Fresh attempt to revive Yorkshire-wide devolution

Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid
Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid
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A CONCERTED attempt is underway to revive plans to elect a mayor for Yorkshire as part of wider proposals for the region to take more control of its own affairs.

Talks have taken place between a number of council leaders in the region and work has begun to find an outline agreement acceptable to all.

However it is understood there is scepticism in several Yorkshire town halls that the idea can be made to work.

And supporters of an existing agreement covering South Yorkshire, which would see the area given £30m a year by the Government and elect a new mayor in May, are questioning why they should abandon that in favour of an uncertain alternative.

The Government has struck so-called devolution deals with areas across the North and Midlands including Greater Manchester and Tees Valley that will see them take on new powers from Whitehall and elect ‘metro-mayors’ in May 2017, sparking concerns among some council and business leaders in Yorkshire that the region could be left behind.

South Yorkshire council leaders, along with Chesterfield and Bassetlaw, agreed a draft Sheffield City Region deal with the Government last year but it is being challenged in the courts and there have been signs it could falter in recent weeks.

The rest of the region has been deadlocked as MPs and council leaders fail to agree over whether there should be one deal for the remainder of Yorkshire, or several.

Supporters of the idea of a single devolution deal for Yorkshire argue it could “rescue” South Yorkshire and end the deadlock in the rest of the region.

Discussions are still in their early stages but it is understood they have focused on building on existing structures.

Councils in South and West Yorkshire already work together in areas such as transport and skills through bodies called combined authorities. One option on the table would be to add another to cover the Humber area and for the elected mayor to co-ordinate their work at a regional level.

It is possible the Yorkshire mayor could have small cabinet of council leaders.

One significant hurdle could be the need to change the law to allow one elected mayor to work alongside several combined authorities.

A more immediate stumbling block is the concern among some council leaders that any region wide solution could prove unwieldy.

There also remains a significant level of support in South Yorkshire for the certainty offered by the Sheffield City Region deal.

Supporters of the Sheffield City Region argue the doubts around the deal have been overstated and that it remains the only concrete agreement on the table.

A key moment is likely to be the outcome of the judicial review pursued by Derbyshire County Council over the Sheffield City Region deal.

If the courts decide to uphold Derbyshire’s challenge that could pave the way for a wholesale review of the way the region is pursuing devolution.

Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid and other Government ministers have made clear they will only give “significant” powers to areas which agree to have elected mayors.