DEVOLUTION: Is today’s deal really what Sheffield needs?

Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Critics of Sheffield’s new devolution deal have questioned whether it delivered what the city really needs - and how over-stretched authorities would deliver it.

Star readers said the Oyster card style ticket announcement - one focus of the deal - was ‘not needed’ when more infrastructure such as a tram extension was.

Talks over a similar ticketing system, as well as the Sheffield to Rotherham Tram Train Service, have been ongoing for years in the region so the announcement was said to be ‘rehashed’.

Michael Batey said: “This (announcement) is useless tinkering. What we need are more tramlines.”

And James O’ Hara added: “More power and responsibility for an already severely overstretched local authority? It doesn’t fill me with optimism.”

Work to speed up house building and encourage more businesses to export will also take place under the deal.

The city will help build a new skills system to create a strength in manufacturing and engineering jobs.

The initial deal said the city would have the ‘opportunity’ to roll out smart ticketing while the Government would ‘consult’ with Sheffield city region over the controversial Work Programme.

Sheffield democracy campaigner Nigel Slack, who has been monitoring the progress of the deal in recent weeks, said there seemed to be ‘little in terms of committment’.

Mr Slack said: “It seems to be a case of ‘let’s get this out before Christmas to make us look good and now there is going to be months of negotiation on the detail.

“I am now going to start pushing for proper consultation on this for the public.”

Earlier this year it was said there was ‘no time’ to consult with the public on any potential deal, as city leaders raced to complete it in time for the autumn statement.

As of yet there has been no financial value attached to the deal for Sheffield.

Manchester’s was a package worth £1bn and the city will also have a metro mayor. It is understood that the issue of a mayor was a sticking point in the Sheffield negotiations with Government.

The announcement was delayed by over a week due to last-minute ‘wrangles’ in Government.

In Sheffield the combined authorities will have more say over transport, skills, housing and business support as well as the​ ​majority of the skills budget for the area for the first time.

But it does not mean the city will have more funding overall from Government.

Oliver Coppard, Labour party candidate for Sheffield Hallam, said: “All that this is doing is giving us control over the money that already comes to Sheffield, and what Sheffield needs is not more control but more money.

“That’s not what devolution is, that’s when you get more money and support and funding - the deal with Manchester is closer to that.

“It is leading to a situation where there are even deeper cuts, where they pull the funding on Sheffield and Sheffield City Region and say ‘you messed it up’.”

Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore said the deal was an ‘important step’ but it was long overdue and city leaders would push Whitehall to go much further.

She said: “We have been fighting for this for years on behalf of the people of Sheffield and this is an important step in our journey towards devolution of the local powers we need to enable Sheffield to fulfil its huge potential.

“Today’s deal will give Sheffield major control over the local skills and employment system – allowing us to ensure that young people and the unemployed are given the skills and training to get the jobs that our economy needs.

“This is a hugely significant step, as currently the skills system is largely determined in London, taking no account of the needs of Sheffield’s local economy. Although we welcome today’s announcement, it is one that the Government should have made years ago.

“However, this is only the start of the conversation with Government and we will continue to push Whitehall to go much further. £4.5bn of public money is spent in Sheffield, but Sheffield only has a say over how a small proportion of this is used.

“England continues to be one of the most centralised states in the world. We refuse to accept the second class economic performance of our city that results from policies developed in London, and for London, being applied here in Sheffield and will continue to push Government to give us more say over our own future.

“Sheffield was recently given a vote of confidence by Jim O’Neill and the RSA Growth Commission, which made it clear that Sheffield and other Core Cities with a Combined Authority are at the front of the queue when it comes to being ready for increased local powers.

“I am pleased that Government has acted on that vote of confidence, but Sheffield must be allowed to go further to ensure the city succeeds, and I am therefore calling on them to continue the process of devolution we have started today.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam Nick Clegg is expected to announce more details of the deal later today.