Monday, October 5, 2015

News: Devolution deal not yet a deal

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Council leaders in the Sheffield city region (SCR) insist that the agreements reached with Government last week signals the start of the negotiations over handing more powers and money.

The SCR was one of 38 bids submitted from major cities and regions from across the country wanting to take control of how public money is spent in their local area. It could include some £900m of additional cash over the next thirty years to deliver major regeneration, infrastructure and business growth schemes.

Chancellor George Osborne was in Rotherham to sign the deal with local council leaders that make up the Combined Authority, and the Local Enterprise Partnership - the private sector led approach to providing the strategic leadership required to set out local economic priorities.

It is only the second time in the country that such an agreement has been reached and in return, the Government will require a directly elected Mayor across South Yorkshire to hold accountability for the new powers. Elections could take place as soon as May 2017.

Signing the devolution agreement, Cllr Chris Read, the Leader of Rotherham Borough Council, said: "Today's announcement in Rotherham is the first of its kind outside Manchester and puts us on the national stage – prioritising jobs, housing and infrastructure. It is a measure of the progress we have made over the last few months that we're able to do this today, and a measure of our ambition that we'll be one of the first places in the country to be making these kinds of decisions for ourselves rather than depending on London. It's important too that at a time when our public services are facing ever increasing pressure, this deal means more cash up front.

"I know that people will have lots of questions about how this might work, and it is important that we engage local residents and businesses in discussion about this. But it is also clear that this is a process, not a final destination reached. It's an opportunity that we now have chance to realise. We will be continuing to negotiate hard with the government over the coming months in order to make that opportunity into a reality."

Whilst the initial preference is to do a devolution deal without a directly elected mayor, a second preference of a "Mayoral CA Model" has been devised. The directly elected Mayor for Sheffield City Region Combined Authority will autonomously exercise new powers. The Mayor will chair the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority, the members of which (the local authority leaders and the chair of the LEP) will serve as the Mayor's Cabinet.

The model should see the Mayor and Cabinet working together. It means that spending plans and strategies could be rejected if two-thirds of the members vote against them.

The plans will now be subject to Government announcements in the Comprehensive Spending Review, public consultation, and approval by all nine councils that make up the Sheffield City Region.

Images: HM Treasury / Twitter

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