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Looking for love

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

Valentine’s Day might be a month away but courting partners tends to be a year-round activity in local government.

Whether it’s seeking to share services and senior management structures, or develop devolution deals, most council leaders are always on the lookout for new people to ‘get into bed’ with (figuratively speaking, of course).

So perhaps it should not have come as a massive surprise to witness two prominent leaders flash their ankles at would-be suitors as soon as it was announced it was “not possible” for the Sheffield City Region to hold its mayoral election on 4 May, as had been planned, following a High Court ruling.

The city region’s mayoral election is not likely to take place until May 2018 now (if it does at all). A week is a long time in politics but a lot can, and almost inevitably will, happen in a year.

Indeed, leaders in West Yorkshire, growing ever weary about the lack of progress on a mayoral devolution deal for the Leeds City Region, have already changed tack and instigated talks about a potential Yorkshire-wide mayoral deal.

Speaking to local radio last week, Northern Powerhouse minister Andrew Percy (who is also Brigg and Goole MP), reportedly supportive of the Yorkshire-wide proposal, warned leaders in the Sheffield City Region to think “very carefully” about ditching the deal already on the table.

While a handful of local leaders (and MPs) have clung to the idea of a Yorkshire-wide deal over the past couple of years it has never felt like a realistic prospect – until now.

The thinking goes that an elected mayor for the whole of Yorkshire would oversee three combined authorities: one for West Yorkshire/Leeds City Region, one for Sheffield City Region, and another for north and east Yorkshire. Whether those combined authorities would each have an elected mayor at their helm or not remains to be seen.

But to put that proposal in context a Yorkshire-wide mayor would sit above three combined authorities made up of nine metropolitan councils, three unitaries, seven districts, and one county council, which are all spread across a massive area, and represent a similar number of people as Scotland.

The fact small clusters in the region have had limited devolution success so far means it would be an incredible feat if political, geographical, and economic differences were set aside to develop proposals everybody, including backbenchers who are often concerned about being further marginalised, can agree on.

The white rose is symbolic of Yorkshire, but local leaders will need to do a lot of woo-ing with olive branches and peace lilies if they are to turn these flirtations into a long-term relationship.

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