About This Blog

The public should know all we can about the business of the decision makers that affect our lives, our wallets and our democracy. This is a record of my efforts to try and improve the levels of transparency and accountability within Sheffield City Council and others. To shine a light on how decisions are made and where the money goes. If I can also help others to find their own voice and influence along the way, then that is a bonus.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Sheffield City Region Combined Authority Meeting of 17th November 2014, by Nigel Slack.

This Combined Authority is the body that the Government will address with it's plan for so called 'City Region Devolution' that I have discussed in previous posts. The meeting was held in Barnsley at the offices of the South Yorkshire Joint Secretariat. The meeting room has the facility for webcasting meetings but this was not available on this occasion.

The reason I was attending the meeting was fairly singular as there was nothing of particular note on the agenda. It was simply to get answers to my questions about the potential devolution deal. I sent advanced notice of three questions, with 5 working days notice. These were;

Has SCRCA been approached by the government about the potential for a so called devolution deal similar to the one accepted recently by Greater Manchester Combined Authority, or indeed any deal at all that might be framed as 'devolution'?
Did members of the SCRCA attend the Northern Futures event in Leeds and if so who?
Will the SCRCA allow a public consultation and vote on any devolution deal offered by the government, of whatever political party?

My regular followers will know that two of those questions were answered by the Sheffield City Council Cabinet meeting on the 12th November. I therefore already knew that there was an approach over the deal as the answer to one of my questions that day, from Julie Dore (Leader), was that there would not be time to consult the public on the matter, as a decision is being slated prior to the Chancellor's Autumn Statement on 3rd December. This also covered my third question to the SCRCA.

So, to that part of the meeting that addressed my inquiries. As part of a report into some small changes in the Governance of the SCRCA and the subsuming of the Joint Secretariat functions into Barnsley MBC, Ben Still the Chief Executive of the City Region LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) reported on the approach they had received from the Cabinet Office about a devolution deal. He confirmed that discussions had begun and that he would report back to the SCRCA on details as they emerged. He also commented that it was hoped to agree at least what are phrased as 'Heads of Terms' in time for the Autumn Statement.

It was also suggested by Ben Still that the deal would be aimed at helping to fulfil the SCRCA Strategic Economic Plan. The chair of the meeting Cllr Steve Houghton of Barnsley MBC commented that the detail would then be subject to considerably more negotiation. The chair then went on to answer the three questions I addressed to the meeting. First, yes they were in discussion about an approach regarding 'devolution'. Second, Julie Dore and John Mothersole (CEO Sheffield City Council) were the only two members of the SCRCA to attend the 'Northern Futures' event in Leeds, though they were missing from this SCRCA meeting. Third, a public vote is not required nor expected by the Cabinet Office in order to agree the 'deal'. The SCRCA will discuss it with the LEP but the decision is for the SCRCA alone.

That would seem to be that then, simple. Well not quite. As usual some of the most interesting information came out in casual discussion after the meeting. There will apparently be a press release in a few days concerning the potential deal. It would seem however this may well be designed to say very little, as little seems to be known. It was also clear that the odd voting arrangements of the SCRCA will make for a strange decision apparatus. Unlike in Greater Manchester, the authorities that make up the SCRCA cover three distinct geographic areas. South Yorkshire Metro's, North Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire. Only the South Yorkshire Metro's get to vote on any 'deal' so it is unclear whether the other councils will fall in line or not.

Add to this a distinct feeling that some of the Metro's are to say the least antipathetic to the idea, particularly if attached to the idea of a City Region Mayor, then there would seem to be little assurance that it will happen at all. I guess now only time will tell but it seems certain that nobody wants the public to have a say in this arrangement, neither central nor local government.

This must not be the end however, there are still concerns that need addressing. One, a deal that addresses the economic performance of the SCRCA rather than the democracy of powers devolved to them is simply not devolution. It is nothing more than an extended 'city deal'. Two, there is no apparent fiscal devolution beyond what is being offered to deliver certain central government policies. Three, without public or possibly even local councillor's being involved in any conversation, this is just top down reorganisation not devolution. Four, If this deal can be decided by the four Metro's where will that leave the five other councils in the SCRCA? Five, what are the heads of terms? I struggle to believe that with just two weeks to the Autumn Statement, nobody has addressed this yet.

There is much about the organisation and transparency of the SCRCA that concerns me and, considering that it may soon hold great sway over substantial parts of our daily lives, we need to be holding them to account.

1 comment:

  1. The whole history of regional 'devolution' has a distinctly undemocratic past. For example, whilst the Metropolitan County's had far more autonomy over the spend of their government grants than the City Regions will, they were also created without any consultation with their public and created a two tier system of local government with unelected heads. They were abolished by the Tory government in 1986 only to be replaced with a system of restricted grants from central government to local authorities culminating in the attempt to impose The Poll Tax. Neither system worked or works because they do not involve the people affected by the decisions.