The leader of Rotherham MBC has signalled for the first time a willingness to join a wider Yorkshire devolution deal in a letter to the housing and communities secretary.
Chris Read (Lab) told Sajid Javid he found the contents of last week’s counter-proposal from Barnsley and Doncaster acceptable and made suggestions in line with their recommendations - most notably to have interim mayor arrangements in Sheffield City Region until 2020 when an election would take place unless all councils had decided to join a Yorkshire-wide deal.
Cllr Read told LGC last week he was considered Mr Javid’s proposal. One week later, in his letter on Thursday, the Rotherham leader said the idea of having a mayoral election in May 2020 held “merit” as it brought South Yorkshire into the “same electoral timetable as other metro mayoral areas”.
In a proposed interim model sent to Mr Javid last week, a copy of which has been seen by LGC, Ros Jones (Lab) and Sir Steve Houghton (Lab) suggested postponing the mayoral election until 2020.
“We understand that Rotherham colleagues are likely to be supportive of the proposed interim model, which would then require Sheffield CC [city council] and government approval,” the two leaders wrote at the time.
Cllr Read did not propose a total departure from his previous position though.
“We believe the Sheffield City Region deal is our best opportunity to draw down funding and decision making to strengthen our local economy, and we have not seen any counter proposal which we believe would bring the same level of benefit to our borough,” he wrote.
The leader later sought assurances that the benefits of devolution, with regards funding and devolved powers, could still be preserved in a Sheffield City devolution deal.
“We are keen to pursue fruitful discussions at the first opportunity,” he wrote.
While local leaders are aiming to postpone this May’s mayoral election in the Sheffield City Region, Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry has indicated it will still go ahead.
In a debate on Yorkshire devolution on Tuesday, Mr Berry said the parliamentary timetable “looks extremely tight” so the chances of bringing forward legislation to delay the election is slim, especially as it has not got the formal agreement of all councils involved - most notably Sheffield City Council. LGC has contacted Sheffield and its leader Julie Dore (Lab) for comment.
“I reiterate that the government do not intend to undo the legislation of this house to change the date of the election for the South Yorkshire mayoral combined authority election, and even if we intended to do so, I do not believe that it would be possible in parliamentary terms to pass the necessary orders from where we are today,” said Mr Berry.
Earlier he set out the government’s compromise agreement which he hoped could “break the stalemate”.