Judge throws spanner in works of South Yorkshire devolution plans

PROSPECTS for a May election of a new metro-mayor for South Yorkshire are receding after a judge raised concerns over the Sheffield City Region devolution deal.

The Sheffield skyline

Expectations are growing that the planned election of the mayor, a key element of the deal covering South Yorkshire, Chesterfield and Bassetlaw, will be delayed for at least a year.

The delay could provide a new opportunity to negotiate a broader devolution deal with the Government covering the whole of Yorkshire under a single elected mayor.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Folliwing a legal challenge by Derbyshire County Council, a judge today agreed there were shortcomings with the way Chesterfield residents were consulted about the Sheffield City Region deal.

The draft agreement to give the area known as the Sheffield City Region more control over its own affairs in areas like transport and skills was struck between council leaders and then chancellor George Osborne last year.

It should see the election of a new mayor for the area in May but in recent weeks doubts had already been expressed about the deal going forward on its current timetable and today’s legal ruling looks to have damaged its prospects still further.

Supporters of the deal have privately admitted a May election looks unlikely and it looks probable that will be acknowledged publicly in the New Year.

However The Yorkshire Post understands senior Labour figures in South Yorkshire are pressing councils - all Labour-led - to go ahead with the deal in its current form and hold the election in May.

They are arguing any delay would give the Theresa May government, seen as less enthusiastic about devolution than her predecessor’s administration, an opportunity to tear up the deal and return power to Whitehall.

Electoral maths in South Yorkshire would also make a Labour victory highly likely.

But others see the likely delay in elections as an opportunity to explore other options for shifting power from London to Yorkshire.

Discussions have taken place between several council leaders and chief executives in the region over the prospect of negotiating a Yorkshire devolution deal.

Sources close to the discussions claim support is growing for the idea and the Government has indicated it is open to a proposal.

Options are being considered which would reflect the reality that parts of the region have common interests in some areas but very different needs and priorities in others.

However, some Labour council leaders have reservations they will not be able to secure support from their groups for such an agreement because of the concern among backbench councillors that a region-wide deal would increase the prospects of the Conservatives winning the mayoral race.

Supporters of the Sheffield City Region deal also argue that a Yorkshire-wide agreement would merely be a device to solve the inability of council leaders and MPs in West, North and East Yorkshire to agree their own devolution deals.

Sheffield City Region Combined Authority said the judgement confirmed that its “extensive and wide-ranging consultation” would not be quashed.

A spokesman said: “The judgement raised the need to carry out further consultation to address the proposed governance changes in Chesterfield. We will now take some time to consider the judgement and our next steps. We will make further public statements once we have had the opportunity to do this.”

Elections will take place in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and Tees Valley in May to elect new mayors as part of devolution deals.

Business leaders in Yorkshire have expressed concern the region could fall behind other parts of the North because of its difficulties on devolution.