Yorkshire not Sheffield - that is what the Mayor of Doncaster wants after rejecting proposals to join a devolved Sheffield City Region.
The borough, along with Barnsley, has decided against signing up for a devolved Sheffield City Region, both saying they wanted to pursue a Yorkshire-wide deal, dubbed the 'coalition of the willing' instead, although a ‘metro mayor’ with no powers will still be elected in May because it has been signed into legislation. Some 17 of Yorkshire's 20 councils want to join a Yorkshire-wide deal, but the Government has opposed including South Yorkshire authorities in the county-wide scheme.
Today, Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones explains why she has rejected the Sheffield Region Plans.
Why does Doncaster not want to be part of SCR?
It isn’t a case of Doncaster not wanting to be part of the Sheffield City Region. We’ve always played a full and supportive role in SCR. It’s a question of what is the right form of devolution for people and businesses in Doncaster over the next 30, 40 or 50 years.
What will deliver the most economic benefits, particularly once we have left the EU? How do we make sure our region is represented at the top level along with London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, so that Yorkshire receives the investment it deserves and requires?
We all know how dramatically things have changed since 2015. In addition to Brexit, Bassetlaw and Chesterfield have now pulled out of their plans to join the Sheffield City Region as full members, leaving just the four South Yorkshire authorities.
We believe that Sheffield City Region’s deal is too small in this new landscape. In contrast, wider Yorkshire devolution represents a bigger, stronger, more powerful option, and a world famous brand that we can capitalise on.
How does Doncaster gain financially from not being part of SCR?
We haven’t left the Sheffield City Region.
A lot of focus financially is on the new SCR ‘gain share’ funding of £30m per year to cover the whole region. That is important but it also needs to be put in context. Once the costs of paying for a Mayor and running the Combined Authority is taken into account, with issues like HS2 and the Supertram to deal with, £30m whilst welcome, is not a treasure chest.
What longer term projects specifically in Doncaster might be affected e.g. things already agreed or opposed?
Our existing regeneration projects are not affected and we are continuing our successful economic development programme. We’ve got a real track record of delivering for Doncaster in recent years, through projects like the Great Yorkshire Way.
It’s delivering thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment. Those new jobs and developments aren’t just benefiting people in Doncaster. They are benefiting residents and businesses across the region.
Doncaster’s long term projects haven’t changed. Whatever happens moving forward, we will continue to deliver economic regeneration in innovative ways.
What consultation has been done with the people of Doncaster about not going ahead with SCR?
One of the things that was disappointing about the original SCR consultation – aside from it losing a judicial review which cost the taxpayer thousands – was that only 67 people in Doncaster responded to it. There wasn’t overwhelming support for SCR, but it was in the best interests of Doncaster to be part of that process.
As Mayor, I want to know the views of local people and businesses in Doncaster. Doncaster Chamber has already asked local businesses for their views and had a good response. Most supported a Yorkshire devolution model. Trade Unions, political groups on the Council and our local MPs have also indicated their support for a Yorkshire deal.
What reaction from the people of Doncaster have you had since Monday's announcement?
I’ve had some very positive comments.
It doesn’t surprise me. Ask most people in towns and villages across Doncaster where they are from and they won’t tell you they are from the Sheffield City Region. They’ll tell you they are from Yorkshire.
So people like and understand the concept of Yorkshire devolution. That’s vital as people must buy into devolution and be engaged in the democratic process. Having said that, I won’t just listen to a small number of views. So as I say, we’ll make sure there is also wider consultation with local people.
The government is saying there will be an elected mayor anyway. How do you plan to work with them?
We always respect Government and have a strong track record of working with Government, although that doesn’t mean we agree on everything. Our view is that the election of a Mayor should not go ahead next year.
The Secretary of State has indicated that he would welcome proposals for a wider Yorkshire devolution agreement covering North, East and West Yorkshire. We do, however, recognise that the Government is reluctant to allow Doncaster and Barnsley to be part of such a wider Yorkshire devolution agreement at the moment. Our view is that more than half a million Yorkshire residents in Doncaster and Barnsley shouldn’t be excluded from such an agreement. So we will work hard to convince Government of the benefits of a wider devolution deal and make the case for Doncaster to be part of it.
If the Government goes ahead with an election, then there is little we can do about it. Ultimately, it is in their hands. However, if two devolution deals came into force, with one covering only South Yorkshire and one covering the rest of Yorkshire, I do think we will lose out and it would be a missed opportunity.
In the best case scenario for the coalition of the willing in Yorkshire, when will Doncaster get additional investment and what will that mean in real terms for people in Doncaster?
Firstly, we are not waiting for devolution in order to bring jobs and investment to Doncaster. We want to deliver inclusive economic growth, with more skilled jobs and good wages, more training and apprenticeship opportunities, and better transport to support people and businesses.
We’ve been getting on with that work and people can see the results already.
Of course most business investment comes from the private sector. Our role is as an enabler in the local economy, and we have the projects that can deliver new investment – whether that be through Government funding, regional funding, local authority funding, private sector funding or borrowing powers.
What I do think is that a wider Yorkshire deal – remember 17 of the 20 Yorkshire Councils already want to make it happen – can deliver transformational economic change in our region, tackle major transport issues, and provide a better footprint for public sector reform.
I believe that would be good for Doncaster, and everyone in Yorkshire.