Devolution: Yorkshire

Part of Adjournment (February, Easter, May Day and Whitsun) – in the House of Commons at 9:04 pm on 10th October 2017.

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Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 9:04 pm, 10th October 2017

I congratulate John Grogan on securing such an important debate.

In May this year, just five months ago, six metro mayors were elected to the combined authorities in England. Those six mayors—three in the northern powerhouse—have the power to create jobs, improve skills, drive forward their local economy and improve transport. Already they are creating a single point of accountability for residents, and have become powerful advocates for their area. Let us consider two of them. Ben Houchen in the Tees Valley has created the first mayoral development corporation outside London and is already attracting not just national but international businesses to the Tees Valley so that he can turn around SSISahaviriya Steel Industries—steelworks. One mayor, one point of accountability driving forward his economy.

Andy Burnham, who will be familiar to those on the Labour Benches, is the metro mayor for the great city of Manchester. In one of the most striking acts of leadership that I have seen, he stood strong, representing his city and our whole nation, against a terrorist outrage that took place in that city just days after he was elected. One city, one mayor standing together against terrorism.

As with all devolution settlements across the United Kingdom, the process of passing powers from central Government to our regions is a one-way street. Metro mayors are already asking the Government what happens once they have fully implemented their devolution deal. What is the next natural step to return power, money and influence to their region?

These early adopters, these mayors, are viewed with envy by the residents and the business communities around them. When people turn on their telly and see Ben Houchen, Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham standing there with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as they did this summer, they naturally ask—as I have been asked in Yorkshire—why is my area being left behind?

The metro mayors, created by this Government, form a partnership of equals with Government. They sit at the top table to talk about housing, economic development and, crucially, Brexit. That is why this Government believe that the South Yorkshire devolution deal should proceed. There can be no devolution two without a devolution one going on in the first place.

The hon. Member for Keighley asked why Manchester has so many powers. Manchester and its mayor have currently negotiated four deals with the Government. The Sheffield city region deal is the start of devolution, not the end of it. As a Conservative Government, we are not making a narrow political point. We will not gain any advantage from having a South Yorkshire mayor. I guess that the people of Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster and Sheffield deserve the devolution that they have been promised.

Those areas came together in 2015 and asked this Government for the deal. We believed then—and still believe now—that passing power and money from Whitehall to those town halls can transform the lives of people in South Yorkshire. Then Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster and Sheffield reaffirmed their commitment to the deal—not once, not twice but on three separate occasions. At their request, not the Government’s request, we legislated on two occasions to put ourselves in the position that we are in today. It is the law of the land, debated in this House, passed by this House, and voted on by this House that the mayoral election in the Sheffield city region will take place on 3 May 2018. The Sheffield city region deal is by all measures a good deal. It will bring £30 million a year of new Government money into one of the most deprived regions of the UK. It is one of the most generous devolution deals the Government have agreed. It equates to £22 per person per year in the Sheffield city region, compared with just £11 in Manchester.

On 3 May 2018, when the new South Yorkshire mayor is elected, the people of South Yorkshire—not the politicians—will, just like the people of the Tees Valley, Manchester and Liverpool, have a strong local voice to represent them at the top table with the Government.

While it is unfortunate that two of the local authorities that signed up to that deal in its original form have not consented to proceed to consult on the powers of the mayor, I can confirm that, as far as the Conservative party is concerned, I spoke last night to my right hon. Friend Sir Patrick McLoughlin, who is the Conservative party chairman, and we are proceeding to select our candidate for this important election.

The reason I make that point is that I say this to the new mayor of South Yorkshire, whoever he or she may be: we understand the challenges South Yorkshire faces, we believe that an elected mayor can give South Yorkshire the leadership it clearly needs, and we will work with them, whoever they may be, to ensure that the nearly £1 billion of Government money that has been promised to South Yorkshire is delivered to the people of South Yorkshire.

It took my breath away when the leader of Sheffield City Council, Julie Dore, told me this summer that she never thought she would live to see the day in South Yorkshire when a Labour council—in fact, two Labour councils—egged on by local MPs, would reject £1 billion from a Tory Government because of factionalism and infighting in the Labour party in South Yorkshire.