By the time this issue of Penistone Living is published readers should have received voting papers for the Council’s Community Poll asking for an opinion on the devolution proposals for our area.
What is a Community Poll? In a White Paper of 1998 the Government stated that it wished to see “…consultation and participation embedded in the culture of all Councils.” The Local Government Act of 2003 gave local authorities specific powers to hold polls on any matter relating to their services or ability to promote well-being in their area. Whilst technically these polls are not legally binding, having given voters a choice any elected politician would have to be exceptionally arrogant to disregard the result.
Clearly this is a power which needs to be used sparingly and only for major decisions with long-term consequences. Devolution is a good example as once agreed its effects would endure for some thirty years, well beyond the normal electoral cycle.
One not very distinguished and now largely forgotten Prime Minister once said that a week was a long time in politics but it is two years since Barnsley signed up to the original Sheffield City Region proposals and during that time much has changed. Not least that two, Bassetlaw and Chesterfield Councils, have both already withdrawn meaning the area is now smaller than originally envisaged. Over the same period other schemes have evolved and the concept of a wider-Yorkshire arrangement has gained support across the region.
The United Kingdom is in many ways a very centralised state especially when compared to other developed nations like the US, Canada and Australia which each have established regional administrations with clearly defined powers and responsibilities. Devolution arrangements in Britain can, if properly constructed, allow regions to tailor a response to the different problems they face rather than have a one-size-fits-all solution sent down from Whitehall. Contrary to what the producers of ‘Yes Minister’ might have thought, Sir Humphrey does not know best!
The choice in the current poll is simple. Do residents of Barnsley want their area to be part of an arrangement centred on Sheffield or would they prefer to join a more extensive network encompassing most or even all of the ancient county of Yorkshire? In the end it is for everyone to make his or her own decision. Not everyone will choose the same option or make their choice for the same reasons but every vote will carry equal weight. All we can ask is that you cast your vote and when counted the result is accepted by everyone with no cynical attempts to question its validity by those who think the wrong choice was made. And please, no talk of a second referendum!
First published in the Barnsley Chronicle - Penistone Living - December 2017