Sheffield City Region is on the last lap of its dash to devolution started by the Scottish referendum.

The deal is done, though until voted on by the nine councils involved and the City Region Combined Authority itself, it remains a ‘proposal’. We are now almost through a ‘public consultation’ that ends on 15 January.

Writing about devolution in November 2014 (NT#80), I commented on “politicians […] scrambling to be in the forefront …“ and my concern that “…people are being told what they want by the MPs in Westminster.” In that same article I drew out concerns that in the devolution deal being proposed there lurked the prospect of an elected Mayor, something which was rejected by voters in Sheffield in 2012.

I also wrote that “…the way we are governed locally is up for debate and, eventually, decision.” My hope was that debate would come first and decision would follow, after consideration and consultation with the people of the devolved areas. But the Chancellor has decided on the devolution that he wants, then entered into secret negotiations with the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ authorities. First Manchester and now Sheffield, we have been handed a deal from on high, like it or not.

In September (NT#90), after news of the Manchester deal broke, I wrote about two key points resulting from that secret deal: “We will have devolution done to us, not by us,” and, “…Powers will only be gifted to those city regions agreeing to a directly elected mayor”. When Sheffield City Region’s deal came along in October, this proved to be the case.

Since the ‘proposal’ was signed, we have been on a short and fast road to completion. Six months for public consultation on the previously secret deal, Council approval and formal adoption by the City Region Combined Authority. Oh, and the minor matter of passing a new Cities Bill through parliament to make it legal.

Now, I want to try and get you all involved in your only chance to have your say – consultation. The consultation is now available on the Council’s website. Please take part.

For me, there remain three big problems with this deal:

1. The elected mayor and his ability to veto the decisions of the majority of Combined Authority members. Too much unconstrained power for one person.

2. The details of most clauses within this deal are not agreed and will not be agreed between the government and the City Region when they come to vote on adopting it. This is like buying a house without doing a survey or even knowing the price.

3. While the government can end this deal at any time, there is no means for councils to back out in the future. This is like taking a job from which you can never resign, but from which you can be sacked.

Think about what our councils may be committing us to and tell them what you think before 15 January. More details are available on my blog, Public Interest Sheffield.

Nigel Slack