In 1762 Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in The Social Contract that:
“The people of England deceive themselves when they fancy they are free; they are so, only during the election of members of parliament; for as soon as a new one is elected, they are again in chains, and are nothing.”
Against that backdrop it seems to me that three things are important. Firstly, the great cities of the North, including Sheffield, are economically important and geographically relevant; functioning properly they are a ‘counterweight’ to London. Secondly, in order to achieve ‘economic mass’ and to harness the ‘agglomeration effects’ there needs to be much better connectivity within and between the Core Cities and City Regions of the North. Thirdly, economic growth potential is best unlocked by the devolution of key powers and funds to City Regions formed of Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships under the visible and accountable leadership of a directly elected metro Mayor. This is the route map for devolution.
The Sheffield City Region began its devolution journey in 2015. Since it was formed the region has received growing freedoms, flexibilities and funding from government so we can deliver our vision for growth. We were, I guess, beginning to take responsibility.
Devolution makes us masters of our own destiny with control over funding and greater freedoms and flexibility in areas such as employment support, skills, business growth, transport, housing, and planning. These are all areas of interest and importance to everyone in the Sheffield City Region.
Government made it clear that we would need an elected Mayor to access devolved powers and resources. Manchester, Liverpool, the West Midlands and Tees Valley had elections this year and they now have mayors and are benefiting from new devolved funding and new powers. Their devolution journey is going well.
Sheffield signed up to all this in 2015 and reaffirmed our commitment to this journey in 2016. Earlier this year we hit a bump in the road and our devolution journey has stalled. Sheffield and Rotherham want to continue the journey, Barnsley and Doncaster have stalled. We will however elect a Mayor in May 2018. Our Mayor must be a force for good, bringing our region together.
Government has so much confidence and trust in this part of the world that it is ready to hand over £900m of funding to locally elected Council Leaders and the elected Mayor. It is time then to get back on track with our devolution journey and time for the leaders of Barnsley and Doncaster to lead and to be accountable, working with everyone for the benefit of everyone.
I have to say we are doing really well. We have attracted substantial investment into the region and since 2014 we have created 37,000 new jobs. Just imagine what we could achieve if we could get that devolution journey back on track. Is there anyone who would not want greater investment in our towns and cities, better places to live and work, new businesses investing here, more employment, better skills and training … all laying solid foundations for everyone in the Sheffield City Region and building a successful future for our children and young people … the future.
We want this for the whole Sheffield City Region. Are Barnsley and Doncaster really saying they don’t want these things?
Leadership is defined by an ability to lead and to be accountable …