Warning that without devolution the country may not survive the 'currents of division already tearing at it'

The country may not survive the “currents of division already tearing at it” without a discussion on how to reform democracy, MPs have been warned.

Speaking as the South Yorkshire devolution deal was discussed by a Commons committee, Barnsley Central MP and Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis said the passing of the deal was just the first step.

He said: “The road here has been long and hard. We were the only devolved administration without a full deal in place from the start, and getting one took enormous effort. I have the scars to prove it.”

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But he said: “Now we have it, I am absolutely determined that we will seize the opportunity it represents. Devolution will unlock our local knowledge and networks, bring power closer to the people, and help us reshape our economy and society in a way which reflects our values and priorities.”

Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis. Photo: JPI MediaSheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis. Photo: JPI Media
Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis. Photo: JPI Media

Mr Jarvis said collaboration across the North but also with Westminster would be key to recover from coronavirus and for South Yorkshire to flourish.

But he said: “In the longer term, we need Government to fulfil its pledges to level up the country. Now, more than ever, it is time for a New Deal for the North.”

He added: “To realise its promise, devolution must be about the meaningful transfer of power and resources from Westminster.

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“The UK is – to our detriment – one of the most centralised developed nations on the planet. We urgently need a deep national conversation on how to restructure and renew our democracy.

“Without it, there is a risk that our country may not long survive the currents of division already tearing at it.”

Local Government Minister Simon Clarke, said Mr Jarvis was right to say “devolution is not an end in itself” but was rather “about unlocking the benefits that can flow from it”.

He said the Government was concerned about an “asymmetry” between places which had devolution and those which did not, and he added that by the time the West Yorkshire deal is finalise some 63 per cent of the North will be covered by a mayoral combined authority with increased powers and control over funding.

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Mike Amesbury, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning and MP for Weaver Vale in Cheshire, said it was a “landmark moment”.

And he said: “We are all determined to get the best deal for South Yorkshire.”

But he said while half of his constituency fell into a devolved area, the other half did not, and pushed Mr Clarke to bring other deals down the line quickly.

He said: “Over in Manchester we’ve seen what can happen when devolution has real depth to it.”

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He added: “We can’t continue to tolerate the inequality of power driving inequality of prosperity across the country.”

He said those powers needed to be genuine and not simply cosmetic.

Mr Clarke said that talks were progressing in North Yorkshire and Hull and the East Riding, as well as outside Yorkshire, with hopes more deals will be signed before May 2022 and May 2023.

He said a white paper from the Government in the Autumn would set out the vision for devolving more powers and “would not lack boldness”.

Mr Clarke said the South Yorkshire deal was a “significant contribution” to levelling up.