Breakthrough in South Yorkshire devolution deal as Government and local leaders finally sing from the same hymn sheet

Deadlock over devolution in South Yorkshire has finally been broken after local leaders and Government reached an agreement on working towards a deal.

The saga, which has dragged on for two years, has finally come to an end after the Government agreed to take the next step towards signing a devolution deal for the region, which encompasses Barnsley, Doncaster, Sheffield, and Rotherham.

There are two more steps to take before politicians sign on the dotted line, a Mayoral Combined Authority meeting and a public consultation.

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But with all leaders now singing from the same hymn sheet, there is little stopping the deal going ahead should the public agree.

Barnsley Central MP and Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis. Photo: JPI Media

Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry said: “Today’s news represents a considerable step forward in our mission to devolve more power, money and responsibility back to the people of the North.”

He said he was “delighted” that “significant progress is now being made to implement this ambitious agreement in full”.

He added: “Unlocking this devolution deal will be a game changing opportunity to unleash the potential of South Yorkshire ensuring your locally elected Mayor has a warchest of power and money to drive jobs and growth.”

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And Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, said: "We stand at a critical moment for our country. As we leave the European Union, securing further powers and resources for South Yorkshire and building greater cooperation across Yorkshire will ensure we are best prepared for whatever Brexit brings.”

There were first glimmers of hope in May last year when the four South Yorkshire councils, Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis and Government agreed on how devolution should proceed.

It meant Barnsley and Doncaster councils, both of which signed up to the deal back in 2015 but then changed their minds to back a pan-Yorkshire arrangement, would be allowed to leave the Sheffield City Region deal if things changed.

Both councils were concerned they would be trapped in a South Yorkshire deal and so would not be able to join any Yorkshire-wide arrangement for at least 30 years.

But it was agreed that should Barnsley and Doncaster leave, Sheffield and Rotherham would keep their allocated funding and powers.

Now, a joint statement from Barnsley and Doncaster leaders - Stephen Houghton and Ros Jones - plus Mr Jarvis, and Sheffield and Rotherham leaders Julie Dore and Chris Read, puts all in agreement on the way forward.

The statement said: “This represents a significant step forward in securing additional powers and resources for our region.”

The move was welcomed by Mr Jarvis, who said: “My responsibility to the people of South Yorkshire is to secure the greatest resources possible for them – particularly after a long decade of austerity and generations of systemic under-investment.

“We need to grow our economy, create more good jobs, invest in our transport network, improve the skills of our workforce and do all we can to protect our environment.

“Doing this will enable us to build a stronger and more sustainable region in which more people want to live, work and invest.

“We can do this far faster, and with much greater impact, with the significant additional powers and resources that devolution would deliver.

“By working together, and uniting with a shared purpose and a single voice, we will ensure we make the most of the huge potential that exists both here in South Yorkshire and right across Yorkshire and the north of England.

“This is a crucial step that builds on work that has been ongoing with Government for some time, driven by both Leaders here in South Yorkshire and members of the Yorkshire Leaders Board, representing authorities across the wider region.”

But others, such as Hull West and Hessle MP Emma Hardy, said they were concerned about other parts of Yorkshire - such as the east - being left behind, and would still like to see a One Yorkshire deal covering the whole region with one mayor.

A spokesman for East Riding Council said earlier today: “We’re pushing for an urgent meeting with Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry to discuss an interim devolution deal for our area and to agree a way forward.”

But Ms Hardy said: “I’m worried about this race for devolution and that Hull is not going to be listened to fully by this Government.”

She said decisions about redrawing boundaries for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) also played into this, and that it was key for Hull’s economic future in energy that both LEP and devolution boundaries were holistic.

She said: “[Jake Berry this week] made no mention of East Yorkshire, even if he tried to backtrack, but they’ve got to include Hull in these conversations.

“We’ve got all the offshore wind, my concern is that gets put at risk by a devolution deal that does not work for Hull.”

However the South Yorkshire deal does not mean there may never be a One Yorkshire arrangement, with hopes that once it is proved the smaller plans work, looking at merging for an overall agreement could be possible.

And as the Government committed to continuing discussions on a Committee of Leaders from across Yorkshire, it seemed the door remained open.

The leaders statement said: “All South Yorkshire councils will have the opportunity to join any full Yorkshire devolution arrangement if they choose to do so.”

Negotiations are also under way to sign a deal in West Yorkshire.

Last week Mr Berry confirmed the plan was that “we should have devolution - mayoral at that - across the whole of the North of England”.

As well as name checking South and West Yorkshire, he added: “The rest of Yorkshire is in discussions with us as well.”