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12.12.14

Sheffield second city-region in England to get devolution package

Sheffield has agreed a devolution deal with Whitehall that will see more powers over transport, skills, housing and economic development transfer to the city region’s combined authorities.

The deal is the second devolution package for a combined authority after last month’s agreement with Greater Manchester, however unlike that deal, Sheffield will not get a metro-mayor.

It is understood that the issue of a mayor was a sticking point in the Sheffield negotiations with government, leading to the announcement being delayed by over a week due to last-minute “wrangles” in Whitehall.

Another difference in the deals between Sheffield and Manchester is there has been no monetary value attached to the Sheffield package, whereas the pact with Manchester was said to be worth £1bn.

The Sheffield deal includes:

Transport

The city will have the opportunity to roll-out ‘Oyster-style’ smart ticketing on all local bus services.

The deal also secures the future of the (currently delayed) Sheffield to Rotherham tram train service, boosting funding and pushing forward introduction of the service.

Sheffield City Region will be able to make more decisions about preparation for HS2, improvements to roads and rail, giving council leaders potential to tackle troubled transport routes like the M1 Tinsley viaduct, and will lead discussions with Highways Agency and Network Rail, ensuring that investment decisions are in line with what local people need.

Skills and employment

The city will be responsible for the majority of the Adult Skills Budget, working with the Skills Funding Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions to build a new skills system.

The Department for Work and Pensions will also consult with Sheffield City region about the possibility of joint commissioning for the next phase of the Work Programme beginning in 2017.

Business support

Whitehall will work more closely with Sheffield City Region on business support, locating national advisors alongside local staff and giving Sheffield flexibility to give businesses the support they need.

From 2017 onwards:

  • UKTI will become the principal partner with Sheffield City Region’s Export Centre of Expertise and work closely with the Local Enterprise Partnership to encourage more businesses to export
  • Government and Sheffield City Region will work towards a solution that will allow the Yorkshire JEREMIE (Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises) to continue on an interim basis
  • Sheffield City Region will move towards a more devolved model of business support, with enterprise spending coming directly into the city region’s control

Housing

The deal will make the most of public sector land in the city region, owned both by councils and government. Decisions about which assets to sell, and how to regenerate some sites, will be taken together between local and national government.

The government will also work with Sheffield to help speed up house building, by ensuring viable developments can access government funding more easily.

Announcing the deal deputy PM, and MP for Sheffield Hallam, Nick Clegg said: “Today’s deal will give council leaders clout to push forward local plans that strengthen the economy and the running of the city themselves, without waiting for Whitehall.

​“Putting the people of Sheffield in control of our city’s destiny will ensure local plans are in line with what local people want. From transforming travel across the city, to improving access to skills training, the deal will mean changes in the city are shaped by those who live there. ​ Gone are the days of central government controlling all local decisions, and I’m proud to be at the forefront of these forward-thinking changes that see cities like Sheffield able to grow as they see fit.”

Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore said the deal was an ‘important step’ but it was long overdue and city leaders would push Whitehall to go much further.

She said: “We have been fighting for this for years on behalf of the people of Sheffield and this is an important step in our journey towards devolution of the local powers we need to enable Sheffield to fulfil its huge potential.

“Today’s deal will give Sheffield major control over the local skills and employment system – allowing us to ensure that young people and the unemployed are given the skills and training to get the jobs that our economy needs.

“This is a hugely significant step, as currently the skills system is largely determined in London, taking no account of the needs of Sheffield’s local economy. Although we welcome today’s announcement, it is one that the Government should have made years ago.

“However, this is only the start of the conversation with government and we will continue to push Whitehall to go much further. £4.5bn of public money is spent in Sheffield, but Sheffield only has a say over how a small proportion of this is used.”

But not everyone was happy with the package. Oliver Coppard, Labour party candidate for Sheffield Hallam, said: “All that this is doing is giving us control over the money that already comes to Sheffield, and what Sheffield needs is not more control but more money.

“That’s not what devolution is, that’s when you get more money and support and funding – the deal with Manchester is closer to that.

“It is leading to a situation where there are even deeper cuts, where they pull the funding on Sheffield and Sheffield City Region and say ‘you messed it up’.”

The city region is made up of nine local authority areas, and was the first authority to be formed outside the boundaries of the old metropolitan counties. Its members include Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire as well as four authorities from Derbyshire – Bolsover, Chesterfield, Derbyshire Dales and North East Derbyshire. Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield councils are also members.

(Image: c. Chris Downer)

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