I have the great privilege to be not only the Member for Barnsley Central, but also the Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, in which capacity I chair the Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority which this order relates to.
And as such, it is a great pleasure to see this devolution deal finally become a reality. The road here has been long and hard.
We were the only devolved administration without a full deal in place from the start, and getting one took enormous effort. I have the scars to prove it!
Nonetheless, we have already achieved a lot, even with the limited tools at our disposal.
We secured £166m of Transforming Cities money, and initiated an innovative “Working Win” employment programme which has helped thousands of people with health conditions find and stay in work.
Since 2018, we’ve allocated more than £100 million of Local Growth Funding for culture, transport, urban regeneration, and flood prevention, and just this month secured an additional £81m for infrastructure and housing.
Whilst these numbers of course matter, the most important achievement is the agreement of a deal and the drawing together of our local authorities and partners through the Combined Authority, that provides us with the framework to co-operate and drive our region forward for the benefit of our residents.
Almost 90% of people in South Yorkshire said they wanted to see more devolution.
And now we have it, I am absolutely determined that we will seize the opportunity it represents.
Devolution will unlock our local knowledge and networks, bring power closer to the people, and help us reshape our economy and society in a way which reflects our values and priorities.
It will help us towards the three great transformations we need:
An economic transformation to create not just a bigger economy but a better one, more innovative and higher value;
A green transformation to urgently decarbonise our economy, improve our environment, and revolutionise our public transport;
And a transformation of wellbeing and inclusion, raising our quality of life, widening opportunity and reducing inequality.
And it will also help us as we struggle not just for recovery from COVID, but for a renewal that advances that goal of a stronger, greener, fairer South Yorkshire.
But we have to be clear. Even with this deal, South Yorkshire cannot fulfil these ambitions on its own.
Devolution will only work, if we work together.
To fulfil our potential, we must continue to build a culture of co-operation within our combined authority.
There are great opportunities for us to work across all of Yorkshire, especially through the Yorkshire Leaders’ Board.
And we need to work across the North as a whole, especially on environmental issues and renewing our transport infrastructure.
And of course, we also have to work at the national level, with the government in Westminster.
Perhaps the most important aspect of that is that we need the government to work with us in making our vision of transformation – into a reality.
In the short term we need Government support for the Covid Renewal Action Plan we have developed as a roadmap back from the ravages of this pandemic.
In the longer term, we need Government to fulfil its pledges to level up the country.
We must use the public investment to boost the economy and finally end the waste of our potential – to the benefit not just of South Yorkshire, but of the whole country.
So, today marks a very important milestone. But it is not our final destination. Devolution is a process, not an event.
It is not about local and regional government competing against each other for funding pots administered in Whitehall.
To realise its promise, devolution must be about the meaningful transfer of power and resources away from Westminster.
The UK is – to our detriment – one of the most centralised developed nations on the planet. We urgently need a deep national conversation on how to restructure and renew our democracy. Without it, there is a risk that our country may not survive the currents of division already tearing at it.
But, today we can give thanks for having come this far. I am grateful to everyone who played their part – to Ministers and the leaders of our Local Authorities, but also to the civil servants at MHCLG and other departments, and to all my team in Sheffield and Barnsley.
We should all look forward to the things we are able to do now, which we could not do before.
But we should not pause too long before we continue down this road.
The greater part of its promise still lies ahead.