Sheffield delays mayoral election

Court ruling forces poll back to May next year

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Sheffield city-region’s leaders must not be distracted by proposals for a rival Yorkshire-wide devolution deal but instead press ahead with plans to elect its own mayor in May 2018, according to a policy expert.

Last week the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority agreed to postpone its mayoral election, scheduled for May this year, in response to a court ruling that it must do more to consult the public on its plan.

‘No longer possible’

The ruling came after Derbyshire County Council objected to Sheffield’s plan to include Chesterfield – part of Derbyshire – in its bid to have money and powers devolved from central government.

Central government has said that city-regions bidding for devolution must agree to elect a mayor.

Sheffield was planning to join Greater Manchester, the Tees Valley and Liverpool among the areas holding mayoral elections in May. But last week Sheffield City Region Combined Authority – comprising nine local authority leaders – said it was “no longer possible” because of the additional consultation the court required and it was now working towards a May 2018 date.

That has prompted supporters of a “whole Yorkshire” devolution deal to renew their calls for their rival bid.

But Andrew Carter, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Cities thinktank, said the connections between the north, west and south of the county were not strong enough for a Yorkshire-wide agreement to be effective.

“North Yorkshire doesn’t have the linkages with South and West Yorkshire to tackle improving housing, buses, and skills,” said Carter. “Trying to better connect Doncaster with Sheffield – that’s at the heart of what we should be trying to do and that’s the question Yorkshire’s leaders must answer.

“Absolutely nothing we are proposing prevents the use of the powerful Yorkshire brand but we’re talking about improving buses, skills, housing and so on.”

‘Isolated’

Carter said the delay in electing a Sheffield mayor was understandable given the court’s ruling over Chesterfield. Although Chesterfield does not share a boundary with the South Yorkshire city, the proposal to include it in the city-region deal made some sense because of the economic links between the two, he added.

He said the Sheffield city-region deal would help to better connect the city to neighbouring areas. “Historically some of its settlements have been quite isolated. Connections were limited in some of the former mining areas and they tended to look inwards, not out,” he said.

A city-region deal would also allow it to promote the area’s strengths in advanced manufacturing and attract overseas investment, he added.

He believed a 12-month delay was not fatal to Sheffield’s plans, but he warned: “With other cities electing mayors in May this year it’s important Sheffield doesn’t fall too behind.

“The way government interacts with places like Birmingham and Manchester will obviously be different when they elect a mayor. They will command more time and significance with the government. The risk is places without a mayor will get less time from national government.”

Carter said that since it elected a mayor “the results for how London functions as a whole are demonstrably better and we ought to see those improvements in other cities”. But he said that ministers’ patience might run out if Sheffield did not rescue its plan.

‘Moral duty’

“Central government remains committed to the devolution agenda as inherited from the Osborne-Cameron era – it’s even clearer on some aspects,” he said.

“But you can see the government reaction to the North East, which said no to a mayor. It said: ‘Fair enough, we respect the decision, but the conversation ends.’

“The government may not be as proactive as in the past – the onus is more on the area’s leaders.”

Referring to last month’s court decision, a Derbyshire County Council spokesperson said: “The judge ruled that the Sheffield city-region consultation was unfair and unlawful in relation to Chesterfield because it neglected to ask a simple question about whether Chesterfield residents wanted to join with South Yorkshire councils. A poll on our own website showed 92 per cent of the 5,200 residents who responded were opposed to the idea.

“We have a moral duty to act in the best interests of all Derbyshire residents and we’ll continue to work to protect them against things we believe will put them at a disadvantage.”

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