Pressure now on for other parts of Yorkshire to secure devolution deals

Brexit, the General Election result, and a flexibility from Government are all factors which are understood to have broken the deadlock over devolution in South Yorkshire and allowed local and national leaders to reach an agreement.

The saga, which dragged on for two years, finally came to an end yesterday after the Government agreed to take the next step towards signing a devolution deal for the region, which encompasses Barnsley, Doncaster, Sheffield, and Rotherham - around 1.4m people.

There are two more steps to take before politicians sign on the dotted line, a Mayoral Combined Authority meeting and a public consultation.

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But with all leaders now singing from the same hymn sheet, there is little stopping the deal - which would unlock a minimum of £900m for the area - going ahead, should the public agree.

Dan Jarvis. Photo: JPI Meda

There are, however, now questions about the remaining 3.2m people in the rest of Yorkshire not yet covered by a devolution, and what happens next for them.

Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry said: “Today’s news represents a considerable step forward in our mission to devolve more power, money and responsibility back to the people of the North.”

He said he was “delighted” that “significant progress is now being made to implement this ambitious agreement in full”.

He added: “Unlocking this devolution deal will be a game changing opportunity to unleash the potential of South Yorkshire ensuring your locally elected Mayor has a warchest of power and money to drive jobs and growth.”

And Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, said: "We stand at a critical moment for our country. As we leave the European Union, securing further powers and resources for South Yorkshire and building greater cooperation across Yorkshire will ensure we are best prepared for whatever Brexit brings.”

There were first glimmers of hope in May last year when the four South Yorkshire councils, Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis and Government agreed on how devolution should proceed.

It meant Barnsley and Doncaster councils, both of which signed up to the deal back in 2015 but then changed their minds to back a pan-Yorkshire arrangement, would be allowed to leave the Sheffield City Region deal if things changed.

Both councils were concerned they would be trapped in a South Yorkshire deal and so would not be able to join any Yorkshire-wide arrangement for at least 30 years.

But it was agreed that should Barnsley and Doncaster leave, Sheffield and Rotherham would keep their allocated funding and powers.

Now, a joint statement from Barnsley and Doncaster leaders - Stephen Houghton and Ros Jones - plus Mr Jarvis, and Sheffield and Rotherham leaders Julie Dore and Chris Read, put all in agreement on the way forward.

The statement said: “This represents a significant step forward in securing additional powers and resources for our region.”

The move was welcomed by Mr Jarvis, who said: “My responsibility to the people of South Yorkshire is to secure the greatest resources possible for them – particularly after a long decade of austerity and generations of systemic under-investment.

“We can do this far faster, and with much greater impact, with the significant additional powers and resources that devolution would deliver.”

But others, such as Hull West and Hessle MP Emma Hardy, said they were concerned about other parts of Yorkshire - such as the east - being left behind, and would still like to see a One Yorkshire deal covering the whole region with one mayor.

A spokesman for East Riding Council said yesterday: “We’re pushing for an urgent meeting with Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry to discuss an interim devolution deal for our area and to agree a way forward.”

But Ms Hardy said: “I’m worried about this race for devolution and that Hull is not going to be listened to fully by this Government.”

She said decisions about redrawing boundaries for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP) also played into this, and that it was key for Hull’s economic future in energy that both LEP and devolution boundaries were holistic.

She said: “[Jake Berry last week] made no mention of East Yorkshire, even if he tried to backtrack, but they’ve got to include Hull in these conversations.

“We’ve got all the offshore wind, my concern is that gets put at risk by a devolution deal that does not work for Hull.”

And Leader of North Yorkshire County Council that “has always been a concern” for his region too.

“It’s what I referred to as orphans, but that said there’s a very clear indication from Government they don’t want One Yorkshire but they’ve said why don’t we pursue stepping stones.”

He added: “I’m very pleased for South Yorkshire, and I’m sure there’s been compromise on both sides.”

He said minds had now been focussed in North Yorkshire that they also needed to work on getting a deal.

He said: “I think some of us were already primed to do it, I think the penny is dropping that these are the only deals in town, and to get on with it - and if we don’t we lose out and our residents lose out on improvements that could be made to their lives.”

CBI Regional Director for Yorkshire and the Humber Beckie Hart welcomed the news South Yorkshire was moving forward but warned: “There’s a risk other parts of Yorkshire lag behind without a deal. It is time other areas consider sitting down with government, iron out differences so that we successfully empower places across the country.”

But she added: “The news that a South Yorkshire devolution deal is progressing is a moment of real success for our area. It shows what far-sighted leaders in local government can do when they work together. This will herald a real step change and should unlock investment infrastructure and extra housing for the area.

“The CBI has long called for 60 per cent of the UK to be covered by a devolution deal and today’s news is another step in that direction."

It is understood West Yorkshire leaders are also poised to restart negotiations with the Government, with the aim to get something in place by the Budget in March.

However the deal does not mean there may never be a One Yorkshire arrangement, with hopes that once it is proved the smaller plans work, looking at merging for an overall agreement could be possible.

And as the Government committed to continuing discussions on a Committee of Leaders from across Yorkshire, it seemed the door remained open.

The leaders statement said: “All South Yorkshire councils will have the opportunity to join any full Yorkshire devolution arrangement if they choose to do so.”

Negotiations are also under way to sign a deal in West Yorkshire.

Last week Mr Berry confirmed the plan was that “we should have devolution - mayoral at that - across the whole of the North of England”.

As well as name checking South and West Yorkshire, he added: “The rest of Yorkshire is in discussions with us as well.”

Northern Powerhouse Partnership Director Henri Murison added: “The Northern Powerhouse needs strong economic regions and the Metro Mayor Dan Jarvis deserves enormous credit for progressing the devolution deal for Sheffield City Region to implementation with powers and funding – a critical step towards our mission to secure Mayoral devolution across Yorkshire and a hundred per cent of the wider North.

"Devolution with the further powers we need, allows faster, more responsive decision making and delivery, stimulating economies and better addressing the causes of social problems, not just dealing with their consequences. The productivity increases we need to make the North more prosperous depend on those like Dan Jarvis and we have every confidence in his ability to deliver."