Cllr Chris Read, Labour Leader of Rotherham Council, has responded to the latest proposals on devolution for South Yorkshire in an open letter, writing the following:
Dear Secretary of State,
South Yorkshire Devolution
Thank you for your letter of 19th December. As you will be aware from the correspondence sent on behalf of the council on 22nd December, I welcome the information provided. I appreciate the government’s willingness to work with the four South Yorkshire councils to agree a way forward through our current devolution impasse, and perhaps it is helpful for me to set out Rotherham’s position.
My priority in all these discussions remains to deliver without further delay the benefits of devolution to the people of Rotherham that they have been promised for the last two years. The whole of Yorkshire has already fallen too far behind the rest of the country. Rotherham’s position remains that we believe the Sheffield City Region Deal is out best opportunity to draw down funding and decision making to strengthen our local economy, and we have not yet seen any counter proposals which we believe would bring the same level of benefit to our borough.
At the same time I am acutely conscious that our colleagues in Barnsley and Doncaster have expressed a preference to be part of a wider geographical footprint in the future and it would not be appropriate for anyone to seek to prevent them from doing so.
We are therefore pragmatic about how best to make progress, so long as progress is made. An interim mayoral arrangement – on either an elected or unelected basis – that allowed South Yorkshire to draw down the funding and powers connected to the Sheffield City Region Deal would be welcome. I would accept, subject to the usual democratic discussion, the broad outline of the proposal from the Leader of Barnsley MBC and the Mayor of Doncaster in their joint letter to you dated 9th January.
I am relaxed about the possible length of a first mayoral term, but there would seem to be merit to giving consideration to a two year term, bringing South Yorkshire into the same electoral timetable as other Metro Mayoral areas in 2020.
At the same time as we accept the right of one of more South Yorkshire councils to pursue and ultimately commit to a deal on a different geographical footprint, it remains equally important that any authorities who would choose to remain within Sheffield City Region in the future should not be disadvantaged, either by a relative reduction in funding per head of population, or a reduction in the devolved powers, or by any moves that would see decisions currently made at a South Yorkshire level removed to a regional level further from the public. We would seek assurances about this as part of our negotiation.
On this basis we are keen to pursue fruitful discussions at the first opportunity, allowing the Combined Authority to proceed to public consultation ahead of the council moving to consent to the resulting Order. I have asked the council’s Chief Executive to prioritise any conversations with your officials to help facilitate this.