So the deal has been struck. Never mind consulting the people of South Yorkshire (and North Nottinghamshire and North Derbyshire don’t forget) whether this is the form of devolution they actually want. Never mind actually explaining to the people what this will actually mean. No, Sir Steve Houghton and his local government henchmen and women have engineered a backroom deal with possibly the most neo-liberal (and austerity-phile) chancellor we have had (and yes I do remember Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson) to deliver control of a proportion of money and hence control over a number of areas – training, trains, buses to name three from a meagre list.
For me what is not included in the deal is one of the reasons this deal stinks. No mention of healthcare, education, policing, real control over housing and planning and ultimately local taxation to name just five areas missing from this arrangement. We have missed a golden opportunity to turn our schools around because our civic leaders want their crumbs now rather than hold out for real cake later.
The other reason I vehemently oppose this deal is the lack of accountability. For a group of people who bemoan regional devolution as an unwanted ‘extra layer’ of local governance, they will create…. an unwanted extra layer of local governance as a veneer of local accountability in the requirement for an elected mayor from 2017. On top of the costs for our MPs, MEPs, councillors, police commissioners we will now add an elected mayor – salary almost certainly north of £100,000pa plus chauffeur driven car, swanky offices, SpAds, probably a deputy on about £70,000+, support staff as well as a rather nice expenses account. – What odds on Mayor Houghton in 2017?
Our local leaders have sold us short and done it on the sly. As Richard Carter, leader of Yorkshire First has said “A backroom deal between George Osborne and local council leaders has produced an arrangement which breaks up Yorkshire, barely delivers any devolution of note and flies in the face of public opinion”. He is spot on.
When I raised this on Twitter a couple of months ago as the deal bids were going in a Sheffield Labour councillor responded to my complaint of a lack of consultation with the electorate about the devolution deal with a comment (and I paraphrase) “there is no deal yet so why do we need to consult?” Well the deal is here now – when will the consultation on whether or not we are happy with it start??