Motion to Approve
My Lords, I understand that this Motion may have a centrifugal impact on your Lordships’ House so let us have a small pause. The draft order that we are considering today, if approved and made, will postpone the mayoral election for the Sheffield City Region, meaning that the mayor will first take office in May 2018, not May 2017; and will set the first mayoral term for a duration of four years, with the next election in May 2022.
In bringing this order before Parliament, we are responding to a request from the Sheffield City Region’s local leaders. On 11 January this year these leaders met as the combined authority and concluded that it was no longer possible to achieve a mayoral election in the Sheffield City Region in May 2017. They agreed and announced that they would now be working towards a mayoral election in May 2018. In their announcement, the local leaders explained that they had reached these decisions due to the need for the combined authority to undertake further consultation before it would be possible for an order to be made conferring the powers on to the mayor and city region, as envisaged in the devolution deal which was agreed between the Government and the city region in October 2015.
Regarding the background to the need for additional consultation, Derbyshire County Council brought a judicial review against the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority, seeking that the public consultation which that authority had undertaken should be quashed on the grounds that it was misleading. On 9 and 10 November 2016, the case was considered by the court, and in December judgment was given that the consultation did not achieve its lawful purpose. While the court did not quash the consultation, as Derbyshire County Council requested, there was a need for further consultation before the statutory requirement on this was satisfied. The city region’s local leaders have decided to prepare and carry out that necessary additional consultation, with a view to starting it after the May 2017 local elections—hence the need to defer the mayoral election until May 2018, by which time all necessary consultation can be expected to have been completed and the devolved powers envisaged in the devolution deal conferred on the combined authority and mayor.
Before turning to the specific provisions in the order before us, it may be helpful if I briefly recall how devolution is to be put in place in the Sheffield City Region. On 2 October 2015, the Government and the Sheffield City Region agreed a devolution deal giving brand new powers over transport, planning and other key policy areas, along with budgets, to the combined authority. The deal also included a commitment to adopt a directly elected mayor covering the whole of the combined authority area. On 21 July 2016, the Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority (Election of Mayor) Order 2016 was made after having been approved by Parliament, which established the office of mayor for the Sheffield City Region. That order provided that the first elections for this mayor would take place on 4 May 2017 and that the second election would take place on 7 May 2020. Thereafter, there would be mayoral elections every four years.
The next step in implementing the devolution deal was for a further order to be made conferring the powers agreed in the deal on to the combined authority and mayor. Before such an order could be made, the city region combined authority had to undertake a public consultation on the proposed conferral of powers. The Secretary of State is required by statute to be satisfied that no further consultation is necessary before he can proceed with an order conferring the powers. The city region also wished that any order conferring the devolved powers would, in addition, expand the area of the city region to include—with their agreement—the areas of Chesterfield borough and the district of Bassetlaw. The consultation that the city region undertook therefore covered proposals for devolving powers and for this expansion of the city region area.
The consultation started on 1 July last year but before it could be completed Derbyshire County Council, in which the borough council of Chesterfield sits, brought a judicial review against the combined authority. The case brought by Derbyshire questioned the legality of the consultation in two areas: whether it could be considered a public consultation in connection with the proposals in the scheme, and the fairness of the consultation. On 21 December 2016, the court ruled that the consultation did not achieve its lawful purpose as it did not include a question specifically seeking consultees’ views on Chesterfield becoming part of the combined authority.
Accordingly, what is now required before the devolution deal can be fully implemented is for the city region to undertake a further consultation and submit a summary of the consultation responses to the Secretary of State. It is then for the Secretary of State to decide, having regard to those responses, what provision to include in any further order which, subject to Parliament’s approval, would confer functions on the combined authority and mayor. It might also, if the Secretary of State considered it appropriate, provide for any expansion of the city region area which the city region leaders are seeking. Once such an order has been made it would be appropriate for there to be the first mayoral election, which is now envisaged for May 2018.
As to the detail, the draft order changes the date of the mayoral election from 4 May 2017 to 3 May 2018 and also sets the first mayoral term for a duration of four years, with the next election in May 2022.
In conclusion, this order postpones the mayoral election until May 2018. This is in the expectation that by that date, powers and budgets envisaged in the agreed devolution deal can, if Parliament approves, be devolved to the city region, which will have a mayor who can deliver for local people and help the area to fulfil its long-term ambitions. I commend this draft order to the House.
My Lords, will the Minister accept that the biggest single obstacle to the devolution deal in areas outside big cities is the requirement to have an elected mayor, which most of the authorities do not want? For example, in Norfolk and Suffolk, we have an effective LEP arrangement between authorities without an elected mayor. The proposition for a devolution deal for Norfolk and Suffolk fell because of the requirement to have an elected mayor over two counties—most of which is rural, some of which is urban; most of which is Conservative, some of which is Labour, with UKIP and Green councillors making up the mix. The result was that there could be no agreement about what would be a rurally based elected mayor in perpetuity over the two counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, where the economic drivers for those authorities are the cities: Norwich, Ipswich and so on. If the Government were to detach the elected mayor from devolution so that where authorities wish it and they have a combined agenda, a combined outlook and perhaps a combined urban authority, doing so might be perfectly fine and make very good sense. But where there are the disparities that I have suggested in largely rural areas, such devolution deals will fall if one person is asked to be responsible for an area that is 120 miles long. Will the Minister consider detaching the requirement to have a mayor where authorities do not wish it but none the less need the powers of devolution, particularly on transport connectivity, to make their areas even more economically productive?
My Lords, I am inspired by those words of the noble Baroness to say that she makes an extremely good point and one that would be warmly echoed in Lincolnshire where there has been a decision not to have a directly elected mayor because it is not felt suitable in such a large county and for a largely rural area. This obsession with elected mayors is frankly ridiculous. It may be appropriate in certain urban areas, although to me it is inimical to the British tradition of local government, but that is my prejudice and I readily admit it. It frankly does not sit happily in largely rural areas. For the Government to say, “You cannot have your devolution unless you have a mayor”, is a thoroughly unreasonable ultimatum.
Shortly after Mrs May became Prime Minister, I was greatly encouraged when it was noised abroad that she is not wedded to this idea. That is one divorce which I hope she will expedite because it is not a good idea in rural areas, it should not be persisted with and I hope my noble friend, while possibly rebuking the noble Baroness and me for talking about areas which are not the subject of this order, will take the message that is coming from both sides of the House and all political parties that in rural areas this is something up with which we should not need to put.
My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the points just put by my noble friend Lady Hollis and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I shall address the order before us in relation to the Sheffield City Region. I obviously have no objection whatever to the order that is being laid. It makes sense in the light of the decision of Derbyshire County Council to take the judicial review. In this case, with some reluctance, the combined authority has agreed to an elected mayor and Chesterfield Borough Council wished to join the city region, as did Bassetlaw. Unfortunately North East Derbyshire District Council does not appear to have taken the same decision, even though travel to work, travel to leisure and the whole synergy of economic, social and cultural life would lead to the conclusion that it might in the future. Although I understand Derbyshire County Council’s desire not to see its bailiwick confined, my concern this morning is to seek confirmation from the Minister, who I have known for a very long time, that the Government will continue providing the necessary support, encouragement and facilitation for the combined authority to be able to get on with the job, both with those aspects that have been devolved and those which would follow through from a mayoral election for the city region in 2018.
There are two reasons for this. First, it is really important that the vision strategy that was published on 17 February this year should be carried into fruition rather than languish on a shelf. Secondly, as some of us east of the Pennines have recognised, the difficulty that the Leeds City Region has been having with progression means that the north of England, Greater Manchester and to some extent Merseyside are now taking the lead on what the Government came to pronounce as the northern powerhouse.
There was a great deal going on before the northern powerhouse was “invented”, including One North and combined activity on transport and economic development. But there is a real danger that having the north-west of England as the driving force—even though it is clearly welcome and flows from very sensible bottom-up drivers, particularly from Greater Manchester—will imbalance the north of England. Yorkshire has a population slightly greater than Scotland, yet because we do not have a devolved block grant, its investment from national government is confined. It is really important that the inevitable delay spelled out in this order should not preclude government working with the city region to ensure that the driving force of not just economic change but also social change is encouraged and supported rather than being held back by the inevitable delays spelled out in the order.
My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my interests as laid out in the register, particularly as a member of Sheffield City Council. It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. He may not agree with everything I am about to say, but he may agree with some of it. First, I welcome the devolution deal to Sheffield, even though it does not go as far as it should do and particularly, as other noble Lords have said, even though it is predicated on a mayor—I wish it was not, and was based on another model, but we are where we are and we have to go forward with the deal that has been negotiated between the leaders in South Yorkshire and the Government. But I thank the Minister and the Government for keeping their confidence in this, and for keeping going and being patient despite the most frustrating of circumstances, which are destabilising the confidence of some in South Yorkshire about whether the deal will actually go ahead under the leadership that has been shown so far there.
I will remind your Lordships how we got here. There has been infighting and dithering—and, as one businessperson said to me, complete incompetence—among the local leaders back in South Yorkshire about this deal. First, we thought it was signed, sealed and delivered, but then the leader of Sheffield City Council decided either that she had not read it or had not understood it, and that there were things in it which she wished to change. That slowed down the process and caused disruption and, again, misunderstanding among South Yorkshire businesses about what was happening. We then had the botched consultation, which I shall return to, and more recently the four leaders fighting about whether they are going to be in a Yorkshire deal or a South Yorkshire deal. All this undermines business confidence in the deal going forward, and it must stop. It does not instil confidence in local business, and it shows a lack of clear local leadership to deliver the devolution deal.
The botched consultation was a basic mistake. It did not ask the people in the consultation whether Chesterfield Borough Council should be a member of Sheffield City Region. Why did Sheffield City Region, the combined authority or the four local leaders of the councils in South Yorkshire not see this basic mistake? The error, for which no one has apologised, taken responsibility or been held to account, has cost the South Yorkshire taxpayer dearly. I thank BBC Radio Sheffield for putting in a freedom of information request that has shown exactly how much taxpayers in South Yorkshire are paying for that mistake. The consultation cost just over £104,000. The legal costs to Sheffield City Region to defend Derbyshire County Council’s judicial review are £130,000. Furthermore, the taxpayers of Sheffield City Region have had to fund Derbyshire County Council’s costs of £161,000. That is over £430,000 of taxpayers’ money wasted on a consultation that has stopped, or at least stalled, the devolution deal that is about empowering our local area to deliver greater economic impact. The costs do not include the 500 hours of officer time at both Derbyshire County Council and Sheffield City Region, or the London fees. It is estimated that overall the deal will cost taxpayers £500,000.
I have three simple questions for the Minister. First, does he agree that local leaders in South Yorkshire, who have wasted £500,000 of taxpayers’ money on this botched consultation, should be held to account and apologise? Secondly, does the in/out dithering approach to this £1 billion deal not undermine confidence locally and should it not stop immediately? Thirdly, what message are the Government sending to local leaders back in South Yorkshire that this kind of dithering and incompetence must stop to get the deal over the line so that business and our local economy can move forward?
My Lords, I would like to add a little to the sorry tale that has just been amply described by my noble friend Lord Scriven. I declare my interest as a councillor in the Yorkshire borough of Kirklees and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. It seems to me that the consequence of the ad hoc approach to devolution that the Government have taken, resulting in boundaries for the new combined authority overlapping with existing local government boundaries, has created a certain amount of resentment, as we have seen and heard, at the potential loss of power and responsibility, particularly, in this case, by Derbyshire County Council. The 26th report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee refers to the process of “combination creep” through the involvement in combined authorities of non-constituent councils, which is exactly what has happened in this case.
The concerns of the local councils involved—in this case, Derbyshire County Council—need to be understood and respected. The Government’s policy intention is to create a new authority based on an economic region rather than a geographical one, and the tensions that this has created have been left to localities to resolve. The balanced judgment in the Sheffield City Region is that the relatively small amount of devolved funding of £30 million a year combined with additional powers and responsibilities is sufficient to tip the scales in favour of the deal, although, as we have heard, it is not overwhelmingly supported.
What has not been resolved, however, is how one elected person, the elected mayor—the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, asked why we have to have one elected person—can gain the trust and confidence of the communities throughout this diverse city region. I can tell that it is diverse from living near it. That is the substantial flaw in the devolution agenda.
A significant democratic deficit is being created by the Government’s approach; the ability to scrutinise and call decision-makers to account is, at best, limited. The links between the city region mayor and residents will be tenuous, at best. Because this devolution model is what we have on offer, a lot of places are saying, “Better the devil we know”. The test will be in the level of involvement in the election of the mayor. Let us see the turnout and, when decisions are made, how far they achieve the consent of residents. A lot of people in city regions are concerned that their residents, their council tax payers, will be funding a combined authority which will focus on the major city in the region, rather than the needs and concerns of the residents on the periphery.
Time will tell. We will have elected mayoral elections in May—for this authority, May 2018. Let us look at the turnout. Will it be greater than turnouts for the police and crime commissioners, which were abysmal, many of them falling below 20%? The commissioners have had little impact on the link between residents and policing. Time will tell whether this devolution model will succeed. What will succeed is devolution—the issue is with this model. I understand why areas are accepting it—because it is what is on offer—but I hope that the Government will have a flexible approach to reviewing its success as we see whether voters support elected mayors and whether they achieve consensus throughout the regions for which they are elected.
My Lords, I first draw the attention of the House to my entry in the register of Members’ interests and declare that I am an elected councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
This is one of a number of statutory instruments that we have been considering over the past few weeks in your Lordships’ House. I should first say that I welcome further devolution, although I have concerns with all these deals about the level of funding provided. This order puts the election for the mayor back by one year. There is also an issue about the patchwork nature of the deals and, as many other noble Lords have said today, about the lack of any coherent framework for devolution in England. That is something that we should all be concerned about. In some areas, the devolution deal seems to have progressed well and important powers and functions have been devolved to the combined authority. In other areas, this has not been the case. In county areas in particular, a directly elected mayor perhaps does not feel right. My noble friend Lady Hollis referred to this as a particular concern. There is certainly a question over how these mayors fit in to the vision of future devolution in England. The Government have still been unable to explain their obsession with directly elected mayors—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, will do so now.
I lived and worked in the east Midlands for many years, I know Lincolnshire very well and I entirely agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. It is a rural county and I just do not see how a mayor would work there at all. The Government should recognise that each area is different.
We need a coherent framework for devolution. The Government should set out what they mean by it so that there can be a proper debate and discussion in England about what it will be. Years ago we used to have things called Green Papers, which would come along and set out the Government’s thinking on where they would like to go and invite that sort of dialogue to get local government and people engaged. That is certainly something that the Government should do. I am also aware that there have been a few changes in the department in recent days. I do not know whether that will have any effect on what will happen, but certainly the Government need to think long and hard about the whole question of mayors and why we have to have mayors in an area if that area does not want one.
As I said, huge changes have taken place in recent years. We have police and crime commissioners, which were referred to, who can now take over the fire service. We have the combined authority models, with or without directly elected mayors. This is not very joined up or coherent. In my view, it is not the best way to move forward.
There is a problem here. A contradiction arises with the drawing of quite artificial boundaries in the spirit of trying to put together a combined authority when they do not necessarily mirror community identities. There has of course been the legal action from Derbyshire referred to by a number of noble Lords. Councillor Anne Western is someone I know very well. I regard her as a friend. She is a very competent leader of the county council. I have known her and worked with her for many years. There is no question that she is pro devolution and believes in the devolution of powers from Westminster to communities. Equally, I agree that the consultation was not organised very well. I agree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Blunkett. I do not particularly agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven; I think that some of them were designed for the front page of the Sheffield Star. We need to look carefully at where we are going with these devolution deals.
We need a proper framework. The Government need to come forward with one now. This is not the only place where we have problems. Other parts of the country have problems with these deals. The Government need to set out what they see for the future and how they are going to get there. That would certainly help the situation we have here today.
My Lords, I am grateful to all those who taken part in this debate—some of which went slightly broader than the date of the election of the mayor. I was at this Dispatch Box yesterday having a rather uncomfortable time in connection with a manifesto commitment. Now my noble friend Lord Cormack invites me to break another one. The manifesto commitment is that we will devolve a wide range of powers and budgets to major cities that choose to have an elected mayor. That is the link. I am invited by a number of noble Lords to break that link. I hope that they understand that I am unable so to do. It is entirely a matter for the local area to decide whether it wants to go down this road. This is a choice that it did not have before. It can have a devolution deal and if it wants to it can put a proposal to the Government and then we can make progress. The Government have been absolutely clear that there must be an elected mayor to ensure that there is sufficient accountability, which we believe only an elected mayor can deliver.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but I think that is a little unfair. At one point he said that it is up to people in a local area to decide, but then that if they want one thing they have to have another. It is not the case that they can decide. Look at bus powers, for example. The Government are not just leaving it to the local people or a council to decide at all; they are setting conditions.
With great respect, I disagree with the noble Lord. They have a choice, which they did not have before. They can either stay put, which is what used to happen, or they can have a devolution deal as offered by the Government, but with an elected mayor. That is a real choice. If they do not want to have an elected mayor, for all the reasons that we have heard, they can stay where they are—but at least they have a choice, which they did not have before.
I am deeply grateful to my noble friend—he is a friend in every sense—but does he really think that one man or woman can adequately know and relate to the sort of area to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, referred, or to Lincolnshire, or for that matter to this extraordinary collection of towns and cities? How can one person—an elected Gauleiter—really relate?
I would put a different question to my noble friend. Given that we are going to have combined authorities—and I think that there is agreement that that is a good idea—is it better to have one elected mayor as the accountable person or what we used to have with the old metropolitan areas, where there was much less accountability than you would have with an elected mayor? As we have seen in London, an elected mayor increases accountability over and above the other alternatives that you could have in those areas.
I turn to the other specific questions that have been raised, as we are obviously not going to get agreement on that one. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, will understand that, although I do not want to get involved in a dispute between two local authorities—it is always regrettable when there is such a dispute, as it costs taxpayers money—I hope that what we have seen in this case is a one-off, and we do not have similar problems in future. In its judgment, the court did not quash the consultation, and what is needed now is an additional consultation on Bassetlaw and Chesterfield becoming part of the area of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority. The noble Lord asked a number of questions. It is really for local people to come to a judgment on who has let their electorate down and who has not, rather than for Ministers to pontificate from the Dispatch Box. Local leaders are accountable to local people through the ballot box and, ultimately, it will be for their electorate to judge them.
The question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and other noble Lords—and I am grateful for what he said—was whether Sheffield City Region will still get its funding up front despite this hiccup in the process. The answer is yes. The combined authority is already in existence, and gain share funding, which is the name I understand has now been given to this pot of money, of £30 million a year can be paid to the combined authority once the consultation has been undertaken and it is clear that the councils are committed to the deal and an assurance framework agreed with government is in place. That can take place before the postponed elections of the mayor.
I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, was suggesting that Derbyshire County Council should have a veto on whether Chesterfield should join. I am glad that she shakes her head, because I do not think that it would be right for a county council to prevent a constituent district from joining a combined authority if that is what was wanted.
Then we had the point which was reinforced by my noble friend Lord Cormack about whether a mayor could represent such a diverse area. I was around when the Greater London Council was started, which included bits of Middlesex and Surrey. London is very diverse, yet we have a Mayor of London. So I am not sure that I would buy the argument that it is impossible for a mayor to represent an area that has a diversity in it.
Just before the Minister leaves that point, I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, was making the point that as we go forward it will be important to keep under review how the provision actually works out in practice. I fully support the order being laid before your Lordships’ House, and the next one, which deals with Liverpool and the Merseyside area, where there is agreement that we should have a combined mayor. But will the Minister have a dialogue in future with local councils about replication, whereby you can end up as Liverpool will with a mayor for the greater region, an elected mayor in the city and a lord mayor as well? That will cause confusion.
There may be confusion, but this is what local people will have decided through their local councils. That is the system of running the area that they have chosen to have.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about turnout. If one looks at the turnout for directly elected mayors, one can see that it has been roughly in line with local elections so far. I hope that she takes some encouragement from that.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said that there was a patchwork. I explained at the beginning that this is basically a bottom-up approach—the Government responding to areas that want to go down this particular road. It is inevitable from that approach that there will be a patchwork. The alternative, which I am sure the noble Lord would not advocate, is for the Government to insist on this regime for the whole country. We do not want to go down that route at all—but that is why there is a patchwork.
In conclusion, this is an important order, which will allow us to progress the devolution for the Sheffield City Region, and once again I commend it to the House.