YP Comment: Devolved deal boosts region

FOR the people of South Yorkshire, the fact that millions of pounds could be poured into improving roads, rail links and broadband is a sign that the region's devolution deal will make a real difference to their lives.

The Sheffield city centre skyline.

Councillors signed off the deal today triggering the first of what will become annual £30 million payments from the Treasury, and talks will now be held with the Government over allowing the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority to borrow against this money and create a rolling pot worth hundreds of millions of pounds to drive the region’s economy forward.

It is nearly a year since Greater Manchester was awarded unprecedented powers which are already accelerating growth in the North West, and now the agreement for Sheffield and South Yorkshire, announced prior to last year’s Tory conference, is paving the way for future growth and prosperity.

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The deal agreed is not without its flaws but there is a bigger picture here. The Northern Powerhouse, ministers tell us, is about “empowering local people” and the fact is the Government is now having a different kind of conversation with those that have signed up to the devolution agenda compared with those that have not. The Tories made a big play in their manifesto at the last election about devolving far-reaching powers over economic development, transport and social care to big cities which choose to have elected mayors and, in this instance, they have kept their word.

But as Sheffield and South Yorkshire look to forge ahead with their ambitious investment plans, so the pressure mounts on the rest of the region to strike a devolution deal. The danger is that if West Yorkshire and the wider Leeds City Region do not agree a deal soon, and the same holds true for North and East Yorkshire, they run the risk of being left behind.

Steel conundrum

Cheap imports must be stopped

THE pressure on the Government to bail out the British steel industry after Indian conglomerate Tata announced plans to sell its operations across the country is entirely understandable.

Tens of thousands of jobs are at stake. The futures of entire communities are on the line. There is no little irony either in the fact that while an Indian company is deciding the fate of UK workers, this country hands over millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to India each year in the form of foreign aid.

Why cannot that money instead be diverted to saving jobs at home and rescuing the communities threatened by Tata’s decision to offload their UK plants? These are all valid points. As is the desire to maintain a viable steel industry in this country – not only in order to provide gainful employment but also because of its inherent importance in terms of defence.

However, Business Secretary Sajid Javid is right to say that nationalisation is not the solution. It has been tried before and has failed miserably. Tata was losing £1m a day at its Port Talbot plant alone. The brutal truth is that under current market conditions the British steel industry is fated to suffer a slow, agonising death.

Far from rescuing it, pouring public funds into the industry would simply land our children with the bill. The only real solution to this mess is to address the spiralling business rates and environmental taxes that have squeezed the industry since the recession.

Even more importantly, every trick in the book must now be employed to end the cheap Chinese imports that have been allowed to flood the European market at the cost of a once proud industry.

Birdwatch boost

Mild winter helps smaller birds

IT may have brought misery to many people across Yorkshire, but our wet and mild weather has at least benefited some of our feathered friends.

England’s warmest winter in more than a century has boosted the number of small garden birds, according to the latest findings of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch survey.

More than 500,000 people, including 34,000 in Yorkshire, helped the conservation charity record more than eight million birds during its annual survey at the end of January, with smaller species surviving in greater numbers than usual over the winter. The average number of long-tailed tits and great tits seen visiting our gardens was up significantly on last year.

But it is not all good news. The mild temperatures have not been enough to reverse the ailing fortunes of some other species, with sightings of starlings – despite high numbers in Yorkshire – and song thrushes down again this year.