Q & A
What is devolution?
The Government is offering places in England the chance to have greater responsibility and control over decisions and spending in their region. This process of transferring powers and decisions which would usually be taken by central Government to a more local level or regional level is called devolution. The powers from Government will come down to local Leaders. No powers will go up from local Councils to the Mayor that are not already vested in the Combined Authority, which is made up of Council Leaders
How do things currently work?
Currently, most spending decisions affecting the Sheffield City Region (and other local areas) are made by central Government. Many of the taxes raised locally flow back to central Government for it to redistribute as it sees fit.
Why would places want to have more powers and responsibilities from central Government?
To focus spending on local priorities, and have more of a say over local taxation:
- To work together across services and use local knowledge to get better value for money
- To be more self-sufficient and have more responsibility for the future of the local area
- For decisions to be taken by locally elected politicians working with their private sector partners on the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) who better understand local issues, and can be held to account more easily
How do places get these powers and responsibilities?
Individual councils cannot get these extra powers and resources on their own. The Government has been clear that to have the most powers and responsibilities ‘devolved’, places must:
- Be part of a joint body with other places where decisions about these things would be taken. Technically, this is called a ‘Combined Authority’
- Have an elected Mayor who would have responsibility over the powers and resources gained through any deal. This would be a bit like the Mayor of London and would work in a similar way
- Any arrangement would need to be agreed by all the places involved, as well as central Government.
Have any places already got these powers?
A recent example of such an area where powers have been ‘devolved’ or given has been Greater Manchester which, as well as Manchester, also includes cities and towns such as Salford, Bolton, Wigan, Oldham and Trafford. This gives an idea of the size of area upon the Government may be looking to devolve powers and responsibilities.
What is a LEP? What is a Combined Authority? What is the difference?
LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships) are voluntary business-led partnerships of local businesses, local authorities and other partners to promote economic growth across a specific area.
LEP proposals and Boards are approved by the Secretaries of State for Business Innovation & Skills, and Communities & Local Government. LEPs can bid for funding from government through ‘Growth Deals’.
Combined Authorities are statutory bodies within which local authorities work together to deliver economic development, regeneration and transport functions. The idea is that if local authorities work together on these issues, they can work more effectively. The key difference between LEPs and Combined Authorities is that as Combined Authorities are statutory bodies they can act as accountable bodies for funding from Government.
Why do we need a mayor to get fully devolved powers from Government?
The Government has been clear that places need an elected mayor to access devolved powers and resources. We won’t get this funding and new powers without one. An elected mayor would act as an individual to unite and work across the region, and can be held to account for decisions made on a regional level.
Doesn’t this just create an extra tier of Government?
In reality, this would not be case as there are already decisions which are taken at a local level (through the nine local authorities of the Sheffield City Region), regionally (through Combined Authorities) and nationally by the Government. Devolution would primarily be about strengthening regional arrangements, with greater democratic accountability and powers to take decisions which currently take place in London.
Who will get to vote for the Mayor?
It is proposed in the governance review and new “scheme” that the residents of Doncaster, Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Chesterfield and Bassetlaw will vote for the Mayor. Elections will take place in 2017.
What will happen to local council services if the devolution agreement is approved?
There will be no impact on council services as a result of devolution. They will continue to be delivered by local councils.
Will it mean more taxes?
No. Government has stated proposals for devolution should be ‘fiscally neutral’ – meaning they do not cost any more than current spending levels. The law currently doesn’t allow local authorities to raise council tax above a threshold set by Government (2% in the last Parliament), without carrying out a referendum and a majority of residents agreeing to the increase. Business rates are set by central Government.
Apart from Sheffield City Region are there any other potential deals on the table?
Yes. The Government received 38 proposals from across the country. Sheffield City Region was the first to announce a possible deal. Since then the Government has agreed similar deals with the Tees Valley and the North East. More deals may happen over the coming months.
Have you officially approved the deal?
As of 31st March 2016, Sheffield City Region formally approved the Devolution Agreement with Government.
Who will ultimately be in control of the £900m of funding for Sheffield City Region?
As set out in the document, the £30m for 30 years will be the responsibility of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority – i.e. the nine elected leaders of the Sheffield City Region councils and the proposed elected Mayor. As ever, the Combined Authority will work in partnership with the Local Enterprise Partnership, to establish the economic priorities of the City Region.
Which Government pot will this funding come from exactly?
This is additional money from Government and it is therefore Government’s responsibility to identify the appropriate funding source as part of the Spending Review.
How will the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), combined authority, councils and the directly elected mayor work together, what is each of their roles?
This is clearly set out in the agreement which sets out that:
- The Mayor will be responsible for the transport budget, key transport routes and strategic planning.
- The Combined Authority will be responsible for all the other vital powers devolved to Sheffield City Region, including Skills, the £30m/30yr investment fund, employment support and business support.
- The LEP will continue to be the main economic strategy and delivery board as well as providing economic advice to the SCR leaders and the proposed mayor.
- These programmes of activity will be taken forward by the City region’s existing Executive Boards that comprise members from the public and private sectors to deliver key city Region priorities including skills and business growth.
How much will the Mayor be paid for the job?
This needs to be discussed. No figures have been determined. There are no direct comparisons in existence yet.
How will this £900m make a difference?
It will give Sheffield City Region a dedicated resource for the long term and means we can invest now and in future in projects which will bring more business investment and more jobs to the local economy. But it is different to the budgets which councils receive to fund core services. Government have made disproportionate cuts to the funding for council services since 2010 and we expect this to continue for future Spending Review periods.
The funding is vital for the Sheffield City Region economy because:
- It is a commitment for the long-term – it is £30m a year but committed for 30 years. 40% of this amount can be spent on revenue costs to support the capital projects and programmes, which is a significant boost to future planning and will enable the SCR to have the right people and expertise to deliver the growth
- Because we know that the funding will be available, we can borrow against it, attract private sector investment and fund major projects like new transport connections which can take years to build and therefore need funding committed for the long term. The councils of the Sheffield City Region simply can’t do this at the moment and it is holding our economy back.
- Government has announced that it is going to the main grant funding to local councils and move to a model where we will be funded by locally-raised money, mainly Council Tax and Business Rates.
- Investing the £30m a year in economic growth is a key way of growing our economy for the long term but also ensuring that the City Region has money to pay for key public services.
How is this deal different to the concept of a City Mayor which was rejected by residents of Sheffield?
This is completely different apart from being called a ‘mayor’.
The City Mayors that were created in 2012 are effectively council leaders for a local authority – like Mayor Jones in Doncaster. They have the same powers that a council leader has and similarly, they only have control of the same things that a Leader of a Council does.
This is much different to a City Region Mayor:
- These are powers which at the moment are all left to Government so we as individual councils or as together as a City Region have had little/no influence over some of the most important decisions for our economy (e.g. major roads, bus network etc).
- So, rather than being the leader of a council and responsible for things like social care, parking, or bin collection, the City Region Mayor will be responsible for the things that are jointly important to all the local authority areas in SCR – things which crosscut council boundaries – like transport, the bus network, the major roads in SCR and setting out a spatial plan for the City Region’s key sites for business growth, transport and housing.
- The Sheffield City Region (SCR) Mayor is not a replacement for council leaders/mayors – indeed he/she will work with the council leaders as part of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority. Economies aren’t shaped by council boundaries – a City Region Mayor is for the economic area and the mayor’s main responsibilities will be around growing the economy.
- In our Agreement, the Combined Authority (the 9 leaders and the City Region Mayor) will have new powers too – including over skills. The SCR Mayor will not take any powers from councils in Sheffield City Region
Who in Government will oversee the Mayor and what powers will they have?
Locally, the Mayor will be held to account by voters (elections every four / five years) and the SCR Overview and Scrutiny Committee. The democratically elected leaders of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority will be able to amend and veto the Mayor’s budget and strategies with a two-thirds majority. There will be 5 yearly ‘gateway assessments’ by Government (HM Treasury) to look at the impact of our investments on the economy.
What role will the business community play in this, given the LEP was founded in part by voluntary business leaders?
Businesses across the City Region (i.e. not just the LEP) have a critical role to play and we’ll continue to work closely with them both as individual councils and as a City Region. The proposed Mayor will be a member of the LEP alongside other members of the Combined Authority, recognising the importance of the private sector in leading the future of the City Region’s economy.
Will there be a formula to decide how the money is shared out across nine different local authorities or will it be on a ‘case by case’ basis? As we’ve proven since the Combined Authority was established and we set up the Sheffield City Region Investment Fund, the SCR economy is the main focus. It isn’t about sharing money out, it is about using the money available so that it has the biggest positive impact on the economy.
The City Region’s economy needs to be bigger, more productive, export more, attract more businesses to invest and create more jobs. You can’t do that by sharing money out across the geographical area – that’s not how economies work.
We will invest the money in the business opportunities that have the greatest impact on economic growth and jobs in SCR, regardless of where they are geographically.
How will the election of the Mayor be paid for?
This is to be discussed further with Government now that the deal has been agreed. However there is enough money from the Government to cover this.
What will the Mayor do?
Sheffield City Region (SCR) will have a Mayor who will be directly elected by South Yorkshire residents in May 2017.
The new Mayor will act as Chair to the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority. Local leaders remain accountable for the Combined Authorities actions in their areas.
The Mayor will be responsible for:
- The SCR transport budget – amount per year to be agreed by Government at the Spending Review
- Responsibility for regulation of local bus services, which will support the CA’s delivery of affordable Oyster-style smart ticketing in SCR
- Responsibility for a ‘spatial framework’ which will identify future areas of housing and business growth in SCR
- Responsibility for chairing the Joint Assets Board which will ensure that decisions over land and other assets bring economic growth.
How will the new Mayor work?
The Mayor will chair the Combined Authority (CA), the members of the CA will make up the Mayor’s Cabinet. The Mayor and CA will be scrutinised and held to account by the SCR Overview and Scrutiny Committee(s) – in turn made up of the chairs of Scrutiny from each local authority in the City Region. The Mayor will develop strategies with the CA.
- The Cabinet will also examine the Mayor’s spending plans and will be able to amend his/her plans, if two-thirds of the constituent members agree to do so.
- The Mayor will have one vote on the CA as will other voting members.
- The Mayor will be a member of the Local Enterprise Partnership, alongside the other members of the CA, recognising the importance of the private sector in local economic growth.
What if the Mayor wants to do things that our local leaders don’t agree with?
The Mayor will need to consult her/his cabinet on their strategies and spending plans and her/his cabinet will have powers to reject decisions (if two thirds agree to do so). We have spent many years building strong working relationships across both the public and private sectors and those relationships will stand us in good stead.
Will the Mayor have control over the emergency services like in London?
No. This is an economic deal.
Is this an end-point for devolution or is there the chance for us to get more powers?
We will continue to negotiate for further powers and resources – in the consultation questions we ask about things you may wish to see local control over.
A question we haven’t answered?
If there is a question we haven’t answered you can submit a question directly to us via the Let’s get talking conversation. We will regularly update this section with latest questions and responses.