The leader of Chesterfield Borough Council has launched a blistering attack on what he says is the ‘misinformation’ being spread about devolution by Derbyshire County Council.
Council officers have produced a document listing dozens of corrections and clarifications to a press release produced by the county council urging Chesterfield to delay its decision.
The borough council will take the decision on whether to pursue the Sheffield City Region or North Midlands devolution options at a meeting of the full council today (Thursday).
Borough council leader, Councillor John Burrows, said: “I am disappointed with the way the county council has misinformed the people of Chesterfield.
“This process has been going on for six years and we have been part of the Sheffield City Region for 12. It was (Derbyshire County Council leader) Anne Western herself that said we needed a result on this by March 4 and the vote will take place on the third. Now she is saying we are rushing into it.”
The Government timetable identified the end of February as a deadline for councils to make their decisions if they wanted to be part of the scheme’s first wave.
Coun Burrows said it was ‘strange’ that Chesterfield has been singled out by the county council - as opposed to High Peak and South Derbyshire which have taken the decision not to be part of the North Midlands deal.
And as to the question of Chesterfield losing its identity as a Derbyshire town, Coun Burrows was unequivocal.
“Chesterfield is a Derbyshire town and it will remain a Derbyshire town.
“This is not about geography - it is about economic activity.
“There is no ‘Derbyshire’ devolution option - the choice is between the North Midlands or Sheffield City Region, Nottingham or Sheffield.”
He said the officer-produced report - which backs the Sheffield option - was ‘balanced’ and took into account the town’s political and industrial history and the ‘overwhelming’ evidence of strong economic ties to its large northern neighbour.
However, he said that he was still to make his final decision and will only do so on Thursday afternoon as he writes his speech.
Anne Western, leader of Derbyshire County Council, said: “I stand by the press release we have put out. We had it checked and double checked by our legal department and most of the information in it is absolutely factual.
“What will happen in the future, however, nobody knows - it is very uncertain. The report that Chesterfield Borough Council has put together does not present the situation in a very clear manner.
“For example the conclusion that Chesterfield would be better off in the Sheffield City Region isn’t supported by the facts in the report itself.
“If you add these figures up correctly you can see a clear track record of Chesterfield getting more money from us than it does from Sheffield.
“Also, the report actually shows that the Chesterfield economy is more interdependent with North East Derbyshire and Bolsover than it is with the Sheffield City Region.
“If they make this decision it will take powers away from the county council on highways and public transport and these will be determined by the Sheffield City Region and their roads are three times worse than ours. Finally, John actually signed a letter to the secretary of state and the Chancellor just before Christmas, extolling the virtues of the North Midlands deal. I find it difficult to understand what changed.”
Columns on both sides of the issue by John Burrows and Ann Western can be found in this week’s Derbyshire Times.