'˜Region's economy will be given boost by devolution agreement'

THE devolution deal secured by South Yorkshire will help the area rediscover the economic success of the past, according to a leading figure in the region.

Sir Nigel Knowles

Sir Nigel Knowles, chairman of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, argued the agreement would lead to better decision making and value for money.

The deal agreed with Chancellor George Osborne last year has already led to extra money for the region and next year will see the election of a new mayor who will chair the existing combined authority of local council leaders.

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Sir Nigel was speaking as a consultation is launched to give the public the chance to have theirsay on the powers which will be handed to the new elected mayor.

He said: “The northern cities were the powerhouse of our country and made Great Britain what it is today. The North created more employment and wealth than any other part of the UK.

“Then financial services took off and the prominence of the South-East took off and the norern cities were passed over for a few decades and in many cases the public sector became the largest employer in some of these cities.

“What the northern powerhouse is intending to achieve, and what devolution for Sheffield City Region is intending to achieve, is more autonomy within the regions to make the right decisions and get more bang for our buck to achieve a better environment for business and people to succeed.

“The whole idea of a combined authority is if you have nine local authorities working together you are going to be able to make decisions that benefit the whole rather than each local authority making its own decisions which are not necessarily connected with the benefit of its close neighbours.”

The agreement should give the future mayor and council leaders more control in areas such as skills and transport,

Sir Nigel said: “Devolution gives local leaders more money for a longer period which they have to spend free of Westminster.

“This means that local leaders have choice in the region they have not previously had and can spend it more directly on things that are going to carry a long term interest and benefit for a greater period of time for the region.

“If you’ve got people in the region making these value judgements and spending the money to give best impact in the region it has got to result in a better deal for the region.”

A centrepiece of the deal thrashed out last year is a so-called “single pot” of funding worth £1.3bn which the area will be able to spend without the usual strings attached from Whitehall.

Sir Nigel said the freedom would make it easier to take a joined-up approach to make South Yorkshire more attractive to outside businesses or as a place to start a new firm,

He said: “You can’t attract inward investment without, for example, the infrastructure being appropriate, wihout there being appropriate skills so people can be employed in the businesses that are being established, the appropriate housing to live in, and the appropriate education system.”

Public meetings will be held across the area and further information will be available at www.sheffieldcityregion.org.uk.