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, Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry has said.
In a letter to Sheffield MP Clive Betts, Mr Berry says the mayor will become the chair of the region’s combined authority but without the deal will not have any additional powers and will lose out on the £50m a year in funding available until at least 2020-21. Without this extra cash he warns local taxpayers will be left to foot the bill for the mayoral election in May 2018.
Mr Berry writes: “If any South Yorkshire authority walks away from the deal, all the benefits – including the £30m per year new money… full control over the £20m transport budget, and all the other new powers will be lost.
“Furthermore, local council tax payers of South Yorkshire will face an estimated cost of over £1m for running the mayoral election in 2018 which all four councils agreed when consenting to the legislation earlier this year.”
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 combined authority as full members. Its four full members are Sheffield City Council and Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham MBCs.
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 and earlier this month deferred a decision on pressing ahead with the consultation until September. Chesterfield and Bassetlaw have in recent months decided against joining the city region as full members.
At the same combined authority meeting Barnsley MBC leader Stephen Houghton (Lab) stood down as chair of the combined authority temporarily in order to avoid conflicts of interest while his council explores potential alternative devolution arrangements, including a Yorkshire-wide devolution deal.
In the letter, sent on Tuesday, Mr Berry said pressing ahead with the existing devolution deal would not preclude the city region from joining a Yorkshire wide deal in future but said he did “not see this as a possibility”.
Sir Stephen Houghton
“Consent by the 20 council for such an approach is very unlikely. Nor do I believe that a deal and governance across the whole of Yorkshire, given its scale and diversity, would in practice deliver the benefits that the proponents of such a deal seek,” he said.
Responding to the letter Mr Betts said he sympathised with the views of some councillors that the deal should come with more resources and powers and shared their anger at the government’s “treachery” on rail electrification.
However, he said the “harsh reality” was that the “only choice” was between the election of a mayor “with additional powers and additional resources, or without”.
“At the moment, South Yorkshire councils are making futile desires for different devolution models the enemy of a better deal with more powers and more resources,” he said. “It’s time for South Yorkshire’s council leaders to wake up and smell the coffee.
“This is the only deal on offer. It’s time for leadership and swift, determined action.”