In or out Sheffield business leader calls for action on Devolution Deal
16th January 2017
The leader of Sheffield's top business representation organisation today called for all local authority leaders across the region to make a decision about whether they are in or out of the Sheffield City Region - and ensure the Devolution Deal goes ahead as soon as possible.
Reacting to recent events over devolution for the Sheffield City Region, Richard Wright, Executive Director of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce has called for decisive action including for the leaders to have an immediate meeting with Andrew Percy, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, to fully understand what is required to achieve that. Mr Wright has also announced he wants the Mayor election to go forward as soon as possible - and by the Autumn at the latest. Mr Wright, who heads the largest business representative organisation in the area, said: -To many people if not most, in the business community, the events of the last few weeks must be perplexing. I suspect they must be to the general population as well. -Having spoken to a to a lot of business leaders there is an air of resignation. They suspected politics and parochialism would get in the way of positive progress and they are proved right yet again. Is there any wonder that anti establishment votes like Brexit, and increasing support for more radical views is occurring? We get what we deserve. -Too many of our politicians live in their own world far away from everyday reality. It seems that points scoring between political parties, or different communities, is more important than proper long term decisions that have the capacity to positively impact on the livelihood of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. -Let's recap on what has happened. I know it's a simple analysis but this is actually what most people feel is going on because they aren't involved in the details and power politics. I don't want anybody to think I think it's easy. I know it isn't but the best people can see the wood for the trees. The Sheffield City Region LEP was formed to drive the economic development of our region. A positive step that many of us supported because it transcended old and outdated political boundaries and had significant private sector involvement. Surely that would mean that money would be spent where it would make the best return, not just divided up by geography and population? Every business person understands the long-term benefits to the whole. Subsequently the combined authority was formed -as a recipient of the monies from Government the LEP was going to invest. That's where the first problems started. We all know about the differences of opinion behind the scenes between different groups of Local Authority leaders and we started to see the erosion of investing monies from where it could deliver the best return to -What is our share? We have voters and they want to see we've got our bit! How can we get more of this money to protect our local authority structures? Despite all of this the LEP and Combined Authority managed to develop an economic strategy (albeit is really a justification of government monies, and the numbers in it seem alien to a lot of people) and actually developed, and agreed with Government, a Devolution Deal. This deal gives us a bit more money but importantly gives us control of a lot of existing money and the forward commitment from Government allows us to borrow money to invest in a future economy that is fit for purpose. One of the conditions of the deal was that the SCR must elect a regional mayor with the date being set in May 2017. Initially this deal was for South Yorkshire but to their credit, the North Notts and North Derbyshire authorities wanted to be part of it and, in some ways, went against Derbyshire County Council. We should remember that this is about economic development, not all the other aspects of government. Economies transcend political boundaries so for most of us this made sense. Derbyshire however raised a legal challenge against this which went to judicial review. In December 2016 the judge threw out nine parts of the challenge but upheld the one around proper consultation with the population. In fairness to the bodies involved there was no precedent to what was being done, and no guide lines on what to do so one out of ten isn't bad. It might cause a delay but certainly shouldn't kill the process. Let's get on with the consultation and the mayoral election as quickly as possible you would think. After all its to the benefit of everybody in the region and we are at the vanguard of change to less centralized decision making. That's where we would be wrong because we haven't factored in politics and parochialism! -I remain flabbergasted at the reactions over the past week. The political leaders of both Doncaster and Barnsley (including the Chair of the Combined Authority) released statements which committed to the region but clearly didn't. They stated quite openly that they were exploring a suggestion around a Yorkshire LEP and Combined Authority (and presumably a Mayor). Where is the commitment to the SCR in that? I can't imagine how frustrated Chesterfield and Bolsover must feel having stuck their necks out. It smacks of opportunistic politics and vote chasing, rather than making a decision and driving it through. -Before you accuse me of being anti-Yorkshire I am not. I'm just pragmatic. If we can't get agreement between the Local Authorities in the Sheffield City Region what hope have we across Yorkshire? There isn't even a Combined Authority in Hull and Humber, and Leeds, West Yorkshire and the rest couldn't even agree on a Devolution proposal. A Yorkshire LEP is light years away and the proposal is a distraction in the short term. Lets get just get on with what we've started. It won't stop future developments but is the right thing to do now. -Talking about getting on with it. The Combined Authority put out a statement last week saying it was going to suggest to government that the mayoral election be put back to May 2018, i.e. 12 months. I don't know how long the consultation will take but 12 months!! If it takes three months then why doesn't the election go back 3 month. -Sir Nigel Knowles (LEP Chair) in a statement last week expresses frustration and disappointment, but welcomed the continued support for the Devolution Process and seemed to accept May 2018. I can't agree with that but I'm in the enviable position of not being constrained in what I say by chairing a LEP board with all the leaders of the combined authority on it! -Perhaps the most telling statement came from Andrew Percy, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, who said on BBC's Look North: -The government is committed to the (devolution) deal and I would encourage South Yorkshire leaders to remain committed to that deal because if they walk away from this deal we will take it off the table and that means that that money and those powers will not be coming to South Yorkshire. -Notice he talks about South Yorkshire leaders and not Sheffield City Region leaders! He knows where the problems are. This is a very straight comment from a politician and good on him! -The correct response to the judicial review would have been for all the LEP and Combined Authority leaders to unequivocally confirm their support and commitment to the deal, commit to working with Chesterfield et al to get the consultation done and say we will work as fast as possible to ensure no delay on the timetable other than is absolutely necessary! After all they allegedly agreed to Devolution before. One little issue around process isn't the end of it. -There should have been no statements about Yorkshire LEPs and mayors, no need to talk about one year delays, or any hints of a Barnsley and Doncaster break away. I would also like to have seen all our regional MPs get together and issue a statement supporting the process and deal. -The fact is that it is politics that is driving the agenda. People who should be showing real leadership at times like this are constrained by political agendas and time tables. People couch what they say very carefully, rather than being open and saying what they really think or mean, or needs saying. -Sometimes short term things can be difficult but the right thing to do for the longer term and the people who will live here in the future. Good sustainable economic growth needs good economic decisions. I don't feel we are getting that at the moment!