Row brewing over devolution as leaders clash on Yorkshire-wide deal

Council leader Julie Dore.
Council leader Julie Dore.
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There are signs of a fresh row brewing between key players in the region’s sole devolution deal following a clash between council leaders over the prospects for a new Yorkshire-wide settlement.

Relations between the parties appear to have soured after Ros Jones, the mayor of Doncaster Council, published a letter expressing her doubts about the suitability of the South Yorkshire option.

The intervention came ahead of a meeting of local authorities on Monday, where it was hoped the region’s leaders would reach an agreement on moving forward with a consultation on the deal.

But the head of Sheffield Council has since hit back at Mayor Jones’ letter, expressing “shock” and “disappointment” at the suggestion she is also reluctant to press ahead with a South Yorkshire deal.

“I‘m profoundly and deeply disappointed that yet again we have had to delay our decision to proceed,” councillor Julie Dore told the Yorkshire Post.

“The clock is ticking... I believe if we don’t take this now we’ve lost the best opportunity we’ve got in this decade.

“I’m disappointed that Mayor Ros put a statement out in the public and didn’t wait until the meeting... she has a right to that position and I disagree with that position.

“I absolutely support a South Yorkshire deal... and I will do whatever it takes to work with anyone in our region to get this deal over the line. Because I know from what the government has said that this is the only deal, take it or leave it.”

If agreed, the South Yorkshire devolution deal would see the region receive an additional £30m in funding each year in return for electing a metro mayor.

However, the project has been dealt several blows in recent months, including the postponement of mayoral elections until 2018 and the withdrawal of Chesterfield and Bassetlaw councils.

The issue has been further complicated by talk of an alternative deal to cover the whole of the Yorkshire region. This option appears to have been ruled out by ministers, who argue the devolution agenda should be led by cities. But Mayor Jones and Barnsley council leader Sir Steve Houghton have both indicated they would be open to other options.

Writing to Doncaster councillors earlier this week, Mrs Jones stated she was “not yet fully convinced that a South Yorkshire only model for regional devolution is the best deal for Doncaster”. She added that Chesterfield and Bassetlaw’s decision to pull out was “clearly significant”, and claimed councillor Dore had previously argued against going ahead with a deal which only covered the South Yorkshire authorities.

In a statement issued in June, councillor Houghton responded to Chesterfield’s decision by suggesting politicians in the region “needed time to consider next steps”. But Rotherham council leader, Chris Read, has made his ongoing support for the South Yorkshire model clear, stating that he wants to progress the deal “at the earliest opportunity”.

Council leaders are due to meet with fellow representatives of the Sheffield City Region combined authority on Monday. Ms Dore said it was now unlikely that leaders would agree to a consultation before September, but nevertheless urged “every politician in South Yorkshire to listen to their community”. “At this moment in time we have a South Yorkshire deal on the table... this is an opportunity not to be missed.”

The mayor’s office was approached for comment.