Business leaders plea to end devolution deadlock '˜or damage the region's economy and reputation'

Failure to strike a deal on devolution for South Yorkshire will cause the region to miss out on investment, skills and damage its reputation on a national and world stage, business leaders warn today.

Steel giant Liberty House

The letter, seen by this newspaper, is signed by virtually every large company and business organisation in the region and comes as the proposal for a devolution settlement for the region worth £900m over 30 years has begun to seriously unravel in recent weeks after political leaders in Doncaster and Barnsley entered talks for a separate deal covering the wider Yorkshire area.

Signatories to the letter include Liberty Speciality Steels, Henry Boot, Outokumpu, British Land, AES Engineering, Wosskow Brown, Metalysis and Mount Pleasant Hotel, as well as the current and former 12 Master Cutlers at the Company of Cutlers.

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The move comes after the proposed deal for devolution, agreed upon by all of the council leaders in the region back in 2015, has begun to fracture amid tensions between political leaders over the proposed location of South Yorkshire’s HS2 station, a court ruling on the legality of the deal and the desire of some to consider other devolution options, with leaders in Barnsley and Doncaster entering talks in recent weeks over a separate deal covering much of the rest of Yorkshire.

Representatives from regional bodies including EEF and Medilink have signed, along with the chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Sir Nigel Knowles, as well as hundreds of bosses from firms in Doncaster, Barnsley, Chesterfield and Sheffield.

One extract of the letter seen by The Yorkshire Post, reads: “The possible loss to the region of significant funding is clearly of real concern; the damage to the region’s reputation and impact on business confidence is potentially equally or more damaging to our long term prospects.”

“We have the possibility to be the paramount region of the country with regard to advanced manufacturing, health provision and research, digital innovation and other sectors.

“We should continue to pursue this actively and thereby significantly enhance the job opportunities and life prospects for our citizens.”

Sheffield Town Hall.

It adds: “The South Yorkshire Local Authority Leaders showed a strong commitment to being a leading UK region when in 2015 you negotiated the deal to secure devolved powers.

“While the recent withdrawal of Bassetlaw and Chesterfield from the subsequently broadened Sheffield City Region devolution deal is disappointing, this is far less significant than the recent public indication that not all of the four South Yorkshire Local Authority leaders remain certain regarding their future commitment to the deal for our region, which we understand remains on the table.”

Another extract addresses concerns over a directly elected mayor in the area, a prerequisite from Government when it comes to handing devolved powers to the regions.

“There may be concern about an elected mayor for our region,” it reads.

Lord Jim O'Neill

“We believe current uncertainties and apparent differences argue the case for this eloquently. The right choice of mayor can act as a powerful internal facilitator, bringing our region closer together - elected leaders, private sector, voluntary sector and other relevant parties.”

Intriguingly, the letter lays open the prospect of a pan-Yorkshire deal further down the line but says the immediate priority should be for the Sheffield city region.

“A Yorkshire deal may emerge as a possibility in the years ahead, but surely we will be better placed to be a strong component of that, should it arise, if we push ahead to really strengthen South Yorkshire first,” it says.

The letter’s content was praised by former Government minister Lord Jim O’Neill as a “welcome dose of reality”.

Sheffield Town Hall.

Lord O’Neill told The Yorkshire Post: “The early steps to agree a provisional devolution deal by the Sheffield City Region was highly sensible and consistent with the approach the government had adopted to back urban conurbations around the country in giving them more responsibility for their own economic growth and development.

“It is very sensible and I encourage those who have stepped away to return.

“I believe passionately that those in Yorkshire who have expressed a commitment to meaningful devolution, notably across the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and in the Humber, should be able to move forward.

“However, although a romantic notion I do not feel if we want to see meaningful progress this year that a pan Yorkshire deal is a viable way of achieving it.”

Lord Jim O'Neill