SOUTH Yorkshire’s under-fire devolution deal has been defended as a significant step forward for the area that could pave the way for a more substantial transfer of powers and money from Whitehall in the near future.
Supporters of the agreement have rejected comparisons with Manchester’s broader deal struck last month, insisting it was the right one for the area.
South Yorkshire last week became the second English region to agree a devolution deal which included significant measures covering the control of skills funding, business support and progress on key transport projects.
But critics suggested the deal was more hype than substance after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a key figure in the talks and himself a Sheffield MP, described it as “historic”.
Coming to the deal’s defence, Sheffield City Council chief executive John Mothersole told The Yorkshire Post it should be seen as the first stage of an ongoing conversation about the movement of powers and money to the area.
He said: “This is not a closed deal. Government have clearly acknowledged that as well by saying that in effect this is the first phase of an ongoing relationship with the Sheffield City Region and they have been quite explicit that they are open for business to talk about methods and fiscal devolution because they believe we are open for business.”
The Manchester deal included significant powers over planning and tax revenues but it also included a commitment to introducing a new elected mayor for the city, an idea championed by Chancellor George Osborne but resisted by many in local government in Yorkshire. The South Yorkshire deal does not include a commitment to introducing a mayor.
Mr Mothersole said: “We know people will compare it to Manchester. It’s interesting actually that the only place you can compare it to is Manchester - in other words there are only two devolution deals in the country and we’ve got one of the two.”
He added: “Have we got everything we asked for? No. Have we got a substantial amount? Yes. Are we today more in control and more influential over the position last Thursday? Yes we are. Have we had to give anything away in return for what we got? No.”
Devolution deals for both West and South Yorkshire are known to have been the source of significant disagreements between Mr Clegg and Mr Osborne and The Yorkshire Post revealed last weekend that the South Yorkshire deal was announced quickly because of concerns that delay may give the Treasury an opportunity to block some elements.
Coun Leigh Bramall, Sheffield City Council’s cabinet member for business, skills and development, said: “This is good, there are some good things in there that give us more control but it’s still a long way short of where we would ultimately like to get to.
“Our foot’s in the door now, it’s open and ajar and we want to open it further because we believe it’s in the interests of cities and the national economy to do that. This is further confirmation that we are seen, rightly, as being one of those drivers economic growth for the North of England and the country and is an important part in the ultimate goal of creating the Leeds-Manchester-Sheffield economic triangle that we think has got huge potential within a wider package to invest in the North to create an alternative growth pole to London.”