Sheffield is falling behind its competitors because of local authorities’ inability to agree the powers of its soon-to-be elected mayor, say local businesses.
Under the Sheffield City Region devolution deal, agreed in 2015, Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, and Doncaster would receive an extra £300 million for economic development from the government
The mayoral election was due to be held last year but was postponed until May 2018 after lack of agreement over the role and rows between the four local authorities. With two months until the election, most of the issues are still unresolved.
Martin McKervey, a member of Sheffield’s Local Enterprise Partnership and a senior lawyer said that businesses elsewhere in the country are finding other city regions more attractive.
“We have a reputation for being a mess. Without a mayor we aren’t attractive to outside investors,” he said.
The Sheffield deal is one of many devolution of powers arrangements agreed between Westminster and different city regions across the U.K.
But, the Sheffield City Region has been beset by numerous setbacks, starting with Chesterfield and Bassetlaw pulling out of the deal last year.
Now, Barnsley and Doncaster are being blamed for the lack of progress after they pulled out of the deal to back a “One Yorkshire” project.
They say that the Sheffield City Region would be too weak to have any influence in Westminster, whereas a mayor representing all of Yorkshire would be one of the most powerful offices in the country.
“One Yorkshire” has the backing of 18 of the 20 local authorities in Yorkshire, with only Sheffield and Rotherham not on board.
The government has rejected Barnsley and Doncaster’s attempts to pull out from the Sheffield City Region saying they’ve already signed on and there’s no going back, leaving the entire deal deadlocked.
Anne Wilson, managing director of Numill Engineering in Sheffield, said her business needs international investment in education in order to grow and wants the issues resolved quickly.
She said: “Hopefully we can elect a mayor who will be able to take our issues directly to Downing Street, to central government to fight for our region.”
Numill’s Mrs Wilson has led several trade delegations to Poland promoting the Sheffield City Region and was awarded an MBE for her services to engineering in 2016.
She said: “At the moment there’s only one deal on the table. Whenever we procrastinate we are missing out on opportunities that could make our city region better.”
Sheffield City Council has admitted the stalemate means whoever is elected will have no powers or access to the annual £30m investment fund that is their personal remit.
The election will cost £1m of taxpayer’s money and the winner will not have a salary or an office, for at least the rest of the year.
Laura Bennett, who was behind the city’s bid for Channel 4 and recently appointed to the region’s Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Sheffield has a history of independent, ambitious people who become entrepreneurs and so we’ve got to get going to help them succeed.”