City region is ‘ready for devolution’

James Newman, chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership.
James Newman, chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership.
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A PARTNERSHIP of council and business leaders in Yorkshire has told Ministers it is ready to take on major powers over key areas of the economy.

The Sheffield City Region is thought to be one of the first parts of the country to set out in detail how it wants to take advantage of new Government plans for devolution expected to be outlined next month.

It has submitted plans to the Government for the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority bringing together nine councils in South Yorkshire, north Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire to work together to help kickstart growth and create jobs.

James Newman, chairman of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership – the public-private body overseeing the development of the new authority – said: “We are an ambitious City Region based on a strong, stable partnership between the public and private sector.

“The SCR Authority ‘hardwires’ the partnership between the public and private sector in the Sheffield City Region providing a solid, stable platform for future governance and decision making.”

The submission of the plan to the Government comes just weeks before the coalition sets out its detailed response to a report on regional economic growth by Lord Heseltine,

The Heseltine report suggested the key to growing the economy outside the South East was for the Government to hand over significant powers and money currently controlled by Whitehall departments to the regions.

He suggested as much as £79bn could be placed in a “pot” that areas could bid for although in recent days Ministers have been hinting their final plans may not be so ambitious.

While the Government has repeatedly given its backing to the Heseltine plan the detail will not be revealed until its spending review is published on June 26.

The Sheffield City Region has previously told Lord Heseltine it wants to pioneer his approach and the combined authority would give it the vehicle to exercise control over large sums of money and key economic levers covering a wide area.

Sheffield City Council leader Julie Dore said: “The SCR Authority is an important step forward for the Sheffield City Region. It demonstrates that by working together, we can deliver real benefits for local residents across our districts.”

The leaders of the councils involved have stressed that the new combined authority will focus on moving powers and money from the Government to the Sheffield City Region rather than taking over work currently done by existing local authorities.

The plan put forward to Ministers asks them to put the city region’s powers over economic development, regeneration and transport into law.

If the Government agrees the combined authority covering 1.8 million people and with an economic output of £25bn will be established before April next year.

Councils in West Yorkshire along with York Council are currently discussing similar plans to create a combined authority while the Government has indicated its intention that the Humber should be a testbed for the Heseltine model.

The Sheffield and Leeds City Regions have previously signed “city deals” with the Government allowing them to take control of funding in areas such as skills and transport but the Heseltine reforms have the potential to be considerably more far-reaching.

However, Business Secretary Vince Cable last week appeared to play down expectations when he suggested the Government’s plans amounted merely to an extension of city deals.