D-Day for Devolution Deal in Barnsley

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Barnsley MBCTomorrow Barnsley council could be the first authority to ratify the Sheffield City Region Devolution deal agreed by the region’s council leaders and Chancellor George Osborne.

I’m on record on this blog and beyond as being totally against this deal because it isn’t real devolution, it isn’t democratic, it is selling Yorkshire short and could break up Yorkshire.

Ahead of the full council meeting tomorrow where this is the final item on the agenda, I have emailed each of the boroughs 63 councillors to ask them NOT to ratify this deal.  I’ve given reasons as to why I believe not ratifying it should be the path to follow.

I reproduce the email I’ve sent to each of my borough’s councillors below.  I will update this blog when I know the decision made by Barnsley council – though I fear the worst.

Tomorrow, during the full council meeting, you will be asked to ratify the ‘devolution’ deal proposed for the Sheffield City Region.  I am writing to you now to ask you to please consider voting NOT to ratify this deal.

My reasons are many and varied but I will try and highlight a few of them in this email with the hope that some (or all) chime with you and will help persuade you to vote against this proposal.

For me, and I suspect most people, devolution means better local communities were the people in those communities have more say and more responsibility for what happens.  For that to happen we need better education, better policing, better healthcare, better transport, better training, better housing.  Devolution is NOT just about raw economics.  Devolution should be about devolving power down to the level best able to deal with that particular function and it should be about talking to and involving local communities.  In all of these aspects, I believe, this deal fails miserably.  Whilst it purports to address housing, training and transport needs, it will at best tinker at the edges of these.  Transport is too big an issue for the four metropolitan counties of South Yorkshire (and potentially some authorities in North Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire) to sort out on its own.  It needs a wider, regional solution.   Devolution is about solutions from the bottom up, this deal cements the top down approach that has led this country to be one of the most centralised countries in the western world.

Where in this deal does it mention real solutions for the education crisis in this region where Yorkshire schools are regularly at the bottom of the performance league tables, and Barnsley’s in particular highlighted as particularly underperforming?  Where does it mention a solution to the crisis in local policing which is going to leave communities, like my own in Penistone, without proper police coverage?  Where does it mention the crisis in our healthcare systems and particular to crippling effects of cuts to social care and its knock-on effects with bed-blocking in the NHS?  All of these issues are too large for South Yorkshire to tackle on its own, but as a region and working together with the other parts of Yorkshire, we could provide regional solutions to these problems akin to the London Challenge which transformed London’s schools from England’s basket case in the 1990s to the best performing region in the country now?

Look in detail at the proposals.  Most of these are pipedreams and promises with no actual foundation.  Even analysing the progress made on the different parts of the deal you can see that virtually every proposal is still up in the air and there is no rock solid promises from the government.  It will be like voting for a budget before you actually know what the budget will look like.

Of course the government has promised £30m per year in devolved funding for the WHOLE OF SOUTH YORKSHIRE.  If we are including ONLY South Yorkshire here, this equates to approximately £20 for each resident.  If you then compare this to the £28m in cuts Barnsley council is reported to be making THIS YEAR ALONE, this figure of £30m spread across ALL the parts of the City Region will hardly scratch the surface – plus I expect most will be ring-fenced for particular ‘pots’.

I have two other areas on which I would argue against ratifying this deal, both of which are intertwined – democracy and consultation.  The deal is being given the ‘veneer’ of accountability with the insistence of a directly elected Mayor.  Even in the poor consultation process enacted to give this deal some form of public approval this proposal has been roundly rejected by the residents and businesses of South Yorkshire.  It will add yet another layer of bureaucracy to our already overly complicated and multi-layered local governance.  We have seen, with the pitifully poor turnouts for the PCC elections, the electorate are no fans of extra layers of bureaucracy.  I fear that, should the mayoral elections take place, the ‘democratic accountability’ surrounding this person would be shattered by only about 1 in every 10 of the electorate actually bothering to turn out.  After all, Sheffield was given the choice of a directly elected mayor and roundly rejected it.  Sheffield may even not ratify the deal because of issues around accountability.  Where will this deal be without Sheffield? 

The consultation process attached to the agreement was, in my view, laughable and deeply concerning.  Rather than consulting, the questions were posed in a way that was pushing respondents to rubber stamp rather than discuss the deal.  The way the ‘consultation’ was set was biased towards those with computer access and those with a detailed and technical knowledge of the deal itself.  With the greatest respect to my fellow citizens, I doubt this exists because of the real lack of transparency leading up to the deal being signed.  I would suggest the pitiful response to the ‘consultation’ by the wider public (I was one of the 245 who submitted by views) can be explained in this way.  Then consider the timeframe.  The window for consultation was just over a month – a month containing the Christmas and new year holidays.   Whilst some effort was given to advertising the consultation I would suggest with the consultation period being as minimal as possible and just enough advertisement and ‘public events’ to give the process the mere whiff of a real public consultation, in actual fact those pushing this deal manipulated for the nuts and bolts of this deal to be neatly brushed under the carpet with minimal fuss.  They got their way! 

If this deal is allowed to go through it will, down the line, not mean devolution of power but devolution of cuts and austerity.  You have no democratic mandate to push this through as, in my recollection, this deal had no place in any of the council election manifestos last May.  This deal sells Barnsley, South Yorkshire and the whole of Yorkshire short.  When we should be pushing to improve our education system, our healthcare, our social care, our housing stock, our transport infrastructure and our economic power, this deal tinkers at the edge.  When we should be passing power and responsibility down and working from the bottom up, this deal centralises yet more power in one small group of people.

Please do not be one of the people who could condemn the historic county of Yorkshire the annals of history.  We deserve so much more than this pitiful and frankly cynical attempt at devolution.  Please stand up for your community, for Barnsley and for Yorkshire and please vote to NOT ratify this deal.

Thank you for taking the time to read this email.

Yours sincerely

Wayne Chadburn

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Wayne Chadburn

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