The outgoing leader of the Sheffield City Region has compared council leaders to ‘blocks of granite’ after he lambasted local political and business leaders over a lack of progress on devolution in Yorkshire.
Sir Nigel Knowles, who finishes his tenure with the region’s Local Enterprise Partnership this week, accuses leaders of “the worst of parochialism and short-sightedness” over failure to implement a devolution deal.
In a strongly-worded letter to all of South Yorkshire’s council leaders, Sir Nigel said the deal struck in 2015 to devolve power and spending to the region had represented a “collective commitment to embrace devolution and to change the political culture of our region”.
However, as he leaves office to take a new role as the region’s trade envoy, he said: “As we start 2019, our devolution position reveals not the strength of our region but our ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
The devolution deal for Sheffield hit the buffers after two of the key councils involved, Doncaster and Barnsley, walked away from the deal after rows between leaders of the respective councils. Both Doncaster and Barnsley have now thrown their lot in with the One Yorkshire movement which seeks to devolve power to the whole region and is backed by 18 of the 20 local authorities in Yorkshire.
Sheffield and Rotherham remain committed to the initial deal. Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis was elected the region’s mayor last year, albeit with restricted powers owing to Doncaster and Barnsley’s lack of involvement.
In one extract of his letter, Sir Nigel said: “As one of the architects of the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement, Senator George Mitchell once said: ‘in terms of finding things to disagree about, you are geniuses, great innovators….in finding ways to resolve your differences you are like blocks of granite’.”
Sir Nigel, who built Yorkshire law firm DLA Piper into a global business, also criticised business leaders for undermining the Sheffield City Region deal, saying “much of it has been assisted by fruitless megaphone diplomacy by sections of the business membership organisation community who have sought to undermine and weaken those seeking common ground”.
Sir Nigel did however have praise for Mr Jarvis saying he has “the right skills, experience and commitment”.
“The Mayor is the means by which different views and interests can be reconciled for us to lift our sights and see the bigger picture,” he said.
As we start 2019, our devolution position reveals not the strength of our region but our ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.Sir Nigel Knowles
“Having got to know Dan Jarvis as the Mayor over the past 6 months I know that he has the right skills, experience and commitment to deliver on these expectations. However, the Mayor is not the architect of the current impasse. Nor can he solve it unilaterally. He is dependent on a spirit of cooperation, understanding and commitment from council leaders and a real bipartisan approach from the business community.
“Put simply we need our council leaders to be less like blocks of granite in their approach.
“And we need this because we do not have an economy that is robust enough to thrive against a backdrop of both national economic and trading uncertainties.”
A new LEP chair is expected to be announced this week.