Sajid Javid has attempted to break the deadlock over devolution plans in Yorkshire with a proposal he hopes will satisfy supporters of both the Sheffield City Region and One Yorkshire devolution plans.
The communities secretary has written to civic leaders in South Yorkshire assuring them that full participation in the Sheffield City Region deal would not prevent them from pursuing a One Yorkshire agreement were one to be put forward.
The Sheffield City Region deal was signed in October 2015 and included Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield councils. However, Barnsley and Doncaster MBCs refused to back the deal when it was discussed in September 2017.
The South Yorkshire authorities argued a Yorkshire-wide devolution deal would be more beneficial for the area — a plan that was ruled out earlier in the year by Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry.
Mr Javid’s letter, however, suggests the Government is now willing to support a One Yorkshire deal.
The letter states that Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield councils should do ‘all that is necessary’ for the Sheffield City Region deal to be implemented.
It also says that in the event a Yorkshire-wide devolution agreement is reached, ‘some or all of the South Yorkshire councils would be free to join that deal subject to certain provisos’.
One such proviso is that arrangements are put in place to maintain the integration of transport across South Yorkshire.
‘We have always said we would welcome discussions on a widely-supported greater Yorkshire devolution deal provided the Sheffield City Region deal was not threatened,’ said a DCLG spokesperson.
‘While we will not undo the Sheffield City Region deal, which has been partly implemented and would bring around £1bn of new investment to the area, we have proposed to the four South Yorkshire leaders that we will open discussions to see if we can agree a way forward.’
Cllr Julie Dore, leader of Sheffield City Council, said: ‘We believe that this is a welcome intervention which would see the South Yorkshire deal fully delivered, in line with what we have been proposing for some time and repeated at the debate last week.
‘We are pleased that this is something the government is now backing and, whilst we would want to carefully consider the proposal so we can iron out a few of the details about how exactly it would work, we hope that this could provide the basis for a way forward to deliver the investment that we need in South Yorkshire.’
Noting that the majority of people in his area voted in favour of a wider-Yorkshire deal in a community poll (84.9% with a 22.4% turnout), leader of Barnsley Council Stephen Houghton described a One Yorkshire deal as 'the will of the people'.
'We’ll work to make that happen and we’re confident that this is the right move for Barnsley. Our next step is negotiating a way forward for wider Yorkshire,' he said.
Cllr Houghton also stressed Barnsley did not want a Sheffield City Region Mayor 'imposed' on the area and said mayoral elections - scheduled for May next year - should be pushed back to 2020.