Devolution deal on brink of collapse as leaders meet

A DEAL to give South Yorkshire more control over its own affairs looks set to collapse today unless council leaders reach a last minute compromise.

Today's meeting will be a significant moment in Yorkshire's efforts to get more control over its own affairs

The Sheffield City Region devolution deal is widely expected to be effectively scrapped at a meeting of the combined authority of council leaders.

The four South Yorkshire councils signed the Sheffield City Region agreement with then Chancellor George Osborne two years ago which offered £30m a year in extra funding and a transfer of powers from Whitehall to a new elected mayor.

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But it has been beset by problems, a mayor has yet to be elected and over the summer Barnsley and Doncaster joined 15 other council leaders from across the region to back an alternative emerging proposal for a Yorkshire-wide devolution deal - known as One Yorkshire.

Rotherham and Sheffield remain committed to the Sheffield City Region deal. It is thought today’s discussion will focus on whether Barnsley and Doncaster can be persuaded to back the Sheffield City Region deal as an interim measure in return for a commitment from Rotherham and Sheffield to pursue the One Yorkshire approach as a next step.

However, South Yorkshire sources were yesterday playing down expectations that such an agreement could be reached amid significant differences between the area’s council leaders and a lack of Government enthusiasm for the idea.

Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid launched a last ditch effort to save the Sheffield City Region deal on Friday with a stark message that the Government would not listen to any other devolution proposals for Yorkshire involving South Yorkshire councils.

His letter to MPs and council leaders amounted to a warning to Barnsley and Doncaster that if the Sheffield City Region deal collapses they will not be able to pursue alternatives.

It was also a clear rejection of the One Yorkshire idea and an instruction to the other 15 councils behind it to think again.

Mr Javid’s letter did not appear to have swayed Barnsley and Doncaster who, it is understood, will be clear today they do not want the election of the Sheffield City Region mayor to go ahead.

However, there were signs that his intervention was destabilising support for One Yorkshire.

Harrogate Council leader Richard Cooper, who had backed One Yorkshire, issued a statement on Friday night calling for North, East and West Yorkshire to pursue a deal without South Yorkshire. And yesterday, North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les also suggested it was time to take a different approach.

He said: “It was very welcome that the council leaders came together to discuss how we could proceed with devolution. I hope that we don’t lose the spirit of those discussions that we were having.

“I was always concerned at the meetings that one partner was not present - central government. That was why we decided to ask the Secretary of State for a meeting to discuss what was possible.

“We now have that clearly stated in the letter.

“I think we should try to go forward in discussing a devolution deal for the rest of Yorkshire, allow Sheffield City Region to proceed as it is an attractive deal for that area. I hope we can develop a devolution deal for the rest of us that can include Sheffield City Region at some point in the future.”