Mayoral vote
'a puzzle'

Sheffield's elected mayor will not have new money or significantly stronger powers

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Doncaster first got one in 2002. The people of Salford got theirs in 2012, followed last year by Manchester and Liverpool. Now voters in South Yorkshire are about to choose a directly elected mayor.

The job of elected mayor is the most powerful in regional politics, so much so that former Labour minister Andy Burnham gave up his Westminster career to take charge in Greater Manchester.

In South Yorkshire, though, the mayor will have much less clout and few responsibilities because local councils fell out over how long the elected mayor should serve and whether they should wait for an all-Yorkshire mayoral contest.

Barnsley and Doncaster (the latter confusingly having its own elected mayor) have so far refused to sign up to having a South Yorkshire mayor.

Limited funds

The election winner’s remit will therefore be confined to what is described as the Sheffield City Region – basically Sheffield and Rotherham even though, bizarrely, voters in Barnsley and Doncaster will also be presented with a ballot paper for the mayoral contest.

The disagreement means the government’s promised £900 million in new money and a host of powers devolved from Whitehall will not be forthcoming. Apart from limited funds to improve transport, the only item in the in-tray of whoever wins the election will be the task of encouraging the leaders of Barnsley and Doncaster to climb aboard and unlock those new funds and powers.

Favourite to win the contest is Dan Jarvis, Labour MP for Barnsley Central, since all 14 parliamentary constituencies in South Yorkshire are currently held by his party. He has already announced that if successful he will continue to sit in the House of Commons, believing he can do more for the region if he continues to be at the centre of national politics.

“The mayor’s going to have a tough job to begin with to reach an agreement with all the constituent local authorities,” Jarvis told Big Issue North. “But I think I can see a way through it.”

However, he believes the job should be seen as a stepping stone on the way to a contest for an elected mayor for all Yorkshire. Of the 20 local authorities, 18 have agreed the job in principle and would like a contest in 2020. The government has not yet agreed to it, but Jarvis said: “There is a compelling argument for a wider Yorkshire mayor, so compelling that it unities the TUC and the CBI.”

The candidate selected by the Yorkshire Party to oppose Jarvis, Rotherham teacher Mick Bower, would also prefer an election for an all-Yorkshire mayor. He believes the Sheffield City Region is too small and unambitious to stop it falling behind other regions and added: “Due to Labour councillors [in South Yorkshire] bungling and backstabbing, the mayor we’re electing will have no budget. We’ve missed out on tens of millions of pounds due to council leaders putting self-interest above the needs of the people.”

Many aspects of the election are puzzling the electorate, said Vicky Seddon of Sheffield for Democracy, a non-partisan group campaigning to increase participation in elections and hold politicians to account.“There’s confusion about what the city region means, then there’s confusion about the powers that come with the job, confusion about how much money there will be to spend, and also controversy about which local authorities are in or out,” she said. “How is democracy served by electing a mayor under these circumstances?”

Sheffield for Democracy also questions the legitimacy of the elected mayor contest, given that 65 per cent of Sheffield voters rejected such a proposal for the city itself in a 2012 referendum. “There is no evidence that voters in the wider city region think differently,” said Seddon.

Voting takes place on 3 May. The candidates are David Allen (English Democrats), Mick Bower (Yorkshire Party), Dan Jarvis (Labour and Co-operative), Naveen Judah (South Yorkshire Save Our NHS), Hannah Kitching (Liberal Democrats) Robert Murphy (Green Party), Ian Walker (Conservatives).

Photo: Dan Jarvis, favourite to become Sheffield’s new mayor, intends to remain an MP as well (Shutterstock)

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