THE latest legal setback to plans to elect a metro-mayor for South Yorkshire next May will, understandably, be disappointing to all those who have invested so much time in the Sheffield City Region devolution deal.
Unlike other local authorities in this region, Sheffield’s chief executive John Mothersole, and leader Julie Dore, accepted that the concept of elected mayors was here to stay and they worked tirelessly to come up with the best possible leadership model for South Yorkshire as well as neighbouring Chesterfield and Bassetlaw.
It was even signed off by George Osborne, the then Chancellor, in the flurry of political activity which preceded his 2015 party conference speech in Manchester when there were widespread concerns that the Northern Powerhouse was grinding to a halt.
Yet, perversely, this ruling could – still – be in the best long-term interests of Sheffield, and the rest of Yorkshire, because it offers hope to those business leaders who believe that there needs to be a single devolution deal for the whole county if this region is to maximise its economic potential and compete effectively against rival regions for jobs and investment.
Of course, there’s no certainty that long-held regional animosities can, or will, be reconciled. As unguarded David Cameron observed in September 2015: “We just thought people in Yorkshire hated everyone else, we didn’t realise they hated each other so much.”
However the political leaders concerned need to remember this. It should not be about them – and their apparent reluctance to give up some decision-making powers at their personal fiefdoms. It’s about the future prosperity of Yorkshire. And given that this is largest region not to have reached some kind of settlement, it would be a dereliction of duty if the politicians concerned did not listen to business leaders, the very people who know how to create jobs and growth, and try to forge a lasting consensus. For, despite Yorkshire’s diversity, the future fortunes of each region will always be intrinsically linked.
A bellwether by-election
THERE was a time when Parliamentary by-elections were seismic events because of their rarity. Yet, although their impact has been lessened by those MPs who do not have the same loyalty to Westminster, these votes can still shape the political mood music.
This will certainly be the case early next year in the Cumbrian seat of Copeland where Labour MP Jamie Reed – one of the most vocal critics of Jeremy Corbyn – has resigned to take up a role at the Sellafield nuclear plant in his constituency. With a diminished 2,564-vote majority over the Conservatives at the last election, this is a bellwether seat where ever major party will, potentially, have much to win – and lose.
After two calamitous by-election performances in recent weeks, the vote will be framed as a referendum on Mr Corbyn’s lacklustre leadership. Yet it does not end here. Theresa May’s supporters will be looking for evidence that the Tories are broadening their support in the North; Ukip’s showing will reveal whether it can prosper without Nigel Farage at the helm while Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, a Cumbrian MP, will want to demonstrate that his party’s shock success in Richmond Park was not a one-off. The stakes are that high, with the outcome shaping the political landscape for 2017, and that’s before Brexit is even factored into the equation.
Food for thought
IT’S A sobering thought that there are youngsters living in this region who will not sit down with their family for a Christmas meal and will have to fend for themselves.
All the more credit to Leeds headteacher Nathan Atkinson for deciding to keep Richmond Hill Primary School open over the festive period so pupils can take advantage if a pioneering pay-as-you-feel market stall stocked with supermarket food past its sell-by date.
After identifying a clear link between nutrition and attainment, hence why breakfast is now the first lesson of the day at the school, he is fearful that the academic progress of pupils will suffer because they will not be eating regular, and healthy, meals between now and the start of the new term.
With 70 per cent of Richmond Hill youngsters eligible to free school meals, it’s indicative of levels of poverty in Leeds – hardship masked by the resurgent city’s economic prosperity – and the extent to which teachers do go the extra mile for their students. As such, Mr Atkinson’s compassionate and pragmatic example should be applauded by all.