What now for Devolution?
26th June 2017
There has been a long period of silence, broken only today with a welcome statement from our LEP chair, since the announcements that Chesterfield and Bassetlaw have effectively left the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority and no longer wish to be part of the Devolution Deal.
As general in these situations the debate (if there is one) has gone behind closed doors with very little sign from our -leaders that they have a cunning plan that will ensure that the rest of us will not lose the opportunity that the devolution deal gave us. I am told that the four South Yorkshire Local Authority leaders cannot meet until the 12th July nearly 5 weeks after the announcement. Obviously this is not very high priority for them. Or is the real story something I wrote about after the judicial review required us to do a vote in Chesterfield and Bassetlaw? Doncaster and Barnsley immediately defaulted publicly to a Yorkshire Devolution deal. Politicians were pretty clear then, and Jim O'Neil was equally so only last Friday in the Yorkshire Post,that any Yorkshire Devo deal is light years away. I think the expression he used was -get real! Some people might ask why this is so important. The fact is that the Devolution Deal is on the table now. It is worth £900 million pounds, admittedly spread over a number of years, but its real attraction is that when in place our LEP can borrow more money against it to fund major projects. It has the opportunity to give this region an immediate economic lift. It means jobs and stability for thousands of people and unlocks funding for projects like the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District (AMID) and the logistics hub round Doncaster Sheffield airport which can be used to accelerate them, along with many other projects across the region. Despite being the proper economic entity I have to be pragmatic and accept that any devolution money will only now be spent in South Yorkshire. I have always supported the concept of the whole Sheffield City Region and the Local Enterprise Partnership but the fact remains that this is now dead unless something happens differently in the future. But some sort of deal must be done! Who is included in that deal and what powers it brings with it remains a question. At the moment business still backs a devolution deal for South Yorkshire but remains deeply sceptical about who the mayor might be and whether he or she can really cut through the obvious in-fighting that the different Local Authorities have shown over the last few years. Maybe it is this fighting that is really at the root of Chesterfield and Bassetlaw leaving! I sometimes wonder whether it is actually the fact that we must have a mayor, who will obviously challenge the powers of our current leaders, that is one of the real problems here. What I will absolutely say is that this needs resolving quickly. At this moment there is little leadership, political or private. We are being let down. It is time the political controllers in this region made a decision about what they want and what deal they are prepared to do. We have gone from the front of the Devolution process to the back. Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham have theirs in place. So I repeat. Come clean, tell us what the deal is, and get it done!! Richard Wright Executive Director, Sheffield Chamber of Commerce