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A Magazine for Sheffield

Devolution: Where Did It Go?

What has happened to the devolution deal for Sheffield City Region? The four main Metro Councils made a decision, at their meeting on 17 July, to make no decision – until September. The original deal was agreed behind closed doors by the elites of the City Region councils and Westminster, and moreover it was completed in haste after Manchester announced they were first out of the box for an individual deal. Is it any wonder it went wrong? Regular readers will know I've tried to keep you up to date on the varying fortunes of the Sheffield City Region devolution deal. It's not been easy. Since George Osborne and local council leaders announced the until-then secret deal in November 2015, the negotiations have been troubled to say the least. I was concerned about some aspects of the deal from the beginning, particularly around the issues of an elected mayor with veto powers and the devolution of DWP powers around 'workfare' and the sanctioning of the unemployed. The geography of the deal was tortured. Four unitary metropolitan councils in Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham, plus five two-tier councils drawn from North Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire. There were problems from the off and lots of negotiation ensued. Red lines were drawn by councils and central government and some compromises were made. There was a public consultation of sorts and the wagon rolled forward. It was slow work, but by spring 2016 all seemed to be settling down. Chesterfield and Bassetlaw had decided they wanted to be part of the inner circle of councils that would vote for the elected mayor, therefore easing some of the concerns over the awkward geography of the City Region, and their brief public consultations had apparently approved the idea. This did not go down well with Derbyshire County Council, who could see some of their powers disappearing to the new City Region Mayor, and, probably more concerning to them, a great deal of its finances would go with Chesterfield as well. It's always a good idea to follow the money in these deals. Chesterfield wanted better access to the £30m per year that the deal brings to the region, while Derbyshire County wanted to retain its control of Chesterfield's funding from central government. By August 2016, High Court writs were pending and a shadow was cast over the proposed mayoral election of May 2017. The court case took a long time to achieve a result and Derbyshire County Council won. Chesterfield would now have to re-run their consultation with a more explicit question about whether the residents of Chesterfield wanted to be part of the 'inner circle' of City Region councils. The delays to this additional consultation meant that the City Region decided to delay implementing their mayoral election until 2018. This was not pleasing to a Government in turmoil over Brexit. However, all were confident that everything would still go ahead as planned. Then came the local elections of May, and a win for the Conservative Party in Derbyshire County meant a hardening of hearts with respect to the Chesterfield situation. June's snap General Election didn't help. Devolution was now almost entirely off the weakened minority Tory government agenda and future deals were looking unlikely. Derbyshire County now took another swipe at Chesterfield, with the Tory leader proposing a referendum for the borough designed to appeal to tribal county allegiances, putting a 'Yorkshire' or 'Derbyshire' decision to residents. With this unlikely to be a win for Chesterfield, they withdrew their plans to join the inner circle. Bassetlaw, meanwhile, had been watching from the sidelines and were worried what Nottinghamshire County might do, so within a day or two had followed Chesterfield's lead and withdrew their plans as well. You can imagine Sheffield City Region employees throwing their collective hands up in despair. Councils are saying very little, short of 'we will look at all the options'. For Barnsley and Doncaster, this means trying to create interest in a 'Whole Yorkshire' deal. Private enterprise, keen to bring the £30m back into play, are pushing for decisions. Central government seem uncaring. City Region staff are in limbo. Will the deal survive? Will we return to Osborne's original plan? Where is the £30m a year? Either nobody knows or they just don't want us to know. )

Next article in issue 113

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