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Sheffield LEP: Politicians must stay focused on next step of stalled devo deal

Private sector board members in the Sheffield Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) have signalled their continued support for the region’s devolution – which has faced a series of setbacks in recent months – by promising to do everything possible to help politicians grasp this “once-in-a-generation opportunity”.

In an open letter, Sir Nigel Knowles, chair of the LEP, called on the city region’s politicians to “keep focused on devolution” despite a concrete deal now hanging in the balance.

“Local and national turbulence, a damaging court case and the actions of two county councils who have chosen to put their own interests above those of businesses or residents has left our local politicians uncertain about what to do next,” he wrote.

“My view, and that of the private sector board members on the LEP is unequivocal – we remain fully committed to devolution and will do everything we can to help the local politicians achieve a deal for our region and their respective areas.”

Last week, Sheffield City Region (SCR) revealed it would meet in mid-July to consider the next steps in its devolution journey after Chesterfield and Bassetlaw councils decided to pull out of their applications to become full members of the authority.

Their decision proved another damaging blow to the region’s devo talks after SCR Combined Authority revealed at the beginning of the year that it was liable to pay a £500,000 bill due to its  failed and unlawful devolution consultation. In March, the authority’s board papers also indicated that the cost of progressing with the city region’s stalled devo deal with another consultation would cost over £100,000.

But Sir Nigel argued that devolution will mark the first time in a generation that the city region can return to economic growth led by the private sector in areas such as advanced manufacturing, value-added logistics, rail engineering and digital technology.

“Confidence within and confidence about our city region has never been higher,” the LEP chair wrote. “It is a confidence reflected in our changing urban landscape and in those businesses growing their workforce and investing in new equipment or ways of doing things.

“If we are to keep this forward momentum then as a region we need to re-create that ‘first mover’ advantage which was so effectively deployed to deliver the first fruits of devolution. This first mover advantage is a necessity if the region is to really benefit from the opportunities which will come from an industrial strategy which at least in part requires local delivery and local devolution to work.

“A confident, focused and well-led partnership between the private and public sectors speaks volumes to government about our ability to deliver.”

As a direct consequence of Chesterfield and Bassetlaw’s decision to withdraw from the combined authority process, alongside a changing national political landscape, the devo agenda is now “in a state of flux”. It is in this context that the private sector needs to help local authorities take the next step to achieve “more and better devolution”, Sir Nigel argued.

“The answer to a changed position cannot be to do nothing. This risks everything in terms of economic growth and opportunity,” he stated. “Central government and local government have a dual responsibility to find a way forward which sustains and where possible accelerates the devolution of power, responsibility and resources to support growth and productivity in our economy.

“We all need to maintain a focus on growth and make devolution happen.”


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