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Combined authority's future hangs in the balance

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The Sheffield City Region Combined Authority and its mayoral devolution deal is hanging in the balance ahead of a crunch meeting to decide its future.

Leaders are weighing up a number of options ranging from holding a mayoral election next May and implementing the devolution deal as planned to dissolving the combined authority altogether.

This comes after Barnsley MBC leader Sir Stephen Houghton (Lab) and Doncaster MBC mayor Ros Jones were pictured alongside 15 other counterparts across Yorkshire expressing their support for a Yorkshire-wide devolution deal. 

However, the leaders of Sheffield City Council, Rotherham MBC, and Wakefield – which is not a member of the Sheffield City Region CA – have not attended recent meetings to discuss that option. Ministers have repeatedly rejected the idea of a Yorkshre-wide deal, although chancellor Philip Hammond said last week government would look at any proposals.

The paper due to go before the CA, written by managing director Dave Smith, recommends leaders pursue the implementation of the region’s devolution deal. That agreement includes gaining control of £30m a year to boost economic growth over 30 years, control of a £20m a year consolidated transport budget up to 2020-21, and control of the 19+ adult skills funding budget worth up to £30m a year, among other powers.

In order to guarantee a mayoral election will take place in May 2018, the combined authority will need to launch a re-run of a six-week-long consultation on the proposals by 20 September.

This option, however, requires the approval of all four constituent member councils.

Other options have been tabled in the report in a bid to secure the support of wantaway councils Barnsley and Doncaster.

These include asking the government to defer the mayoral election for another year at least so leaders can “explore a single compliant Yorkshire deal”, or adopt an interim mayor until 2020 with an agreement to then either take on a fully elected mayor for the city region or the whole of Yorkshire if a deal is in place.

Another option would see leaders sign up to the original Sheffield City Region deal now but undertake a governance review in 2020 with a focus on “moving to a Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority model, should a deal have emerged during this period”.

Councils could even ask to withdraw from the Sheffield City Region CA but this requires the approval of the communities secretary who needs to be satisfied the combined authority’s functions would be improved as a result of their absence.

Dissolving the combined authority also requires communities secretary approval who would need to satisfied of plans to transfer transport powers currently held by the CA to the constituent members.

LGC reported in July how Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry warned voters in the Sheffield City Region will be asked to elect a mayor next year regardless of whether the councils involved decide to press ahead with the devolution deal. That is because councils signed up to that last year.

Mr Smith’s report warned the CA would struggle to meet the estimated £1m cost of the election which would be in addition to money needed to set up the mayor’s office.

“Without gainshare monies the CA does not have the resources to meet the costs of a mayoral election,” the report said. “In addition, the financial resilience and sustainability of the CA’s economic development activity would remain challenging without the security that gainshare monies would bring.”

The Sheffield City Region was originally due to elect a mayor in May 2017 before plans were derailed by a row over whether the districts of Chesterfield BC and Bassetlaw DC, in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire respectively, should join the CA as full members. Following a legal challenge by Derbyshire CC, in December the High Court ordered the city region to re-run parts of its consultation on the devolution deal, however it has yet to do so. Chesterfield and Bassetlaw have since decided against joining the city region as full members.

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