This week, the South Yorkshire council leaders and I agreed a plan for getting the South Yorkshire devolution deal over the line. After years of negotiations between local leaders and the Government, there is now an agreement in place that enables South Yorkshire to secure £30 million a year in additional resources and access a £35 million adult education and skills budget; gives me the powers that I need to continue to transform our regional economy and local communities; creates thousands of decent, well-paid jobs; and sets out a blueprint for South Yorkshire’s political direction in the coming years. These negotiations haven’t been easy, but we are making progress towards putting South Yorkshire on an equal footing with other parts of the country that already have devolution deals in place.
This is an important step in the right direction. But we should remember that devolution is a process, not an event. The agreement reached gives a firm commitment for Barnsley and Doncaster to leave the deal in future to join any wider Yorkshire arrangement and the Government has conceded the need for all of Yorkshire and the Humber to work together through the Yorkshire Leaders Board – with a particular focus on climate change, tourism, trade and investment and devolution. Yorkshire is a county with a deep cultural affinity and has a population and economy bigger than Scotland. Our county – with all of the historical, cultural and economic clout it possesses – will have its voice heard at the top table.
Having secured the extra powers and resources that the South Yorkshire deal will bring, we must now use them wisely and for the benefit of our people and our communities. For decades, our economy has suffered from systemic underinvestment and we have been hit hard by the last 10 years of central government cuts. Just this week a report shows that Barnsley Council could lose a further £5 million at the same time as councils in the Home Counties are in line for additional funding. It’s only through devolution and giving our communities the power to shape their own futures, that we will start to bridge the North/South divide and enable our communities to realise their full potential.
None of this progress would have been made without me also serving as the MP for Barnsley Central. Just last week I spoke in the Queen’s Speech Debate and made the case for devolution as the best way to give people a voice throughout the decision-making process and empower them over the issues that affect their daily lives. In the context of the UK post-Brexit future it is vital that ‘take back control’ is more than a slogan; that it guides our public policy and we can make the most of this golden opportunity to rebuild faith and trust in democracy and our civic institutions.
Over the past two years, we’ve made real progress towards building a fairer, more equal society and empowering local communities here in South Yorkshire. We’ve secured over £120 million in investment for vital projects in our region, including over £30 million for Barnsley. We’ve started to build a public transport system that is fit for the 21st Century and serves our people and places more effectively. And we’re committed to opening up access to skills, training and further education to give every young person in our region the best start in life. The opportunities afforded by securing further powers and resources through devolution will enable us to keep delivering for Barnsley and South Yorkshire.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 31 January 2020.