‘Exciting journey’ as deal promotes local decisions

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who was in Sheffield to confirm the city devolution deal.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who was in Sheffield to confirm the city devolution deal.

The city of Sheffield will take control of its own transport, housing and skills decisions under a new devolution deal.

Making decisions to prepare for the HS2 rail link, tackling ‘troubled’ roads like the M1 viaduct at Tinsley and allowing councils a say on which public land to sell and regenerate were included in yesterday’s announcement.

Combined authorities locally will be involved in speeding up house building, helping businesses export and handing the city responsibility for the adult skills system – to boost apprenticeships and give more people skills – were also featured.

Smart bus tickets similar to London’s Oyster card system could also be implemented under the scheme.

However, the deal has come in for criticism – with Yorkshire First calling it ‘second rate’ compared to Manchester’s.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Sheffield Hallam MP, said at the deal’s launch yesterday: “It is a different deal, but it is very similar in terms of providing full control over the adult skills budget in the Sheffield city region.

“It will mean authorities here work with the bus companies to move towards a better, simpler, clearer, easier-to-use bus system. More homes will be built on publicly owned land and more businesses will be able to attract jobs to the local area.

“Speaking personally, I don’t think it matters if the deals on either side of the Pennines are not identical, that’s the point of decentralisation and devolution.

“Manchester chose to wait until the next Parliament to have a mayoral model and include policing powers.

“We’ve decided on this side of the Pennines to focus on the bread and butter things that people really do care about.”

Manchester’s deal has been hailed as a £1 billion package, but no figure has been revealed for Sheffield.

Mr Clegg said both schemes were ‘fiscal-neutral’, meaning they delivered more control over funding rather than extra cash.

He said Sheffield would control its share of £2 billion spent on skills, while £19m was involved with the Sheffield to Rotherham tram-train service but ‘we shouldn’t pretend to people money exists when it doesn’t’.

He said: “I think this is part of an exciting journey because it means for the first time in generations a bunch of decisions will be taken locally that formerly were taken by officials in London.”

Opinions split over true benefits of devolution

People across Sheffield – from residents to city leaders – were split in their opinions on the new transfer of home powers.

Some residents said the Oyster-card ticketing system for buses in particular was ‘not needed’ and ‘just tinkering’, while others thought it was long overdue.

Richard Wright, Sheffield Chamber of Commerce executive director, said: “This is a good first step, but we know a people are disappointed as we do not appear to have as much devolved responsibility as Manchester.

“However we would urge caution. We live in a time of severe financial pressure, so we have to ask whether the Chancellor is devolving spending power – or the responsibility for making cuts.”

Pro-devolution party Yorkshire First called the deal ‘second or even third rate’, while democracy campaigner Nigel Slack said it had ‘very little in terms of commitment’.

Oliver Coppard, Labour party candidate in Sheffield Hallam, said: “All 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.”

Coun Julie Dore, Sheffield Council leader, welcomed the deal, but called for the Government to ‘continue the process of devolution’.

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.”

She said Whitehall would be ‘pushed’ to go further’.

In Doncaster, Mayor Ros Jones said it was ‘positive’.

She said: “The announcement is another building block which sees our region at the forefront of plans to create an economic powerhouse in the North.”