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, 13 March 2016

'Devolution' – Decision Day.

Sheffield City Council have announced a special meeting of the Full Council on Friday 18th March at 5pm in the Town Hall, to consider and vote upon the latest version of the Chancellor's 'Devolution' offer to the City Region.

I have written about and asked questions of Council, Cabinet and City Region, endlessly it sometimes seems, on this subject. Now, although the two matters deemed 'red line' issues for the Council have been largely clarified, many of my concerns remain unanswered and may remain so for many months after the decision.

Initially, when I raised my concerns over the 'mayoral veto' in October 2015, I was told 'that paragraph' would be changed during redrafting of the proposal. Strange then that this issue should have to become one of the Council's 'red line' issues before HMG conceded that the veto could be superceded by the City Region's Constitution. Cllr Julie Dore, at the Cabinet meeting of 9th March 2016 confirmed that the Constitution of the SCRCA would have primacy in law over the devolution agreement between SCRCA and HMG. Let's hope this never has to be tested in court.

So the first 'red line' issue is sort of dealt with, The second is somewhat trickier and illustrates the divisions in the City Region.

Regional Geography was always going to be an awkward issue. I raised the problem of a City Region Mayor that would only represent the 4 Metro Councils back in October 2015 and it was clearly an uncomfortable issue for the City Region as a whole. The decisions about who could vote on which issues and decisions in City Region meetings were constantly part of the background uncertainty of this geography. In effect, there was to be a two tier Region, Tier 1, the 4 Metro Councils with votes on all matters. Tier 2, the district Councils, attached both to the City Region and to their County Councils, able to vote on a restricted number of matters.

The changes that Sheffield negotiated into the 'Cities Bill' have enabled the 2nd tier councils to choose whether to be a full member of the City Region or remain connected to their County Councils. This was a red line with the city as they wanted to ensure a City Region that would fully involve both types of councils not just the 4 Metros. As it stands, only Chesterfield has chosen to become a full member so far and Bassetlaw is likely to be the second to agree on the day before the Sheffield Council meeting. This is, apparently, enough for Sheffield to consider the geography issue resolved, even though 3 of the 5 North Midlands Councils will remain 2nd tier and unable to vote for the Region Mayor or on many other matters before the City Region.

So two 'red lines' bodged and now Council are full steam ahead to ratify the agreement and commit the City to a future as a regional powerhouse. Though recent government decisions seem to suggest that it may be in name only.

Personally, I think it is essential that the city is part of a larger power bloc in order to combat the centralising mindset of the Civil Service and of many MPs as well, I continue to doubt if this is the right solution. The very fact that the Chancellor and the Treasury are so adamant that this will happen rings alarms for me. I've had private discussions with Department for Communities & Local Government officers that suggest they are equally unhappy with the current steamroller of devolution deals and that should concern us all. They comment on the lack of public knowledge of the deals, the lack of consultation and the secrecy of the negotiation process as their concerns, all of which I share.

Other concrete issues are also left up in the air for some future negotiation and agreement. So that, even after the Council make their decision, the details and context of the agreement may shift subtly and probably against local interests. If you read the article I wrote in October 2015, and compare that to the relentlessly positive comments within the Council documents and particularly looking at Appendix 4 and the comments that try and spin any negative to a positive in the public consultation you will understand they mean to have their way on this, despite the public's doubts and even the doubts within Cabinet and Party at city level.

You now have a few days to let your Councillor know how you feel about this issue before the vote on the 18th, I hope you will, I shall be firing off emails, just in case my local Councillors don't read this article.

1 comment:

  1. Great work nigel. Any devolution deal for the Sheffield city region should be dependent's on ringfenced funding for reinstating librarians at the volunteer run libraries and to keep running the rural bus services that derbyshire council are proposing to cut. Both should be red lines.