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Government / Local politics

Sheffield agrees devolution deal

The People’s Republic of Sheffield is to rise again: this morning, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced that the Yorkshire city has agreed a devolution deal.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

So, what does that mean in people language?

The Sheffield Combined Authority (we’ll come back to that) will follow Manchester and London in having much greater powers over a range of city services: developing public land, improving locals’ skills, supporting local businesses, that sort of thing.

The big one, though, is transport. The deal includes funding for the Sheffield to Rotherham tram train, and the opportunity for “Oyster-style smart ticketing”: electronic payment cards, with which you can use all local bus services. (The government pointedly doesn’t include local rail or tram services in this, however.)

So what is the sexily-named Sheffield Combined Authority? It’s not just the old metropolitan county of South Yorkshire, the last attempt at a sort of Greater Sheffield: it’s a much wider area including four authorities from Derbyshire, and one from Nottinghamshire. All in all, it’s about 1.8m people. Here’s a map:

A couple of questions arise from all this. The Combined Authority isn’t a democratic organisation, just a coalition of existing councils. Unlike Manchester, and London before it, metropolitan Sheffield will not have be forced to accept an elected mayor. So, question number one: without any democratic accountability, is this arrangement sustainable?

The other question is: what happened to Leeds? At the Northern Futures conference last month, Clegg said he was determined deals would be in place for both cities by Christmas.

Today, though, there’s been no word on Sheffield’s bigger neighbour – which, in the past, has been blocked from a deal by disagreements with communities secretary Eric Pickles. So, what next?
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