Yorkshire devolution: Calls for Government to act as council leaders reach agreement on interim mayor

The Government was coming under pressure today to agree to proposals for a two-year mayoral term in South Yorkshire, a major stepping stone on the path to a full region-wide devolution deal, after a significant concession on the issue by the leader of Sheffield City Council.

An agreement over the long-running Yorkshire devolution saga was closer last night.

Julie Dore says she will back plans for an interim mayor for the Sheffield City Region for a shorter period than originally envisaged, meaning the proposal is now supported by all four local authorities in South Yorkshire.

It means the Government is now the only obstacle to a formal agreement being reached that would allow the rest of Yorkshire to pursue a potential wider devolution deal creating one mayor for the majority of the region.

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Last year, Doncaster and Barnsley councils pulled out of the Sheffield City Region devolution deal agreed with ex-Chancellor George Osborne in 2015, meaning a mayor would be elected this May with virtually none of the promised powers or funding.

Julie Dore and Chris Read want the benefits of devolution to come to South Yorkshire

The two authorities would re-join the deal if they were free to pursue a wider One Yorkshire agreement in 2020, though the Government wants them to wait until 2022, the end of a full mayoral term.

Coun Dore said South Yorkshire leaders are still discussing the 30-year plan for £900m and devolved powers and that she had “always been committed to finding a compromise that would see the investment we have secured through the South Yorkshire deal delivered”.

She said: “For example we suggested shortening the first mayoral term to two years in the discussions last summer, which would also have the benefit of bringing South Yorkshire in line with the other mayoral elections around the country.

“Discussions between all the South Yorkshire authorities and government are ongoing, to conclude a final agreement which we believe can be achieved.”

Julie Dore and Chris Read want the benefits of devolution to come to South Yorkshire

It is understood the chief executives of the four South Yorkshire authorities will meet on Friday in the hope of reaching a formal agreement which can be presented to Government.

Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis, a supporter of a One Yorkshire solution, said: “It is a very welcome development that we have consensus amongst the four local council leaders in South Yorkshire about the Sheffield City Region deal proceeding in a way that would allow negotiations for a wider Yorkshire deal to progress.

“I continue to believe that a wider Yorkshire deal is the best option for our county and I am hopeful that agreement on the Sheffield City Region would be a stepping stone to achieving that.

“As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, I would urge the Government not to miss the opportunity of securing a reasonable compromise which will work in the best interests of the people of Yorkshire and fulfils the enormous potential which exists in our county.”

When asked last week about the possibility of a mayor being appointed, rather than elected, for the Sheffield City Region, and for two years rather than four, Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry said it would face “certain challenges”.

He said: “First, it remains the law of the land that the election for the South Yorkshire Mayor will take place in May.

“The process for delaying the date of that election would be to ensure that all the councils in South Yorkshire agreed to the election being delayed. As of today, I am not aware that all of them have.

“Secondly, the Government would need to agree to a new proposed date for the election. We would need to have a draft order prepared, cleared through the Government’s legal advisor and laid before Parliament.

“We would then need time to approve it through motions in the House of Commons and the House of Lords and time for the order to come into force. To do that between now and May, given the parliamentary business that we have, looks extremely tight.”

A Government spokesman said: “We have always said we would welcome discussions on a widely-supported greater Yorkshire devolution deal provided the Sheffield City Region deal was not threatened.

“While we will not undo the Sheffield City Region deal, which has been partly implemented and would bring around £1 billion of new investment to the area, we have proposed to the four South Yorkshire leaders what we believe is a good way forward.

“We are awaiting an agreed formal response from the four leaders to the proposal that the Secretary of State set out in his letter towards the end of last year.”

Four Yorkshire council leaders will speak at an event to be held in Leeds on January 26 about the future of the Yorkshire devolution saga.

Susan Hinchcliffe of Bradford, Judith Blake of Leeds, Carl Les of North Yorkshire and Stephen Houghton of Barnsley will be at the debate between 11.30am and 2.30pm at The Marriott hotel.

For further information on the Devolution and Yorkshire lunch event contact Julie Edmondson on (01423) 525622 or email [email protected]