South Yorkshire opts for regional assembly over latest devolution model

South Yorkshire residents have rejected the current Sheffield devolution package agreed to last month, instead opting for a Yorkshire-wide regional assembly as their preferred devolution model.

In the UK’s first ever Citizens’ Assembly, residents called on their local politicians to turn down the government’s latest offer, but to seek a more ambitious and democratic deal instead of walking away entirely.

The 31 assembly participants – drawn by YouGov as representative samples from Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster – deliberated over two weekends, the first of which highlighted the importance of giving local people a say on the future of their regional government.

They engaged with bosses from the Sheffield and Barnsley councils on the details of different potential devolution arrangements.

Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “As the government seeks to devolve powers towards local areas, they need to include citizens and not simply deliver their chosen solutions. This Citizens’ Assembly has given local people the chance to come to the fore and shape the devolution agenda. Politicians should sit up and take note.

“The assembly has been an exciting demonstration of the fact that people are more than capable of grappling with complex constitutional questions.”

During the second assembly meeting, a majority vote indicated that local residents preferred Yorkshire & Humber to form the basis for regional devolution, with a directly-elected regional assembly steering political decisions.

Members also voted for stronger powers in the area to include some tax-setting and law-making powers to ensure there is real control over issues such as transport infrastructure, economic development and education.

The current devolution agreement means a mayor would oversee control over transport budgets, franchised bus services and strategic planning.

But the assembly indicated that the region strongly opposed an elected mayor. This is broadly in line with last year’s provisional agreement between Sheffield and Whitehall, at which time the issue of a mayor was a sticking point in the negotiations.

Prof Matthew Flinders, principal investigator for the Citizens’ Assembly project, said: “Assembly members preferred a ‘rego’ over a ‘devo’ deal for the future, but they also want a better deal in the here and now. If a vote on the current devolution deal had been held this past weekend, a two-thirds majority of assembly members would have rejected it.

“It’s not that the assembly members did not want devolution. What they want is a genuine devolution with more powers and stronger accountability.”

The Citizens’ Assembly is part of a wider ‘Democracy Matters’ project organised by the universities of Sheffield, Southampton, Westminster and University College London, in conjunction with the Electoral Reform Society.


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