Doubts over devolution deal as borough cautious on next step

Doncaster's executive mayor Ros Jones
Doncaster's executive mayor Ros Jones
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FRESH doubts surround the future of a deal to give South Yorkshire more control over its own affairs after a major intervention by Doncaster’s elected mayor.

Ros Jones is expected to oppose any move to push ahead with a consultation on a revised plan covering the four South Yorkshire authorities following the withdrawal of Chesterfield and Bassetlaw last month.

Failing to take that step would put the prospect of an election of a metro-mayor for the area in May 2018 in doubt.

The metro-mayor is a key element of the deal struck with then Chancellor George Osborne in 2015 for the area known as the Sheffield City Region to take more control in areas such as transport and skills and receive an extra £30m a year in funding.

Legal and political disputes led to the election of the new metro-mayor to be delayed from this year until 2018 and a further question mark was raised with Chesterfield and Bassetlaw’s withdrawal.

Mrs Jones and Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton have both said they are open to exploring alternative approaches, including agreeing a devolution deal covering the whole of Yorkshire.

However the Government has insisted the Sheffield City Region deal should go ahead and separate proposals drawn up for other parts of Yorkshire.

The Yorkshire Post understands Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry has suggested the Government could insist on a metro-mayor election being held next year.

But if South Yorkshire councils have not gone through the necessary administrative steps the new mayor would have few powers beyond chairing the combined authority made up of existing council leaders.

In a letter sent to Doncaster councillors last night, Mrs Jones described Chesterfield and Bassetlaw’s decision as “clearly significant” and pointed out Sheffield City Council leader Julie Dore had previously argued against going ahead with a deal which only covered the South Yorkshire authorities.

“I am not yet fully convinced that a South Yorkshire only model for regional devolution is the best deal for Doncaster,” she said.

Mrs Jones said she would be meeting fellow Yorkshire council leaders at the end of July to discuss next steps on devolution, The letter said: “I do not intend to make any recommendation to colleagues in Doncaster on a Mayor for South Yorkshire, until after that meeting.”

She said there was a “desire from Government to agree to start new consultation on the Sheffield City Region deal”.

“I am not going to do that at this stage. In my view we should not start further consultation whilst the implications of a South Yorkshire proposal are not fully clear,” the letter said.

Sheffield business leaders had earlier called for clarity over the future of the devolution deal.

Richard Wright, executive director of the Sheffield Chamber, questioned the lack of public commitment to the deal since the decision last month of Chesterfield and Bassetlaw not to take part.

Mr Wright said the failure of the remaining four councils to immediately commit to continuing on their own had left a “big void that is no good for anybody, not least business confidence”.

“Is the lack of any message down to some good reason that affects us all or is it just the fact that a regional mayor, with much more control of the money, will mean they might lose some control themselves?” Mr Wright said.

“Procrastination is no good for any of us.”