As the government announces the proposed route for HS2 it appears that the train may well have left the station for Yorkshire in terms of the devolution deals. As Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool start to campaign in readiness to elect a mayor next year, Yorkshire remains in disarray over the form and shape devolution should take.
This is somewhat disappointing given that over the years much has been made about the cohesiveness of Yorkshire culturally and about “Brand Yorkshire” and yet ironically when it comes to its future governance there is no clear consensus.
Andrew Percy, the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, said that elected mayors will still be part of the deal, confirming that mayors remain central to the government’s devolution proposals. Many in Yorkshire have wanted to see a Yorkshire wide devolution covering the whole county of five million people with an economy larger that Scotland – a deal that Percy is reported to support, along with North and East Yorkshire Council leaders.
However South Yorkshire council leaders, along with Chesterfield and Bassetlaw, agreed a draft City region deal with the government last year. As it stands, City Region mayoral elections for Sheffield City Region are still scheduled to go ahead next year but these were supposed to have been finalised two weeks ago and placed into statutory orders at the end of October.
Two things have muddied the water for South Yorkshire. The first is that the question of the inclusion of Chesterfield into Sheffield City Region is now the subject of a legal challenge by Derbyshire County Council. If the courts decide to uphold Derbyshire challenge that could pave the way for a wholesale review of the way the region is pursing devolution.
The second is the rather late intervention by Doncaster Mayor Ros Jones who now appears to be throwing cold water on the idea of a deal for South Yorkshire (despite having agreed to it last year) saying “We need a conversation with Government as to whether a deal can be done without a Mayor, which is our preferred option”.
The government have not helped matters with HS2. Doncaster are very unhappy about the recommendations for the proposed station and route of HS2 – and in Sheffield there is not even a solution yet on the table to this.
What is clear is that nothing is clear. Many in South Yorkshire now worry that the reservations expressed by Doncaster, and the intervention of Derbyshire County Council could permanently derail the devolution deal – and the additional £30million a year funding allocation could walk out the door. The Chamber of Commerce for South Yorkshire is supportive of the deal and now fears that any delays will result in missed opportunities in terms of jobs, skills and investment – something that is now even more crucial with the Brexit vote.
On Monday 28 November, the Yorkshire All Party Parliamentary Group of Yorkshire MPs will be meeting the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, who no doubt will then be questioned – and lobbied – by MPs on the state of the devo deals. It is reported he is no fan of the Yorkshire wide solution – although Andrew Percy, a former co-chair of the APPG, is. But irrespective of that Yorkshire needs to get its act together and in particular, South Yorkshire needs to know if it’s got a devolution deal or not.