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Yorkshire devo dissenters seek deal for 'coalition of the willing'

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Half of the constituent councils on the Sheffield City Region CA want to turn their backs on their devolution deal and join a “coalition of the willing” with a view to negotiating a single agreement including an elected mayor for almost all of the local authorities in Yorkshire.

However, legislation could scupper plans discussed by 17 leaders from across Yorkshire at a meeting on Friday, while ministers remain opposed to the idea of such a deal.

The news comes just days after Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry warned the four full members of the Sheffield City Region – Sheffield City Council, Barnsley MBC, Doncaster MBC and Rotherham MBC – that voters will be asked to elect a mayor next year regardless of whether the councils still agree with the terms of the devolution deal they previously signed up to.

Barnsley leader Sir Stephen Houghton and Doncaster mayor Ros Jones (both Lab) were among the group of leaders at Friday’s meeting in York to discuss a potential way forward on devolution for the region. The leaders of Sheffield, Rotherham, and Wakefield did not attend.

A statement issued on behalf of the 17 leaders who were at the meeting said “the county is big enough and bold enough to want to carve out its own destiny”.

“The leaders agreed unanimously to form a ‘coalition of the willing’, working towards securing a single ambitious devolution deal for the Yorkshire authorities and areas wanting to work together on this basis,” the statement said. “This would in the first instance be based on the government’s present requirements of a directly elected mayor with clear responsibilities yet to be determined.

“All leaders present, including Barnsley and Doncaster, supported this approach as well as supporting a deal for Sheffield and Rotherham, should they seek to pursue that as an option.”

Barnsley and Doncaster have deferred making a final decision on their involvement in the Sheffield City Region deal until September. However, they might struggle to get out of the agreement they have already signed up to.

The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, which paved the way for combined authorities to be created, only allows for a council to leave a combined authority if “a majority of the councils” involved agree to it. With Sheffield and Rotherham keen to progress the deal agreed in October 2015, which includes an investment fund worth up to £30m a year and control of its share of the 19+ adult skills budget, among other powers, Barnsley and Doncaster might struggle to win their support to leave.

* This story was updated at 15.55 on August 1 to remove reference to Condition C of clause 103 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act. This condition, which had prevented combined authorities from being created around any non-consenting authorities, was removed when the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 was passed. 

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