Critics hit out at Clegg devolution deal

NICK Clegg’s Sheffield devolution deal has being fiercely rounded on for a lack of ambition as critics call for a bigger commitment to Yorkshire.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg

The Deputy Prime Minister has insisted a package of transport, housing and skills support for Sheffield is a major step towards breaking Whitehall’s grip on funds and influence.

The deal sees the go ahead for £19m of tram upgrades, a say over how key sites are developed and spending control over large parts of the Government’s skills cash as it applies to Sheffield.

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It comes a month after Chancellor George Osborne handed local authorities in Greater Manchester a £1bn deal, including £450m for tram upgrades, in exchange for the city leaders agreeing to introduce a new metro mayor.

Sheffield, like Leeds, has rejected the Treasury’s mayors model and the devolution talks have progressed at a far slower pace as a result.

Council chiefs in Sheffield backed the deal but added it was “only the start of the conversation with Government”, though others were more outspoken.

Former Home Secretary and Sheffield MP David Blunkett said the deal was “neither historic nor transformational”.

He added: “There is no new funding over and above existing plans, no new powers to raise money and no clarity about how the people of the city region will either be engaged in decision making nor see any immediate improvement in their wellbeing.”

And Clive Betts, chair of the Communities Select Committee, said it appeared to be “more hype than substance.”

He added: “Our tram project had already been agreed, there is little here that is really new. When you look at the Scottish devolution offers it is clear English regions are not being given the best possible deal.”

Businesses also gave a cautious backing to the devolution announcement.

Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, said: “This is a good first step but we know a number of people are disappointed by the fact that we do not appear to have as much devolved responsibility as Manchester”

Mr Clegg told The Yorkshire Post he was confident the measures announced for Sheffield were just the “next step in a long journey.”

He said: “Of course, I understand if people say they wanted more, it is a bit like the SNP in Scotland after the referendum, saying it is never enough, I understand, but it would be churlish to overlook what a big change this is to decades of over centralisation.”

The deputy prime minister said there were some benefits of having a metro mayor, but supported Sheffield’s decision not to go down that route.

Mr Clegg said: “I’m agnostic about mayors, Sheffield only recently voted against one. The rough comes with the smooth, Manchester now has to wait for legislation to pass in the House of Commons, Sheffield can just get on with it.”

He added: “This is a journey, we have here a major step in devolution and it would be churlish to criticise that.”