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12.08.16

Sheffield devo plans suffer second blow as county leader rejects Bassetlaw membership

Sheffield City Region’s (SCR’s) devolution proposal has suffered another crushing blow as Nottinghamshire County Council’s leader, Cllr Alan Rhodes, accused the deal of “making no sense” in a letter to senior government ministers.

As well as responding to the official SCR Combined Authority consultation, Cllr Rhodes set out a string of concerns in letters to chancellor Philip Hammond and communities secretary Sajid Javid, as well as Nottinghamshire MPs and business leaders.

His headline worry was that Bassetlaw joining the SCR – and thus handing control over services in north Nottinghamshire to a new Sheffield metro-mayor – would lead to deterioration in the district’s economic prospects, public services and local democracy.

“The proposal makes no sense from a customer or governance perspective and I fear that, rather than leading to better economic outcomes, public services and improved governance in Bassetlaw, it will have a detrimental effect in all of these areas,” Cllr Rhodes said. “By adding two more layers of government, they will create confusion and uncertainty about who is responsible for what, which will be damaging for local democracy and accountability.

“I acknowledge that parts of the Worksop area do share some economic interests with Sheffield City Region, but I'm afraid the same cannot be said for the vast majority of the Bassetlaw District. Towns like Retford, Tuxford and surrounding rural communities have little economic, cultural or social connection with South Yorkshire and I really fear their interests are not being taken into account.”

The Nottinghamshire leader added that he has always been “a big advocate of devolution” and moving decision-making away from the “Westminster bubble”, but added: “For devolution to work, it has to be done in the right way and on the right terms and I believe that Bassetlaw joining the SCR deal will be bad for local democracy, not improve it.”

His concerns come on the heels of a major blow to Sheffield’s proposals from Derbyshire County Council, who has decided to launch legal action against the SCR Combined Authority for what it believed was a “misleading, flawed and insufficient” consultation engagement.

Like Cllr Rhodes, Derbyshire’s leader, Cllr Anne Western, believes that making Chesterfield a full SCR member will negatively impact the future of both regions, primarily by tying all local decisions to SCR’s 30-year devolution plan.

Similarly, Nottinghamshire believes the proposed new governance arrangements for Bassetlaw are “complicated and confusing”, will damage local democracy by reducing opportunities for local people to influence decision-making, and will have “significant financial and service-delivery implications for the whole of the county”.

As well as additional anxieties over a potential impact on transport services and county-controlled budgets, Cllr Rhodes – much like Cllr Western – also questioned the credibility of the SCR consultation itself, because of the “vague, one-sided nature of the questions asked and its failure to set out all or any of the alternative options available to local people and businesses”.

“Ultimately, the county council and I both want the best possible future for the people, businesses and economy of Bassetlaw and we do not believe that lies within the Sheffield City Region,” he added.

“However, I will personally work to ensure a positive approach to partnership working with the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority going forward, regardless of the decision reached by the government later this autumn.”

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