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Sheffield CR to consider devo ‘next steps’ in mid-July after councils pull out of bid

Sheffield City Region (SCR) Combined Authority will meet in mid-July to discuss the future of the area’s devolution deal after two lower-tier councils decided to withdraw their applications to become full members of the authority.

The decision by Chesterfield Borough Council and Bassetlaw District Council is a further blow to the region’s devolution journey, which had been stalled after the High Court ruled that the process for deciding how some of the new mayoral powers would apply to Chesterfield were unlawful.

Cllr Sir Steve Houghton, chair of the SCR Combined Authority, said the decisions and the uncertainty at the heart of government “means that politicians from across the city region now need to take the time to consider fully the next steps in the city region’s devolution journey”.

Consultation planned for July will not take place as planned, and instead the combined authority will meet again to discuss next steps at its planned meeting on 17 July.

However, Sir Steve added that the “strength of our partnership” is such that the combined authority was delighted to appoint the leader of Chesterfield Borough Council, Cllr Tricia Gilby, as vice-chair of the SCR Combined Authority at its meeting on 12 June.

“This is a clear indication of the combined authority’s willingness to work collectively across boundaries in the pursuit of making the right decisions to promote economic growth. Irrespective of these decisions, that commitment remains,” he said.

“The decision by Chesterfield Borough Council and Bassetlaw District Council to withdraw their applications to be a full member of the SCR Combined Authority is hugely disappointing but entirely understandable.”

Cllr Gilby said she pulled out of the council’s devolution bid to avoid an unnecessary waste of public money on a postal referendum – to residents over the age of 18 about whether they wanted the town to become part of the SCR – called by Derbyshire County Council’s leader Cllr Barry Lewis.

SCR is also required to hold a public consultation into the plans. This would have meant public money being spent twice to ask the same question in a matter of weeks.

“There is little appetite from our residents to take part in yet another vote so soon after the local elections and the general election,” said Cllr Gilby. “What is more, the general election has left the government in complete disarray. Everyone expects that there will be a further general election in the coming year.

“The government will be so busy trying to manage parliamentary business and the Brexit negotiations that its other policies, such as devolution, will just be kicked into the long grass. This is a further reason to halt the unnecessary expense of the referendum now.”

Cllr Simon Greaves, leader of Bassetlaw District Council, stated that when the local authority started the process of applying for constituent membership of the city region, he “made it clear that this was because it was in Bassetlaw’s best interests”.

“Devolution was a flagship government policy, with the support of the prime minister and the patronage of the chancellor and the Treasury. However, following the change of prime minister, chancellor and secretary of state for the DCLG last year, government priorities changed due to the outcome of the referendum,” said Cllr Greaves.

“We now have a government in disarray, a real coalition of chaos, a delayed Queen’s Speech and very difficult Brexit negotiations they need to crack on with. If policies like devolution were on the backburner before, they’ll be pretty much extinguished now.

“In terms of the deal, the government has made it clear that there is a need for Bassetlaw to accept London-style planning powers for an elected mayor. This was never in the deal that I signed up to, though I note that every deal that has now been made across the country has seen a mayor emerge with these powers.

“We are not London, and one of our key democratic functions in Bassetlaw is that local councillors are accountable to their communities for the planning decisions they make. This would not happen if an elected mayor was in position with a planning mandate in Bassetlaw and we won’t entertain it.”

He concluded that the City Region Deal is no longer in the best interests of Bassetlaw, and he has asked the council CEO to prepare a report for the cabinet that will enable the local authority to formally withdraw its application for full constituent membership of the SCR.

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