Devolution: Optimism grows that agreement can be found

OPTIMISM is growing among senior council figures across Yorkshire that a way could finally be found out of the region's devolution deadlock this autumn.

Optimism is growing that Yorkshire's devolution deadlock could be solved

Momentum is building behind the principle of the One Yorkshire proposal with 17 of 20 councils broadly agreeing to the idea of coming together to elect a mayor and transfer powers and money from London.

Rotherham and Sheffield remain committed to pursuing the Sheffield City Region deal they, Barnsley and Doncaster signed with then chancellor George Osborne in 2015 giving the area £30m a year in return for electing a new mayor for South Yorkshire.

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Significantly, attention is moving away from trying to win over Rotherham and Sheffield to the One Yorkshire idea but instead finding a way to respect their wishes.

A scenario has emerged which would see Rotherham and Sheffield go-ahead with a modified version of the Sheffield City Region deal without Barnsley and Doncaster.

The rest of Yorkshire would then look to negotiate a One Yorkshire deal covering the region’s remaining authorities with the Government.

Uniting Yorkshire in a single arrangement would remain an aspiration to be pursued in the longer term.

It is understood informal discussions have already taken place with government officials over whether such an approach would receive Whitehall’s blessing.

Nevertheless, significant obstacles remain.

Rotherham and Sheffield are understood to be open to the idea of striking two devolution deals for the region and leaving open the possibility of the two areas coming together in the future.

However, their preference is for Barnsley and Doncaster to remain with them in the Sheffield City Region, pressing ahead with the deal in its current form and the election of a mayor next year while the rest of Yorkshire draws up its plans.

They argue it would be rash to put at risk a deal, and the money that goes with it, which the Government has already signed in the hope of negotiating an alternative arrangement over which ministers have shown great reluctance.

The depth of support for One Yorkshire among the region’s other authorities also remains in question.

Wakefield has been the most overt in its reservations about the One Yorkshire approach in discussions with other councils.

It is understood those concerns focus on the lack of enthusiam shown by ministers, a worry that a single region-wide approach would not tackle the differing economic needs of Yorkshire communities and reservations about the public’s attitude to a structure which could appear expensive, bureaucratic and unwieldy.

Other council leaders who have signed up to the One Yorkshire plan in principle are known to be reserving final judgement until significant progress has been made on the detail.

One council leader supportive of One Yorkshire told The Yorkshire Post difficult discussions lie ahead as the details of how it would work in practice are thrashed out.

The powers of the mayor, the size of the ‘combined authority’ of council leaders and mayor - the key decision-making body - which leaders would have seats and voting rights are just some of the issues expected to prompt disagreement.

A particularly fierce debate is likely over the relative power of council leaders representing small rural authorities compared to those in charge of cities and urban areas.

A further major hurdle is the approach of the Government.

Ministers have repeatedly stated their desire to see the Sheffield City Region deal go ahead and opposition to the idea of a Yorkshire-wide deal.

It remains to be seen whether ministers can be convinced that the economic case for One Yorkshire is so strong, and that the commitment of Yorkshire councils is unwavering, that serious talks should begin.

The possibility of pressing ahead with a revised Sheffield City Region deal covering Rotherham and Sheffield could potentally allow ministers to save face.

It is understood representations could be made to Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry next week when he is expected to visit the region.