An unelected mayor for South Yorkshire could be appointed for two years in a bid to end the long-running devolution stalemate in the county, it was claimed last night.
Ahead of today’s Parliamentary debate on Yorkshire devolution, council leaders in Barnsley and Doncaster put forward the plan as a step towards a wider deal covering the whole region, The Yorkshire Post understands.
Appointing a mayor for the Sheffield City Region of Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley, to serve between May 2018 and 2020 would avoid the need for an election costing nearly £2m.
It would follow the precedent set in Greater Manchester, where crime commissioner Tony Lloyd was chosen by council leaders as interim mayor between 2015 and the election of Andy Burnham in 2017.
Supporters of the move say it would mean the Sheffield City Region would get the full powers and funding promised when the original devolution deal for the area was signed in 2015.
I have always said to Barnsley and Doncaster that I wouldn’t want to stop anyone leaving. If they want to leave, I wouldn’t want to be the person who stops them doing thatChris Read, leader of Rotherham council
But it is is hoped it would be a stepping-stone for the agreement of a wider Yorkshire devolution deal, with a single mayor for the whole, or the majority, of the region to be elected in May 2020.
A timetable of how this would happen has been seen by this newspaper and will be set out at this afternoon’s Westminster Hall debate by Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis.
The councils in the Sheffield City Region would have to agree to an interim appointed mayor to chair the area’s combined authority, meaning the election planned for May is postponed until May 2020. If Yorkshire council leaders forming a so-called ‘coalition of the willing’ and the Government agree the terms of a wider Yorkshire deal, this would need Parliamentary approval.
There would then be an election for a Yorkshire-wide mayor in May 2020, while any authorities who wanted to stay in the Sheffield City Region would hold their own mayoral election at the same time.
Yesterday, Rotherham council leader Chris Read told The Yorkshire Post that he would not hold back Barnsley and Doncaster if they wanted to pursue another deal and was “relaxed” about the prospect of a two-year transition period.
He said he would not commit to a One Yorkshire deal without knowing more about what it might involve and whether it would be more attractive than the Sheffield City Region deal.
He said: “If in two or four years time there is something that is even better and has even more money we would be daft not to look very seriously at that. I can’t commit to it now if I don’t know what is in it.”
He added: “My priority is securing the devolution cash and powers as soon as we can. It is something of a nonsense to have an election for a mayor who does not have that money or powers, so it is really important we secure that.
“Beyond that, I have always said to Barnsley and Doncaster that I wouldn’t want to stop anyone leaving. If they want to leave, I wouldn’t want to be the person who stops them doing that.
“I don’t know what talks about One Yorkshire might come to. I can be flexible about how long that term might last. If some assurance about a two-year transition period is helpful then I am quite relaxed about that.”
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “We have always said we would welcome discussions on a widely-supported greater Yorkshire devolution deal provided the Sheffield City Region deal was not threatened.
“While we will not undo the Sheffield City Region deal, which has been partly implemented and would bring around £1 billion of new investment to the area, we have proposed to the four South Yorkshire leaders what we believe is a good way forward.”
‘A realistic and fair approach’
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid wrote to South Yorkshire council leaders on December 19, saying that Barnsley and Doncaster could potentially pursue a wider devolution agreement as long as they committed to the Sheffield City Region deal first.
A response sent three days later, seen by The Yorkshire Post, has yet to receive a reply from the Government.
Suggesting a Yorkshire mayoral election in 2020, it said: “We recognise, and have said in public, that interim mayoral arrangements to unlock the SCR devolution deal, thereby allowing benefits to flow up until a timely Yorkshire mayoral election would be realistic and fair.”
We need a consensus at ‘incredibly important point for region’, says MP
A fresh approach to government is needed to end the long-standing divide between North and South which has meant people in Yorkshire are being left behind, Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis said today.
Speaking before this afternoon’s debate, Mr Jarvis told The Yorkshire Post: “The people of Barnsley and Doncaster have made it very clear that they want their local councils to pursue a wider Yorkshire deal.”
He added: “If we have learned anything from the EU referendum and now this community poll, it is that the people of Yorkshire are tired of being left behind. We need a fresh approach if we’re going to end the inequality between North and South which has persisted for far too long.
“I believe that a wider Yorkshire settlement is the right approach. But we need a consensus for that deal to move forward. An interim solution which would allow some of the benefits of devolution to flow to the Sheffield City Region, whilst negotiations for wider Yorkshire continue to progress, is a reasonable and achievable compromise.
“This is an incredibly important moment for Yorkshire to shape its political and economic future for a generation. I very much hope the Government will act now to make it happen.”