On Monday, the South Yorkshire Devolution Deal Order was laid in Parliament – securing new powers and resources for our region at a time when they have never been more urgently needed.
This historic milestone will unlock £30 million a year in additional funding to support our economy and local businesses. It will give us control of the adult skills budget so we can unlock opportunities for meaningful training to help people get on and find work. We will have transport powers so we can deliver better bus, tram and train services. South Yorkshire can finally get on with taking decisions on the issues people living here care about – better jobs, more opportunities for our young people and stronger, more resilient public services.
What’s more, devolution is a process, not an event. This Deal gives us the best of both worlds – powers and resources now as we grapple with the enormous challenges facing our region; whilst retaining the ability to join a wider Yorkshire arrangement in the future. We all know the considerable potential of working across the whole of Yorkshire on shared challenges and opportunities, which the Government has committed to doing, through the beefed-up Yorkshire Leaders’ Board.
It’s no secret that progress has been frustratingly slow reaching this point, but while South Yorkshire has not had the same powers at our disposal as other regions, having a Mayor has made a real difference to local people’s lives. We’ve helped 6,000 people find training and work through our innovative ‘Working Win’ employment trial. We secured £170m from government to transform our transport network. We have brought people together and shown leadership on our economy to secure £319m in investment, including funding for vital projects here in Barnsley such as the town centre Glass Works Project. In the last few months, during the Coronavirus pandemic, devolution has never been more important as we have helped efforts to get life-saving PPE to the front-line and support local businesses that are weathering the storm.
We have never needed additional resources more than as we embark on the process of recovering, rebuilding and renewing our economy in the aftermath of the Coronavirus. This crisis has hit the North hard. Our communities here in Barnsley and South Yorkshire have suffered badly both from the disease and its economic consequences and will likely be slower to recover. Even before the pandemic, our potential was being squandered. The UK has the worst regional inequality of any comparable nation; and rather than this spurring a concerted rebalancing of resources, austerity has meant that public spending across the North has been slashed over £6 billion. Independent research shows that Barnsley is the hardest hit borough in the country. This can’t continue, Barnsley has endured a decade of austerity, we cannot afford more wasted years.
After Coronavirus, there can be no return to business as usual. We urgently need a massive stimulus to save and create jobs and support businesses. But these short-term actions must support much bigger goals. We need a New Deal for the North, one that will transform our regional economy and make it stronger, greener, and fairer. We have an opportunity to radically transform how the country is run. South Yorkshire and the North has the ambition to build back better, and the devolution deal gives us some of the powers we need to make this happen. Now the Government must deliver its side of the bargain if it’s serious about levelling up and building a fairer, more equal, prosperous North.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 3 July 2020