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.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

City Region Devolution - A Deal on the Brink.

The Sheffield City Region Devolution Deal is a bit like the weather this winter, unsettled.

The deal is currently available for public consultation and finally, with just a few days left, it is now linked on the front page of the Council's website . The next stage should be a formal decision, in February, by the Sheffield City Council to support or reject the deal. This decision then goes forward to a meeting of the Combined Authority in March where they will vote on the same question.

If the vote is in favour of the deal then it is intended that the implementation would start on the first of April. Exactly what that would look like though is still not clear at this stage, as Council officials involved in the negotiations with central government have admitted that all the details of the full agreement will not be completed even at that point.

In the Public Questions item on this last Wednesday's Full Council Meeting I asked a number of questions about the devolution consultation, including exactly when the proposal would be brought before council for a decision.

Julie Dore (Leader), commented that the two 'red line' concerns of the City Council were still not resolved. That is, the removal from the proposed agreement of the paragraph giving the elected mayor a veto on all decisions of the Combined Authority (a far more powerful role than any initially expected) and clarification on the impact of the amendment to the 'Cities & Local Government Devolution Bill' with regard to Combined Authority councils that are currently part of two tier County Council structures.

In other words, Sheffield wants the power of the Mayor to be circumscribed to specific areas of decision making and they want to know what happens if a North Derbyshire council wants to drop their County and become full 'constituent' members of the City Region.

I've been pushing concerns over the first of these 'red lines' since the proposed deal was first released to the public in October 2015 negotiators have now caught on to this veto clause too. The geography question matters because the financing of two tier council's is bound to their County and how this will play out if a council decides to switch sides is still unclear. Things like police funding, fire services, education, transport and highways are all complex matters that need to be clarified before any such move might be contemplated.

Most interesting about Councillor Dore's comments, however, was concerning the timing of the decision making process for the proposed deal. All along the City Region has been dancing to the beat of the government's drum. The deal was announced in time for the Conservative Party conference, and the Chancellor's Autumn Statement. The pressure to have the deal signed sealed and implemented in April is from the Government.

Julie Dore plainly stated at the council meeting that she will not bring the proposed deal before the council until these 'red line' issues are resolved. She has made it doubly clear that she will no longer follow the HMG time scale but will take as long as necessary to get the deal right even if that means missing the deadline for the February Council Meeting, or the March Combined Authority Meeting or the proposed implementation on April first.

The Devolution Proposal is now on the brink of failing. If HMG won't budge and Council won't budge we enter uncharted waters. Will council step away from devolution at this time? Will HMG move on to other potential deals with other authorities? Will the Northern Cities find their courage to fight for true devolution rather than this expanded 'City Deal'?

In the Meantime please continue to have your say by completing the Devolution Survey and I will continue to try and keep you aware of the developments.

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