Sheffield Green Party does not believe that the proposed devolution deal is a good deal for the people of the Sheffield City Region. Given that the details of the powers to be devolved have not yet been finalised, and the legislation to enable devolution of these powers has not yet been passed, it is unfortunately not possible to properly scrutinise those powers at this time. Although the deal is currently only ‘in principle’, it is clear that more information should be made available to the public than has been provided for the purposes of this consultation and that more time should be given for people to study and respond.
The proposal to impose a directly elected mayor for the Sheffield City Region by central government, despite the fact that in a 2012 referendum, the citizens of Sheffield voted overwhelmingly against the creation of the post of an executive mayor for the City Council, is clearly undemocratic and wrong. Although a City Region mayor would be different in terms of both powers held and geographical area represented, Sheffield Green Party believes that the clear 2012 referendum result demonstrates that the people of Sheffield strongly oppose the centralisation of executive power in the hands of a single individual. It Is also concerning that current proposals would give the City Region mayor veto power over decisions on devolved issues.
Compared to the powers that are proposed to be devolved as part of the devolution deal for Greater Manchester the powers proposed for the Sheffield City region are very limited – and it does not appear that there is any reason why those powers that are proposed to be centralised in the hands of an elected mayor could not instead be exercised equally well or better through a more democratic form of governance.
The proposed additional funding of £900million over 30 years is clearly insufficient to significantly offset the substantial cuts that central government has made to local authority budgets across the Sheffield City Region since 2010. Unless sufficient funding is made available to devolved institutions and local authorities, central government will merely be passing new burdens onto local government without also giving authorities the tools required to meet these new responsibilities.
Sheffield Green Party fully supports the overall concept of devolving more powers and resources to local government, but this must be done with due consideration to the implications, in a manner that is transparent, publicly accountable and democratic. The backroom process through which the proposals for the Sheffield city Region were decided have not met these criteria, and the scope of powers to be devolved – together with the rhetoric accompanying this consultation – make it clear that this deal is about economic growth at the cost of the genuine enhancement of local democracy. Local authority leaders should go back to central government and demand a better deal – and, crucially, one that does not involve the imposition of a mayor.