It is looking increasingly unlikely a mayoral election in the Sheffield City Region will take place in May, senior figures have suggested, while rumours have re-emerged of a Yorkshire wide devolution deal being negotiated instead.
A High Court judge ruled earlier today that the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority’s devolution deal consultation was unlawful because it failed to ask whether Chesterfield BC should join the body as a constituent member.
LGC understands senior figures within the region consider the prospect of holding an election on 5 May to be unlikely as the combined authority needs to re-run the public consultation before the communities secretary can lay the necessary parliamentary orders.
Sheffield CIty Region Combined Authority vice chair and Chesterfield BC leader John Burrow (Lab) accepted there would “most likely be a delay” to the election but added “it will not be a stop” to it happening.
“I think it [the mayoral election] will be in months and I don’t see any reason why it should be in 2018,” he told LGC. “This is just yet another delay towards achieving our goal.”
Cllr Burrow said he was “neither cowing or crowing” about the ruling and stressed: “I firmly believe being a part of the Sheffield City Region devolution deal is the best way, and possibly the only way, of growing our economy and creating jobs for our residents.”
Doncaster chief executive Jo Miller said on Twitter it was “virtually certain” that the election would not now go ahead in May.
Guidance from the Association of Electoral Administrators says changes to legislation should be made at least six months before an election is held.
John Turner, chief executive of the AEA, told LGC: “We are already a long way past that date.
“As a matter of principle this is not in the best interests of the electors, the candidates, their supporters, and the people who have got to run this election to try and shoehorn this in to an incredibly tight timescale given all of the things that have to happen.”
Mr Turner thought it would be a “tall order” and “difficult” to run another public consultation and get the necessary legislation in place for elections to be held in May.
“It sounds extraordinarily tight to me,” he said.
One senior city region source acknowledged the timetable was tight but said it was “doable” provided the government also made parliamentary time.
They said: “There is an additional question that should have been asked. The mood round here is let’s ask that question.”
LGC understands the Department for Communities & Local Government is considering various options in relation to the timing of the election, including holding it later in 2017 or in May 2018.
Should Chesterfield’s residents vote in favour of joining the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority in a refreshed public consultation, Derbyshire CC’s leader Anne Western (Lab) told LGC she would “respect” the result. “That’s democracy,” she said. “But given the information we know…I would be very surprised if they did. I think that’s part of the reason why that [question] wasn’t in the consultation in the first place.”
Doncaster’s deputy mayor Glyn Jones (Lab) said in September that the prospect of mayoral elections taking place in May next year was “highly improbable” as he expressed doubts about the deal and adopting an elected mayor.
LGC reported last month how the idea of an elected mayor for the whole of Yorkshire, overseeing up to four separate combined authorities covering the Leeds and Sheffield city regions, North Yorkshire, and the Humber, was being floated should the Sheffield City Region’s deal collapse.
While the DCLG has said it remains “100% committed to the agreed deal”, the potential delay to a mayoral election has created an opportunity for further discussions to be had about the Yorkshire-wide proposal.
In a statement issued by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Leeds City Council’s leader Judith Blake (Lab) expressed a desire to hold talks with Sheffield City Region’s leaders to “explore the range of options for the best way forward”. She said: “This judgement potentially means a further setback to securing devolved powers and funding for the Sheffield City Region and further complicates the picture for Yorkshire and other places where there are cross-boundary issues.
“Devolution is about economic growth, which here in Yorkshire we are agreed means achieving inclusive growth that benefits everyone, regardless which side of an administrative boundary they may live or work.
“As a consequence, and to progress our shared ambitions, West Yorkshire leaders will be seeking meetings with leaders in South Yorkshire and across our region to explore the range of options for the best way forward.”
North Yorkshire CC’s leader Carl Les (Con) told LGC there was “no doubt the brand of one Yorkshire would be powerful” and likened the idea to working in a similar way to “King Arthur’s Camelot – a partnership of equals”.
He told LGC: “I’m sure my colleagues, and certainly I, will be up for a discussion if there’s the opportunity from the people in south Yorkshire and the Sheffield City Region.”
Cllr Burrow said he was “not privy” to those discussions and was focused on the city region deal but would have to consider a Yorkshire-wide proposal if it “rears its head in any significant way”.