DEVOLUTION: Council chiefs in war of words over Sheffield City Region deal

Chesterfield Town Hall.
Chesterfield Town Hall.

The chair of the Sheffield City Region combined authority has written to Derbyshire County Council to complain about what he says is their ‘misleading’ anti-devolution campaign.

In a letter to the leader of Derbyshire County Council, Anne Western, the chair of the Sheffield City Region, Sir Stephen Houghton, says that some of the county council’s statements on the issue are simply ‘incorrect’.

Sir Stephen Houghton.

Sir Stephen Houghton.

He goes on to say that a website and poll set up by the county council which include the question ‘do you want a Sheffield mayor to control services in Chesterfield’, serve only to misinform the public and harm the consultation process.

He said: “You have made accusations of the public being ‘hoodwinked’ and misled by the consultation process - yet the material issued by the county council contains statements and claims that could be seen as misleading.

“I understand that the leader of Chesterfield Borough Council has sent detailed comments regarding the extent to which the published material is misleading but that no changed have been made.

“As the chair of the authority I would likewise urge you to reconsider the material, since it only serves to harm the process.”

Leader of Derbyshire County Council, Anne Western.

Leader of Derbyshire County Council, Anne Western.

The controversial devolution plans - which are currently being consulted on by Chesterfield Borough Council - would see some of the services that are currently delivered by Derbyshire County Council taken over by a combined authority of nine local authorities across Derbyshire, South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, centred on Sheffield.

The chance of Chesterfield being put ‘at the back of the queue’ behind less well off authorities in South Yorkshire has been cited as a concern for many opponents of the deal in Derbyshire.

However, Mr Houghton - who is also the leader of Barnsley Council - says that there is no alternative deal on the table and urges Derbyshire County Council to ‘get round the table’ to get the best out of it for the people of Derbyshire.

Derbyshire County Councillors met last week to debate the issues facing Derbyshire if Chesterfield’s Sheffield City Region deal went ahead.

Recommendations approved included endorsing the cabinet’s decision to prepare a ‘robust response’ to the consultation, highlighting areas of concern.

Leader of Derbyshire County Council, Councillor Anne Western, said: “We are not misleading anyone. We’re making sure people have a full and balanced picture so they can give an informed view on the biggest issue facing Derbyshire for many years. It’s a complex issue and it’s important that people get all the facts and can have their say.

“The facts speak for themselves. Most people in Chesterfield identify more with Derbyshire than Sheffield. Most people who live in Chesterfield work in the town or elsewhere in Derbyshire. Just nine per cent of the town’s working population travel to Sheffield to work.

“Perhaps the most important fact of all is that no one really knows how it will work because by its own admission Sheffield City Region hasn’t figured out much of the detail. So how can people be expected to take part in its public consultation and engagement – a £350,000 exercise which doesn’t even ask the most straightforward questions?”

In response to the consultation, the county council has set up its own online poll.

They say more than 3,000 people have taken part and more than 90 per cent say they do not want Chesterfield to become a full member of Sheffield City Region or want a Sheffield mayor to control services in Chesterfield.

“People can make their own minds up,” said Coun Western.

“We have a moral responsibility to all our Derbyshire residents to make sure they’re aware of the proposals and the arguments for and against.”

A final consultation drop-in session for residents to find out more about the deal will be held in Staveley next week.

The event will take place on Monday 8 August at the Healthy Living Centre on Barlow Road from 4pm to 7pm.