselves to introducing metro mayor.

Mr Clegg forced the Treasury to back down from imposing a mayor on Sheffield, though it remains to be seen what then city would have had in its deal if it had agreed with the Chancellor.

Last night Mr Clegg said shifting power out of London was an achievement unseen in decades.

“My experience of four-and-a-half years of Whitehall is that getting powers out is like pulling teeth,” he said.

“It is a hell of a job to get Whitehall, particularly the more centralised departments, to relinquish control.

“You have to do it through persuasion, cajoling and sometimes frankly good old-fashioned thumping of the table. I have had to do a fair amount of that over the last week, unsurprisingly perhaps.

“I’ve been quite open about the fact we were in a position I thought to announce this about a week or so ago, then there was a lot of backsliding going on and I had to get everyone in Whitehall back into line, and I judged a week ago that it was better to wait a week and bash heads together in Whitehall and get a better deal than rush and get a worse one.

“When it was finalised last year, frankly I did not want to create any further opportunity for back sliding. But that is the way these things work, this is a total change and you have to work at it.”

While Sheffield has accepted the best deal on offer, in West Yorkshire council leaders have held out in their negotiations with the Treasury, backed in their dispute by shadow Chancellor Ed Balls.

One of the key grounds of concern has been a Treasury insistence that devolution comes alongside new metro mayors, as seen in Manchester.

It is thought Mr Clegg has made clear to the Treasury that Leeds will need new powers and funding commitments even if it rejects the metro mayor model on offer.

Peter Box, leader of Wakefield Council and chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, said the group had yesterday written to the Treasury saying the time had come for the two sides to put aside their differences and agree a devolution deal before Christmas.

He defended the scale of the Sheffield deal, saying the West Yorkshire offer being debated was “broadly similar” but said the councils were aiming eventually for fiscal devolution, though this is not expected any time soon.

“Everyone is at different stages in devolution, and what is right for Manchester is not necessarily right for cities in Yorkshire.

“And some of the stuff we got here in a recent growth deal was not in Manchester, there is no one size fits all approach in devolution.

“It will be in stages, we have to recognise that, we just need to get to that next stage here.”