Breaking down Sheffield’s upcoming Mayoral Elections

Sheffield is due to elect its first mayor this Thursday, but the election has been riddled with unresolved problems since the beginning.

With the controversy around the election, not even all of the candidates understand what the role is.

The mayor is meant to have jurisdiction over the Sheffield City Region (SCR), which essentially means the four local authorities that make up the country of South Yorkshire – Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster, and Barnsley.

The first conception of the Sheffield City Region deal envisioned an elected mayor having jurisdiction over nine councils: Barnsley, Bassetlaw, Bolsover, Chesterfield, Derbyshire Dales, Doncaster, North East Derbyshire, Rotherham and Sheffield.

But in June 2017, after a legal challenge by Derbyshire County Council, the five councils outside of South Yorkshire dropped out of the deal.

But the reality is, whoever wins the election will not have any powers, no access to funds, no office or ability to employ staff.

In many ways, becoming the mayor isn’t about wielding power- it’s about acquiring it.

The reason why the mayor doesn’t have any power, and the first issue they will have to address, is the disagreement between Sheffield and Rotherham on one side, and Doncaster and Barnsley on the other.

Liberal Democrat candidate Hannah Kitching said: “As things stand today, there’s only one offer on the table and it’s been Labour infighting and squabbling that stopped us from moving forward.”

Since September 2017, Doncaster and Barnsley have withdrawn their support for the Sheffield City Region devolution deal and instead backed an idea for a wider mayoral area which would have jurisdiction over all of Yorkshire.

18 of the 20 Local Authorities in Yorkshire currently back the idea, with Sheffield and Rotherham being against it.

The question of further devolution has divided the candidates, and parties, who are standing in the election.

Ian Walker, the Conservative candidate, said: “I don’t believe in having devolution given to us and then giving it up to all of Yorkshire- let’s fight for the region and use what we have now.”

‘One Yorkshire’, as it’s been called, is so far only an idea that the government is reluctant to back, whereas the Sheffield City Region deal has already been agreed with the money already set aside.

Former Communities Secretary Sajid Javid indicated last November that the government would consider backing the idea if the Sheffield City Region was implemented in full.

This position hasn’t helped resolve the deadlock and Sheffield and Rotherham still want to press ahead with the SCR in its full form.

Labour’s Candidate Dan Jarvis said: “The basis of my candidacy is drawing the region together, there isn’t agreement at the moment between the four council leaders, I think I’m the best person to bring them together.

“When we reach an agreement then we can get on with the business of drawing money from the government to help the people of South Yorkshire.”

However, Barnsley and Doncaster see any move towards implementation as limiting their ability to negotiate a Yorkshire wide deal.

This is why the mayor does not have any powers, the councils cannot reconcile their positions about further devolution.

Mr Jarvis, who plans to keep his seat as Barnsley Central MP if he wins, has thrown his full support behind One Yorkshire.

He said: “I believe this is a compelling argument for a wider Yorkshire arrangement and it’s my duty to have those conversations with Sheffield and Rotherham to convince them to join the other 18 councils in Yorkshire.”

Sheffield’s devolution deal has been plagued with problems since its conception. The city had overwhelmingly rejected a directly elected mayor in a referendum in 2012, but the coalition government pressed ahead with the election of a mayor anyway.

If Sheffield and Rotherham stick to their position and do not back One Yorkshire, there’s a risk that The Sheffield City Region will be left with two councils, down from nine.

The confusing situation has left many voters being unable to understand why they’re voting and what they’re voting for, with many people expressing their outrage on social media.

Whoever wins the election will have an enormously difficult task on their hands, and have very few powers to deal with them.