Sheffield City Region devolution breakthrough as deal worth £30m a year is agreed by local leaders after 18 months of deadlock

The Sheffield City Region devolution deal was signed by local leaders in 2015.
The Sheffield City Region devolution deal was signed by local leaders in 2015.
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The Sheffield City Region devolution deal worth £900m over 30 years could finally come into force after local leaders reached an agreement following months of deadlock, it was announced today.

A letter has been sent by the region's mayor Dan Jarvis and the leaders of the four local councils, to Communities Secretary James Brokenshire setting out the "productive conversations" held over the transfer of money and vital powers from Whitehall.

They have reached agreement on how the deal, which was originally signed in 2015 but collapsed in 2017 after Doncaster and Barnsley pulled out to pursue a One Yorkshire arrangement, can be taken forward.

But the deal still needs to be approved by Mr Brokenshire, and Mr Jarvis told a meeting of the Sheffield City Region combined authority today: "The ball is now firmly in the Government's court."

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The Yorkshire Post understands that the breakthrough came after behind-closed-door meetings with the leaders of Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham councils with the aim of establishing common points of agreement. A letter was drafted in late February and the four leaders agreed to sign it.

They agreed that the Sheffield City Region arrangements would stay in place until the end of the current mayoral term in 2022.

They say that at this point, councils who do not want to remain part of the deal can join an alternative arrangement, such as One Yorkshire, and those that remain will benefit from the same powers as before.

Previously, the leaders of Doncaster and Barnsley councils, Mayor Ros Jones and Sir Steve Houghton, had been unwilling to support the arrangement if it did not allow them to pursue a Yorkshire-wide devolution deal.

An in a message to fellow Yorkshire council leaders, written with Mr Jarvis, they said today's letter was "entirely consistent with our one Yorkshire ambition".

In a statement, Mr Jarvis said: "This is an important day for our region. After months of negotiations, I'm delighted to have brokered a joint devolution position with all of South Yorkshire's leaders, that I believe will enable us to access the powers and resources that our region needs to continue its economic transformation.

"It is a pragmatic solution that enables first and foremost, the unlocking of the Sheffield City Region deal, whilst also supporting wider Yorkshire devolution ambitions.

"It is a solution that gives effect to the mandate upon which I was elected, is in line with the community polls held by Barnsley and Doncaster, and accords with the Government’s own stated position regarding the next steps for devolution."

The letter to Government was signed by Sheffield City Council's Julie Dore, Barnsley's Sir Steve Houghton, Doncaster Mayor Ros Jones and Rotherham council's Chris Read.

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The deal signed by local leaders in 2015 with then-Chancellor George Osborne would have seen the region gain control of £30m a year to boost economic growth over 30 years, control of a £20m-a-year consolidated transport budget up to 2020-21, and control of the 19+ adult skills funding budget worth up to £30m a year, among other powers.

But after Doncaster and Barnsley councils pulled out in September 2017, it was not implemented, meaning Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis was elected last summer with virtually no money or powers.

Last month, Mr Brokenshire told the leaders who back a region-wide One Yorkshire deal that it did not fit the criteria for devolution because Yorkshire is too big and diverse.

Northern Powerhouse MInister Jake Berry has since suggested smaller city region deals like those in Leeds, which failed to materialise in 2015 due to a lack of support from West Yorkshire Conservatives.

Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership Henri Murison said: “The four South Yorkshire councils coming to an agreement around devolution for the Sheffield City Region is a major step forward, and I congratulate Mayor Dan Jarvis and the leaders of the councils for their pragmatism and willingness to get the deal from 2015 over the line to now be implemented fully. It is an attitude we will need to see more of down in Westminster in the coming weeks.

“It is incumbent for government is to now go forward together with the South Yorkshire civic leaders. At this time of unprecedented political uncertainty, this is an opportunity to make a real difference to millions of people and take forward a deal with full powers and responsibilities.

"It is vital that the secretary of state James Brokenshire gives this the green light – a deal that has been on the table since it was signed with the former Chancellor George Osborne.

“Northern Powerhouse Partnership have called for devolution deals to cover as much of the North as possible. As we approach the anniversaries of mayoral elections in the Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester and Tees Valley, the benefits of devolution have been clear for all to see, and we need those powerful voices and strong leaders right across the North.”