‘Devo-lite’ deal is token gesture

IS THIS it? South Yorkshire and Sheffield residents have every reason to be distinctly underwhelmed by the paucity of the devolution deal unveiled by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg after weeks of behind-the-scenes haggling.

Far from being the all-singing, all-dancing ‘devo-max’ package that the Government quickly signed off for Scotland following September’s independence referendum, this can only be construed as being ‘devo-lite’ after failing to live up to the hype – it is a very poor imitation of the powers afforded to Manchester.

In Mr Clegg’s defence, there is one mitigating factor which helps to explain this disparity – Manchester has embraced the concept of elected mayors to oversee the growth and transport agenda and it appears that Chancellor George Osborne will not sign off new powers, and funds, unless other city-regions do likewise.

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It probably explains why the headline announcement for Sheffield was the introduction of Oyster-style smart ticketing on local buses, a proposal that was first unveiled in 2003, rather than the £330m of new money which is helping to underpin Manchester’s £1bn settlement.

But it is also paramount that elected mayors do not stand in the way of Sheffield, and the rest of Yorkshire for that matter, from receiving fair funding from a coalition Government supposedly committed to narrowing the North-South economic divide in its final months.

This model of governance has already been rejected by this region’s voters in a referendum – they do not want additional tiers of bureaucracy when the public finances are under such pressure – and Mr Clegg should now use his influence to broker a more substantive deal for his home patch rather than rolling over and accepting second best for South Yorkshire.

The Sheffield Hallam MP, who has likened this process to the beginning of “a journey”, needs to tell Ministers that after-thoughts like this will simple not assuage public opinion when unprecedented powers – and money – continue to bypass Yorkshire and head straight into rival regions and also the coffers of Holyrood.

Pass the parcel: First-class failure of online firms

SOME hard truths are coming home to roost as online retailers struggle to cope with unprecedented levels of demand in the run up to Christmas.

Following this first- class failure, perhaps there will now be a greater appreciation of the importance of protecting Royal Mail’s universal service after under-fire courier firm Yodel announced that many orders will be delayed by at least 48 hours.

Its half-hearted apology, in which executive chairman Dick Stead appeared to express surprise at the surge in demand, certainly did not appease the indignant shopper whose 40 inch television appears to have gone missing – or the customer who had already been waiting 72 hours longer than expected for an undelivered parcel.

They are clearly going to be more inclined to buy items in person at those high-street stores which have seen their profit margins severely squeezed by omnipresent firms like Amazon who have the clout to undercut their rivals with hefty discounts.

Yet the reputation of Amazon, and stores like Marks & Spencer which has had to delay deliveries of online orders by up to two weeks and withdraw its next-day delivery service, is dependent on goods reaching their destination on time. Perhaps the much maligned Royal Mail, and neglected high street, do have a future after all.

The king of chat: Parky: a brilliant broadcaster

SATURDAY night television has never been the same since Sir Michael Parkinson, one of the most consummate broadcasters of his generation, called time on his legendary chat shows which had become such compulsive viewing over the decades.

Unlike today’s poor imitations that feature third-rate guests of questionable repute, a Parkinson invitation was the most coveted in entertainment and only given to genuine celebrities with a story to tell.

They also never dared to turn down this proud son of Cudworth, a childhood contemporary of the one and only Dickie Bird, because they were guaranteed to be listened to with respect – an increasingly elusive characteristic which led to Sir Michael receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Variety children’s charity. Still universally known as ‘Parky’, this king of chat set a standard which others have not been able to emulate and TV is much the poorer as a result.