‘Historic’ deal hands Whitehall powers to Yorkshire councils

Nick Clegg has insisted Sheffield’s devolution package is just one extra step in his long running battle to drag powers out of Whitehall.

Nick Clegg hailed the deal as 'historic'

The deputy prime minister has said the Sheffield package is not the end of the story, as concern mounts that South Yorkshire’s deal compared badly with the £1bn Manchester model

The power to introduce London-style “Oyster” travel cards for public transport and £19m for the Sheffield-Rotherham tram train project are included in the deal agreed late last night.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

South Yorkshire will take responsibility for the majority of spending on improving adult skills and have greater control over support for business, it has emerged.

In a less eye-catching but potentially significant move, South Yorkshire councils will also be given a bigger say over how land owned by the public sector is used.

Crucially, and in contrast to a similar deal struck with Manchester earlier this year, the area will not be forced to have a Boris Johnson-style elected mayor.

However, preliminary information released on the deal also suggests it is more modest than the agreement reached with Manchester.

Today Sheffield MP Mr Clegg said the deal was one the city could be proud of. “This is a journey, it’s the third step, a major step in devolution. We had a city deal, a growth deal and now a devolution deal , similar I would say to the one struck in Manchester.

“But no one would be more delighted than me if this was followed up in future years.”

He added: “You should not overlook what a huge change this is. We are in the next chapter of this. Of course, I understand if people say they wanted more, it is a bit like the SNP in Scotland after the referendum, saying it is never enough, I understand, but it would be churlish to overlook what a big change this is to decades of overcentralisation in Whitehall.”

Mr Clegg said there were some benefits of having a metro mayor, but he supported Sheffield’s decision to not go down that route.

“I’m agnostic about mayors, Sheffield only recently voted against. The rough comes with the smooth, Manchester now has to wait for legislation to pass in the House of Commons, Sheffield can just get on with this now.”

The deal raises the “possibility” that the Government could jointly commission the next round of the Work Programme - the major policy aimed at getting the long term unemployed back into work - with South Yorkshire councils.

Local authorities have long argued where they have been given work programme contracts they have produced much better results.

On transport, the agreement includes:

• Smart-ticketing on public transport

• Investment in the proposed Rotherham-Sheffield tram train “pushing forward introduction of the service”

• Transport powers in areas such as motorway improvements for the Tinsley viaduct

On skills:

• Control for South Yorkshire over the majority of the adult skills budget

• Investment in science and maths skills

• More apprenticeships

On business support

• Closer work with UK Trade and Investment, the body charged with attracting companies to the UK

• “Enterprise spending” to come under the control of South Yorkshire

On housing

• Local and national government to take joint decisions over the sale and regeneration of public sector land

• Housing developments to get easier access to Government funding

Mr Clegg is expected to reveal more details of later today.

At an event in Leeds last month he had promised South and West Yorkshire would be next in line for deals to move powers and money out of Whitehall in the wake of Manchester’s agreement.

He said he wanted the main elements in place by the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement which George Osborne had billed as a blueprint to create a northern economic “powerhouse”.

But Yorkshire devolution was absent from last week’s Autumn Statement and Mr Clegg was facing growing pressure to demonstrate he could deliver for the region where he is an MP.

A South Yorkshire source familiar with the deal announced today described it as a “positive step in the right direction”.

The South Yorkshire agreement will come under greater scrutiny later today as more details emerge and in particular will be compared to the devolution deal agreed with Manchester last month.

That agreement included significant powers over planning and improved Manchester’s ‘earnback’ deal which allows it to retain a share of extra tax revenue from economic growth generated by investments in items such as transport infrastructure.

It also included proposals to introduce a new city mayor who, among other responsibilities, take over the role of police and crime commissioner and greater powers to regulate bus services.

Yorkshire local government figures are likely to point out that Manchester councils have a much longer track record of working together in this way.

Talks are ongoing between West Yorkshire councillors and council officers and the Government over terms of a devolution deal.