Groundbreaking deal is just the beginning
by James Newman, Chairman of Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP)
So devolution has come to our City Region in a big way. The Devolution Deal for the Sheffield City Region was signed by myself and my political colleagues with the Government at the beginning of the month and is the trailblazer for what, I hope, will be many other similar deals in the north.
For the LEP, it marks the beginning of a journey, which we started in late 2010 and will finish when both we and the Government deliver the economic growth targets agreed between us. Having created the private and public sector partnership when the LEP was formed, this is the fifth and by far the largest deal we have done with Government and follows the successful delivery of many schemes in previous deals.
This is the beginning, because having gained substantial new long term funding into the Region as well as control or significant influence over transport, skills and business support funding, we now have to successfully implement the economic strategy we promised. It will be up to the LEP, in partnership with the Combined Authority and a newly elected Mayor for the City Region, to do this over the next 10-15 years and demonstrate we can do it better than Government.
The Deal itself is a tremendous step forward for the Sheffield City Region in that, not only do we take responsibility for transport, spatial planning, skills and business support activity, but Government Departments and agencies will be forced into working closely with us on the co-design of employment programmes, trade and inward investment activities, housing projects and key innovation programmes around the City Region’s world class advanced manufacturing facilities. Controlling or influencing our own economic agenda is the big win here and is what devolution is about.
The part played by the private sector in getting the Deal agreed cannot be underestimated and is well recognised by our political Leaders. I have written and spoken on many occasions in the past about the strong private and public sector partnership we have created in the Sheffield City Region and perhaps this has been dismissed by some as just rhetoric or my vivid imagination or even wishful thinking!
But after a unique City Deal, two outstanding Growth Deals, the second Devolution Deal in the country in 2014 and now the first of all LEP areas to be granted a major Devolution Deal less than four weeks after submitting it, I think even the worst of our critics must now accept we are doing something right. The Chancellor’s recent announcement on the LEPs’ private sector members having a veto on any additional increase in business rates I hope is a reflection of Government’s recognition of the part the private sector needs to play in the future.
In Sheffield City Region we acknowledged very early that growth would come from the private not the public sector and local politicians recognised this. This allowed the private sector freedom to input into economic strategy, lead delivery of the strategy in those parts of the economy, such as business support and skills, where they had the best expertise, supported all the way by the Local Authorities.
Where it was accepted that the Local Authorities had the experience and expertise, in such areas such as transport and housing, the newly created Combined Authority took the lead with support from the private sector.
The new governance arrangements between the LEP and the Combined Authority, where both sides have an equal say in key economic decisions on strategy and funding allocations gave the Government confidence that by devolving funding and powers to the Sheffield City Region, they were in safe hands and had a significant chance of success.
I believe, that the first mover advantage we now have, and the better deal we have achieved as a result, together with a strong delivery structure already in place, will enable the Sheffield City Region to develop a unique relationship with Government and gain their trust. This will lead to further devolved funding and powers over time as well as cement our strong relationship with other parts of the Northern Powerhouse, where Sheffield City Region will now play and increasingly important role.