Posted on 04 August 2016.
Many of my constituents have contacted me concerning Chesterfield being included in the Sheffield City Region Mayoral Regeneration proposal. I would like to explain what exactly is proposed and why I suspect that supporting this proposal is in Chesterfield’s best interests. The fact that I believe it may be in the best interests of the town doesn’t mean that I am not willing to listen to representations that disagree with that, but I believe that there has been a deliberate intention to mislead people and so I would like to hear views from more of my constituents once they have read this blog.
Firstly, THERE IS NO PROPOSAL TO MERGE CHESTERFIELD INTO SHEFFIELD; NO PLAN FOR SHEFFIELD CITY COUNCIL TO PROVIDE ANY SERVICES IN CHESTERFIELD; NO PLAN TO MOVE INTO SOUTH YORKSHIRE – Sorry for shouting, but it is simply untrue to suggest (as the Derbyshire County Labour Group leaflet implied) that the proposals are a merger or will lead to Chesterfield ‘falling under’ Sheffield.
Secondly, the government had a proposal for devolution of powers to local areas in their manifesto. The majority of powers they are devolving will come from Central government (from Whitehall) not from Chesterfield or Derbyshire. The new Mayors they are creating will be responsible for public transport, key transport routes (major ‘A’ Roads) and strategic planning. The combined authority will be responsible for skills, the 30 year/ £30 Million investment fund employment support and business support.
Derbyshire County Council will still provide schools, adult social services, child social services, youth services, highways, waste management and many other things.
The Mayor will also be responsible for preparing a strategic planning framework, but crucially the leader of Chesterfield Borough Council and other Council leaders will have a veto to prevent any unwanted developments in our area.
Ultimately, like it or not, the policy to put Mayoral City regions at the heart of regeneration is a Government policy that was included in the Tory Party election manifesto. The choice that faces us locally is twofold. Firstly, whether we should look to access the new funding that is available £484million over the next 5 years in the case of Sheffield City Region) or leave responsibility for these policy areas with unelected bureaucrats in Whitehall; and secondly if we accept that we want our local area to benefit from extra spending, then which deal should Chesterfield attempt to be a part of.
On the first question there is very little disagreement. The principle of devolution is pretty widely accepted and will mean that we get to have a vote on the person who is responsible for providing the above services. It will mean more independence and more money for our area at a time when economic regeneration of the North is crucial. On the question of whether these should be provided by a directly elected Mayor or be devolved to Councils, the government was quite clear, the powers were only available if a Mayor was elected.
Interestingly, none of this would be different if we had followed the County Council’s preferred proposal for a Mayor of Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire, I don’t believe there is any real disagreement over the powers that the Mayor of Sheffield City Region would wield or the Mayor of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
That then brought us to the second question. Which deal? I’ll start by providing some background and history, Chesterfield became a part of the Sheffield City Region (SCR)in 2008 and following the creation of Local Enterprise Partnerships has been a member of both the Sheffield City Region and Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire (D2N2) LEP since then. This made sense as it recognised Chesterfield’s role and co-dependence with both the East Midlands and South Yorkshire economies. Chesterfield Borough Council would have been happy to continue to enjoy a seat at both tables, but following the Conservatives’ General Election victory, the Government have said that local voters can only vote for one Mayor, whilst remaining non-constituent parts of a second area.
Whatever shape emerges to the new geographies, Chesterfield will continue to play a role in both areas, however, since the inception of LEPs I have to say that whilst the Sheffield City Region LEP has enjoyed considerable success and has worked constructively with ‘2nd tier’ authorities like Chesterfield, the D2N2 one has been considerably less effective and been mired in petty disagreements that have often prevented it from focussing on delivering. Initially Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Derby City and Nottingham City wanted to shut out all the 2nd tier authorities like Chesterfield. Ultimately they allowed one representative for all 9 Derbyshire 2nd tier authorities. By contrast Chesterfield had a seat at the table of SCR from day one.
It is because of this greater success, that whilst the Sheffield City region deal is likely to be signed off this year, 5 other Derbyshire Councils have also rejected the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire deal and so in actual fact there will be no D2N2 deal before 2020 at the earliest. I attended a dinner recently at which the Tory Business Minister was advocating Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire joining with Leicestershire. For all the talk of decisions getting made in Sheffield we have a great deal more in common with Sheffield than Leicester or Nottinghamshire.
So the Borough Council were left with a choice between advocating that Chesterfield residents get a vote on a Mayor that would cover South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire or sign up to a deal that doesn’t exist and probably see the extra money remain in Whitehall whilst our near neighbours were getting on with regeneration that we could urgently use.
It is important to reiterate that the proposal that we are looking at will be the creation of a new Mayor to cover the area, which will be elected every four years and will have to convince us every four years that he or she has delivered for our area and has plans to do so again.
Some people have raised the issue of Sheffield potholes. Road maintenance for almost all roads (except major A roads, which will pass to the Mayor not Sheffield City Council) will remain the responsibility of Derbyshire County Council.
Others have raised the fact that due to North East Derbyshire and Bolsover signing up to the now non-existent D2N2 deal the area is not contiguous. I agree that this is a big disappointment, it means that their residents will have decisions made about their area without getting a say in it. The voice of the North Midlands would be much stronger in the Combined Authority area if North East Derbyshire and Bolsover agreed to join Chesterfield and Bassetlaw. However regardless of who is around the table, the Mayor will have to win votes from voters in all areas and thus far, as with the recent £5.3Million grant award from SCR for our Northern Gateway project, the LEP and Combined Authority has been very supportive of the many different proposals that have come forward from Chesterfield.
Much of the talk about this proposal suggests that there is a pool of money and we simply need to decide who gets to spend it. That is not the case, Whilst Sheffield City Region look set to win this vital extra investment for their area, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have been unable to negotiate a deal and so there will be no extra money for those areas before 2020. Even after that I suspect that the financial needs of the Sheffield City Region will be greater than the East Midlands one, and so it is likely that there will be more money to fight for in the Sheffield City Region area than in the East Midlands one.
Finally, I would like to address the obvious opposition to this proposal from Derbyshire County Council and the disappointing spectacle of the open dispute that clearly now exists between Chesterfield and Derbyshire. I believe that both Chesterfield and Derbyshire have been excellent Councils over the years, they have continued to deliver their services in very difficult circumstances in recent years and it is sad to see this public dispute.
But whilst I recognise the frustration and concern that Derbyshire feel about this development, I am concerned that they are using emotive language and the politics of identity in their arguments against what is a pragmatic proposal about Chesterfield’s best interests, that will not in any way alter our status as a town in Derbyshire.
I want to reiterate there is NO PROSPECT of Chesterfield becoming a part of Sheffield or South Yorkshire. No prospect of Sheffield City Council providing services to Chesterfield or responsibility for our roads.
I recognise that Anne Western, the Derbyshire County Council leader, is worried that it will be a step towards a unitary North Derbyshire Council and a move away from Derbyshire County Council. That would be a far more significant step and I can honestly say it has never been discussed by me, nor am I aware of any interest in setting up such an authority. But to prevent money coming in to our area, which is what turning our back on the Sheffield City Region proposal would do, would be a retrograde step, our residents and our economy must always remain more important than the institutions that are there to serve them.
If you would like to share your views with me on the proposals, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org