One tricky step at a time for the new Sheffield City Region Mayor….

Written by Leigh Bramall

As the dust settles on the election of Dan Jarvis as the new Sheffield City Region Mayor, attention will inevitably turn to what the area can expect of him and what his approach will be. It’s a particularly salient question given the public discord between the South Yorkshire local authorities on devolution for Sheffield City Region, caught up as it is in the heady cocktail of politics around a potential whole One Yorkshire deal. Crucially, it is currently a question that has no definitive answer.

Expectations of the Mayor from the private sector are relatively high. One suspects the pressure from the public will be less dramatic at this stage, given the low profile campaign and lack of interest and understanding in the role that exists. But what is happening now does and should matter. It has the potential to unlock significant funding for development and jobs and perhaps more importantly, strengthen the position and prominence of the area with investors and government.

What is in little doubt is that Dan Jarvis has the potential to provide the public facing and advocate role that South Yorkshire – essentially the area the Sheffield City Region Mayor represents – needs to improve its image on the national stage. With his background and schooling as a relatively high-profile MP, he is well versed in projecting confidence and tackling the media. However, after that, things become more difficult for him.

The first, and most important task Dan Jarvis will have is to resolve the current impasse between Barnsley and Doncaster on one hand, and Rotherham and Sheffield on the other. Currently, the powers and funding of £900 million plus over 30 years depend on each council signing up to the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority and its powers, which Barnsley and Doncaster have failed to do. This impasse will not be easy to resolve but a failure to do so risks the South Yorkshire Mayor never getting past first base. Dan Jarvis’ position as a Barnsley MP, backed as mayor by Sheffield and Rotherham, means he is probably better placed than most to achieve this, but it remains a big task. The hope must be that the offer of significant funding on the table will see pragmatism and a diplomatic approach smooth over bruised sentiments on all sides. The clock is ticking however, and if there is no progress as 2018 approaches an end, the whole venture could die a slow, lingering death that would actually further harm the image of the area and do little for Dan Jarvis’ own personal standing, even though this would probably be unfair.

Throughout this period of trying to get a South Yorkshire deal to work, the One Yorkshire proposals will continue to cast a lingering shadow. Those backing One Yorkshire will take one of two views of the South Yorkshire deal. Some will believe that South Yorkshire’s deal needs to be a success to give credibility to a One Yorkshire deal – after all, if they can’t make it work with four councils, what chance for 18 or 20?; others will wish the South Yorkshire deal to fail spectacularly and probably never get going, proving that only a One Yorkshire deal will work. These jockeying positions are likely to inform a complex political backdrop over the next year. They also sit alongside the ultimate question of whether a One Yorkshire deal is even desirable or will ever happen.

Dan Jarvis committed in his manifesto to make the South Yorkshire deal work. In so doing, he has at least partially tethered his own future to its success. The remainder of 2018 will determine whether this pays off or not. But with a full time MP role to fulfil and internal turmoil to resolve, the private sector in Sheffield City Region may have to wait a little longer to get the type of mayor they want. The hope must be that the wait is only a few months, and does not once more become a distant prospect.