Yorkshire devolution: Ex-Civil Service boss steps in to end Sheffield City Region mayoral dispute

Sir Bob Kerslake.'22nd January 2016.'Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Sir Bob Kerslake.'22nd January 2016.'Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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The former head of the Civil Service has stepped in to resolve the long-running dispute between South Yorkshire’s four local councils over the future of devolution in the county.

Lord Bob Kerslake, who served as chief executive of Sheffield City Council between 1997 and 2008, hopes to secure an agreement between civic leaders in Barnsley, Doncaster, Sheffield and Rotherham.

The Yorkshire Post understands that the crossbench peer met two weeks ago with the chief executives of the four councils, who have been at odds for months over the proposed transfer of powers from Whitehall.

He has drafted a proposed letter to the Government on behalf of all four, which has been signed by Barnsley and Doncaster but is yet to be agreed by Sheffield and Rotherham councils.

Lord Kerslake is understood to have offered his services as an ‘honest broker’ to end the bitter dispute over the future of the Sheffield City Region devolution deal.

The agreement signed by the four authorities and then-Chancellor George Osborne in 2015 meant a directly-elected mayor would get a host of new powers from central government and £900m in extra funding over 30 years.

But last year Doncaster and Barnsley pulled out of the deal, meaning the mayor will have virtually no new powers or money when they are elected in May. The two authorities instead want to join a so-called One Yorkshire deal covering the widest possible geography in the region.

This week they joined 16 of Yorkshire’s 20 local authorities in urging the Prime Minister to commit to an election for a mayor for the whole region in 2020.

Under this proposal the Sheffield City Region mayoral term would only last two years, after which Barnsley and Doncaster would be free to join a wider devolution deal.

The involvement of Lord Kerslake, who was head of the Home Civil Service between 2012 and 2015, was discussed on Tuesday when Yorkshire’s MPs and council leaders met Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.

The meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire saw the Minister challenge leaders to come up with more details on their proposals for a pan-Yorkshire devolution deal.

Mr Javid did not rule out a One Yorkshire agreement or elections in 2020, saying the door was open for new proposals, but refused to commit himself to any particular timescale. He said he did not want to jeopardise the Sheffield City Region deal.

Lord Kerslake was not available for comment.

In the Commons today, Theresa May responded to Keighley MP John Grogan about Yorkshire-wide devolution during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Mr Grogan asked if she supported the “joint endeavours of 18 Conservative and Labour council leaders, the Yorkshire CBI, the Yorkshire Institute of Directors, the Yorkshire TUC, and his Grace the Archbishop of York in their efforts to get an all-Yorkshire devolution settlement by 2020 with the first directly-elected mayor for God’s own county”.

Mrs May said the Government was “committed to devolving powers to local areas where it will deliver better services and greater value for money”.

She said: “I hear the enthusiasm he has set forward for more devolution in Yorkshire and I am pleased to say the Housing Secretary actually met with a group of councils from Yorkshire to discuss these very ideas.”

Stewart Arnold, leader of the Yorkshire Party, said the possibility of a Yorkshire mayoral election in 2020 meant the Sheffield City Region elections were “ridiculous” as “the whole thing could be abandoned in two years”.

He said in a statement: “It’s going to cost close to a million pounds to hold this election in May - we are calling for it to be halted now.”