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Devolution: Sheffield City Region

Volume 793: debated on Monday 5 November 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure that the Sheffield City Region Devolution Deal comes to fruition.

My Lords, the Government’s priority remains completing the Sheffield City Region devolution deal, which would bring £900 million of investment to that region. To achieve this, the next step is for the Sheffield City Region to undertake the statutory consultation on the powers to be devolved and we will continue to support the city region mayor in his commitment to implement this deal.

I thank the Minister for that Answer and I bring to the House’s attention my interest declared in the register as a member of Sheffield City Council. It is clear that there is stalemate: the four local authority leaders in South Yorkshire cannot agree a way forward. Despite the fact that the order for the election has been through this House, the order for the powers and the money have not. In the light of that, when will the Secretary of State meet the four leaders and the elected mayor of the Sheffield City Region, as he has not done so since he became the Secretary of State six months ago? If the leaders cannot find a way forward in this stalemate, will a timescale be put on before the deal is withdrawn?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s service to Sheffield City Council—indeed, as leader at one stage. Regarding the deal, the best legal advice given both to the mayor and to us is that consultation is necessary, so that is the next statutory step and it is what we are pressing for. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has indicated to the Select Committee that he will be making a Statement on devolution in general during the autumn. I do not think that he has any specific plans to meet the four city leaders as the way forward is quite clear regarding the statutory requirements.

My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. As the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said, we are at an impasse. When is the Minister going to do something about it?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the very brief question. As I have indicated, and in fairness to the city mayor, he is trying to ensure that the consultation takes place, because that is the necessary next statutory step according to the legal advice that he and we have received. The legislation has gone through both Houses. The way forward is for that to happen. More widely, it is worth remembering that a third of England is now covered by devolution deals, including London. As I have indicated, the Secretary of State will be making a statement shortly, during the autumn.

My Lords, surely it is important to note that the local authorities concerned in South Yorkshire were very keen on having devolution. They were the ones who pressed for it, and the Government responded, as the Government will always do. Is it not now for those authorities and the elected mayor to work with the Government to get that devolution concluded?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that. It is true to say that the four local authorities came forward with proposals—we progress these deals only if there is consent among local authorities. As I said, the mayor is seeking to progress the deal, as, in fairness, are two of the local authorities, Sheffield and Rotherham. The other two, Doncaster and Barnsley, are not doing so at the moment, but they need to do so for us to progress it. It has been through both Houses of Parliament; considerable time and energy have been invested on it.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us the timetable for the consultation to be undertaken and concluded?

My Lords, as I said, we have not yet progressed the consultation because two of the local authorities are unwilling to do so. Once they have agreed to it, I think the consultation will be straightforward; it is about the precise shape of the deal. I do not have the precise time limits, but I will write to the noble Lord and copy the letter to the Library.

My Lords, the Minister said in a previous reply that a third of the population of England has a devolution deal, yet Yorkshire, with a 5 million population, has no deal at all, although there is a desire from both South Yorkshire and the whole of Yorkshire for a deal. When will the Government open the dam to allow a deal to occur, because there is real desire in Yorkshire to take on the responsibilities that the Government could devolve to it?

My Lords, Sheffield is certainly in Yorkshire, and there is a deal there that we seek to take forward; it has been through both Houses. As for the rest of Yorkshire, as I said, the Secretary of State will be making a Statement on devolution in general. I have also said that nothing can happen in relation to broader Yorkshire until the Sheffield deal moves forward.

My Lords, given the failure of vocational training, would it not make sense to transfer all vocational training to mayors and to local areas that do not have a mayor?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, the former is largely already happening. For example, with Sheffield, training is moving forward; it is part of the essence of devolution deals. I do not think that it would really rest with smaller authorities, but with devolution deals, the noble Lord has a very good point.

My Lords, perhaps my noble friend can enlighten me. Am I right in thinking that all the authorities concerned and the elected mayor are Labour? In my area, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, we have Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative authorities working together successfully to support the Greater Cambridge Partnership and our city deal. Should not the same, at the least, be expected of Labour authorities working together rather than pointing their fingers at the Government?

My Lords, noble Lords will be aware that I do not seek to be partisan on these things, but my noble friend has a point in that regard. It is best when local authorities come together, across parties, to move things forward. As he has indicated, that is happening in relation to Cambridge and Peterborough. It is also happening in relation to Teesside but—alas—not at the moment in Sheffield or broader Tyneside, although I am pleased that last week we took the decision to move forward with north Tyneside.

My Lords, if, instead of devolution, we had delegation, it would get these things through much more quickly. It would be much more effective without any of the constitutional problems that are posed by devolution.

My Lords, there is a line to be drawn between delegation and democracy, although certainly, looking at Sheffield, democracy does not seem to have taken us as far forward as many of us would have liked.

My Lords, are there any other examples of deadlock elsewhere in the country blocking progress towards city deals?

My Lords, the only other example until recently was in relation to Tyneside, where south Tyneside, Gateshead and the Durham authorities, including Sunderland, could not agree with north Tyneside; but we moved forward with north Tyneside on its own and with special arrangements in relation to the transport authority.