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Sheffield’s devolution demand is ‘ingenious’ and ‘exactly what the government wants’

Communities secretary Greg Clark MP has praised Sheffield’s controversial demand that any benefits won by other city-regions in their devolution deals must be retrospectively applied to its own deal as well, saying he “expects very much” this approach to continue.

During a Communities and Local Government committee inquiry on the government’s Devolution Bill yesterday (1 December), the communities secretary said the city-region’s confident move had been a “characteristically ingenious approach”.

He told the committee: “It’s exactly the sort of ingenuity that I’d hope for. Of course, everyone looks very closely at what is being negotiated in those places, and because this is not a one-off final chance, people do come back – and we’ve seen this in Greater Manchester.

“I’m absolutely certain that Sheffield will, as it demonstrated its ability to make use of the powers, come back and ask for more.”

The request that future deals be less “materially advantageous” than the agreement made for the Sheffield City Region was revealed in October in a letter sent to chancellor George Osborne. This would ensure that the region has access to all innovations nationwide.

Giving evidence alongside him, James Wharton MP, Northern Powerhouse minister, said it is not the government’s job to tell areas what is best for them, including whether they should subscribe to a mayor or not.

Responding to rumours that Whitehall is only agreeing to certain devolution elements if regions agree to electing mayors, Wharton said he did not think that is the nature of discussions taking place.

In fact, he said, it is actually the areas that are coming to central government and clarifying what they want for their own regions – but that the “expectation of a mayor is a reasonable one”.

The Stockton South MP picked out Tees Valley specifically – a region naturally close to his heart – saying that he thought their acceptance of a mayor would be a positive one for the area.

He also guaranteed that there is “certainly a lot of interest” in mayors and that he would not expect elections to be made up of “the usual suspects”.

And Wharton claimed that as a result of engagement from the business community in the devolution momentum, people are coming forward despite never having showed any political interest before.

“Whether they will choose to put themselves forward as mayor I do not know, but my experience thus far wold indicate there is a lot of interest in this agenda,” he concluded.

(Top image c. Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)


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