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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, 3 August 2015

Sheffield City Region Combined Authority meeting 3rd August 2015, by Nigel Slack

The City Region meetings are always curious affairs. The bulk of their business is conducted out of the public gaze followed by a brief (½ hour) formal meeting to receive reports, public questions and make formal decisions.

This was where I was able to get the responses to my questions about their approach to the potential imposition of an elected City Region mayor.

Below is my question, annotated with the responses delivered by Sir Steve Houghton, Leader of Barnsley Borough Council and the Chair of the SCRCA.

"It seems that the new 'Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill' may take some time to progress through the legislative process. The Chancellor however is saying he is already in negotiation with the 'Northern Powerhouse' cities about the new so called devolution powers and the imposition of an elected Mayor."

"His agenda is, yet again, deliberately tight no doubt to try and prevent the Combined Authority from consulting the public on the conditions and restrictions that the deal includes. (Some nods of agreement from other members to this) Last time the Authority resisted the pressure to agree to an elected mayor and as a result were granted fewer powers than Manchester City Region. The same blackmail approach seems to be in the offing again."

"What will be the SCRCA approach this time?"

Who is leading the negotiation?

Ben Still (Executive Director Local Enterprise Partnership) and his team will lead the negotiations, supported by the Council Chief Executives and reporting to the SCRCA

Will they accept a directly elected Mayor?

The preference of the Combined Authority would be to retain the current governance arrangements but, if Ministers insist on some form (and there are several) of Mayoral model, it will depend on whether the devolution deal and its benefits will be worth it.

Will the public be consulted and their opinion sought?

If the deal negotiated includes any form of Mayoral arrangement then there will be consultation with the public across the City Region but there will be no referendum.

Will the individual Councils and most importantly their councillors be consulted and their opinion sought?

That would be a matter for each Council but judging from the nods around the table most probably.

Will the SCRCA resist a deal that is inappropriate for the make up of the City Region with it's cross county ties or will it compromise it's principals through fear of falling behind an imagined brighter future gifted to Manchester through their wholesale capitulation? (This caused some amusement from around the table and a comment from Steve Houghton that Manchester might disagree with that comment)

The SCRCA preferred approach is for all the Councils to be involved but they are aware of the problematic nature of the Regions cross border arrangements.

This was about as full an answer as I might hope for at this time but clearly not giving away any of the SCRCA red lines when it comes to the negotiations. Only time will tell whether the SCRCA version of a good deal will match that of the public in this city and the region.

Coincidentally the next item on the agenda was an update from Ben Still on the Devolution Deal. He reported that government were asking for proposals from the City Regions by the beginning of September. The SCRCA would put forward a deal if their own discussions on what they should be asking for were concluded in the next few weeks. He also commented that they would be looking to try and ensure a common approach from both Sheffield and Leeds City Regions. The key issues would include the concerns over the geographic anomalies of the Sheffield region.

At the conclusion of the meeting Vicky Seddon and myself had a brief chat with the Vice Chair, Cllr John Burrows (Leader, Chesterfield Borough Council) who commented on the general antipathy within the SCRCA for any Mayoral model but also hinted at the need for the region to be pragmatic about the offer from the government. In fact they had spent a couple of hours already that afternoon trying to agree what the SCRCA should be asking for from government as their initial proposal.

Now that is the meeting I wish I'd been observing.

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