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Sheffield City Region: Elected Mayor

Volume 602: debated on Monday 9 November 2015

2. What steps he is taking to ensure that proposals for an elected mayor in Sheffield city region include provisions for democratic oversight by people in Chesterfield. (902048)

Sheffield city region’s devolution deal with its elected mayor will enable the area to strengthen its position as a world-class centre for manufacturing and engineering. I am considering carefully the question of wider democratic oversight raised by the hon. Gentleman, as the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), told the House during the recent Committee stage of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill.

I commend all those involved, including the Secretary of State, in attempting to achieve a political consensus, which has been difficult as this is a complicated situation. We are still left with the situation where people in Chesterfield will have a third tier of local government introduced, with a Sheffield city mayor that at the moment they would not be able to vote on and a Nottinghamshire-Derbyshire one that they probably would. Will the Secretary of State continue to work to achieve clarity on democratic accountability alongside the consensus he is rightly seeking?

I certainly will, and I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s attendance to this issue; it is very important. No two places are identical, which is the very insight we are having—we are having bespoke deals in each place—but it is important for his and other Members’ constituents to feel they have enough say in the election of people who are going to provide leadership for them.

Will the Secretary of State say how flexible he is prepared to be on redrawing the boundaries of certain cities to allow, perhaps, certain districts that may currently be in one area and that might prefer to be in a different area to choose to be in that new area?

As my hon. Friend knows, the principle that runs throughout the devolution Bill that we have been debating is one of consensus, so the Bill gives me powers to give effect to what local people put forward but not to impose something against their will. It is an enabling piece of legislation, and what it does mean is that Members such as my hon. Friend have the chance to shape the debate locally.

I thank the Secretary of State for his helpful response. Does he agree that, if the Sheffield city region is to be economically successful, all the districts within it will need to have the right to join the combined authority? Also, if we are to have an elected mayor responsible for transport, should not everyone in that travel-to-work area have the right to participate in the vote for that mayor?

The hon. Gentleman made similar cogent points in the Committee stage of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South has committed to reflect on those remarks. It has been my experience, when taking Bills through this House, that we should accept the good sense of Members on both sides, and if we can improve the Bill by listening to them, we will certainly do so.

The Secretary of State says that he wants devolution for Sheffield and democracy for the whole city region, but in order to secure that, he must first will the means. Unlike many other Secretaries of State, however, he has already capitulated, without a fight, to the Chancellor’s ideological zeal for cutting local government to the bone in Sheffield, Chesterfield and elsewhere. This is compounded by a funding formula that is rigged against areas of high deprivation. Is it not therefore the case that, despite all his fine words, he would allow the Treasury to strangle full-blown devolution in Sheffield and elsewhere at birth?

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has joined me on the Front Bench, and I do not think he looks like a strangler. He looks pretty benign to me. Sadly for the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), he has got this wrong. The agreement that I reached with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury today related to my Department’s budget, not the budget for local authorities. In my view, it is right to lead from the front and to make significant savings in the running costs of my Department before I invite local councils to do the same.