May and Brexit trigger debate over South Yorkshire devolution deal

Combined Authority chairman Sir Steve Houghton, Chancellor George Osborne and Sheffield City Council leader Julie Dore at the signing of the draft deal last year
Combined Authority chairman Sir Steve Houghton, Chancellor George Osborne and Sheffield City Council leader Julie Dore at the signing of the draft deal last year
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DOUBTS have emerged over the future of the South Yorkshire devolution deal, the Yorkshire Post has learned.

The vote to leave the European Union and Theresa May’s reported dislike of metro mayors has prompted discussions over whether elements of the deal should be renegotiated.

A source close to the discussions said it was “by no means certain” that the deal would continue in its current form with a new mayor elected in May.

The draft deal covering South Yorkshire was agreed with then chancellor George Osborne last October when the Government’s position was that significant powers would only be handed over to areas which agreed to have new elected mayors.

However council leaders in South Yorkshire have never wholeheartedly supported the idea of an elected metro mayor and it has been suggested that the new Prime Minister has her own concerns.

The implications of the decision to leave the European Union, a major funder of projects in South Yorkshire, has also caused some involved in the original deal to question whether it should be reviewed.

But there is also understood to be concern among other key figures in the region that Mrs May’s scepticism over mayors is a symptom of a deeper reluctance to let powers move from London to the regions.

They are worried that any move to reopen talks could lead to the process being stalled or derailed completely.

Council leaders are due to discuss their next move at a meeting of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority on Monday where the findings of a public consultation on the deal will be presented.

In a statement, combined authority chairman Sir Steve Houghton, the leader of Barnsley Council, said: “The Sheffield City Region is committed to the substantial devolution of powers and funding including £1.3bn of funding through the devolution agreement.

“The next step is to submit our consultation responses to the secretary of state and the combined authority will consider responses on Monday and make the decision whether to do this.

“The Secretary of State for Communities has made clear that devolution is a key part of the Government’s policy agenda and we are working with Government to clarify their position on the requirement for elected mayors.

“Our consultation results show that local residents and businesses are supportive of devolving additional powers to the Sheffield City Region and to the extension of our geography to include Bassetlaw and Chesterfield.

“The vote to leave the EU means the need to devolve power and funding to the UK’s city regions is now more critical than ever.”

Monday’s meeting will be told that there has been a positive response in the consultation for the deal, and the elected mayor, to cover Bassetlaw and Chesterfield as well as South Yorkshire.

However, the inclusion of Chesterfield is the subject of a legal challenge by Derbyshire County Council.

In its response to the consulation, the county council said it “firmly believes that the proposals will undermine the ambition for, and delivery of, long term economic growth in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, whilst also seriously damaging long standing partnerships and the delivery of statutory services.”

Discussions are continuing over devolution of powers to other parts of Yorkshire, The Yorkshire Post understands.

Councils in North, West and East Yorkshire have so far failed to agree on whether to pursue a single devolution deal or a negotiate agreements covering different areas.