- South Yorkshire citizens call for stronger devolution deal in UK’s first ever ‘Citizens’ Assembly’
- Citizens vote in favour of Yorkshire & Humber regional assembly as best model of devolution, and call for substantially more powers to be held in Yorkshire
- Assembly demonstrates citizens’ appetite for grappling with and deciding on complex constitutional issues. Members voice support for citizens in Yorkshire and other areas facing devolution deals to have opportunities for informed and deliberative debate of the kind Assemblies allow
Citizens in South Yorkshire have called for a much stronger devolution deal than the one currently on the table for the Sheffield region.
In the UK’s first ever Citizens’ Assembly, which concluded on Sunday evening (8th November), residents voted in favour of a Yorkshire-wide regional assembly as their preferred model of devolution, and called on local politicians to negotiate with the Government for a much more ambitious and democratic devolution deal.
Over two weekends of deliberation, the 31 participants – drawn as a broadly representative sample from Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster in response to an invitation by polling company YouGov – reached their conclusions through a deep process of engagement with the details of different potential devolution arrangements. The participants were given unique access to national and local experts to aid them in reaching their own conclusions on how South Yorkshire should be governed [for more detail see note 1]. The project has been closely followed by Sheffield City Council.
Participants voted by majority:
- for the Yorkshire & Humber area to form the basis for regional devolution
- for a directly elected regional assembly
- for stronger powers for the area to include some tax-setting and law-making powers, so there is real power in the area over issues such as transport infrastructure, economic development and education
- if asked to vote today, to reject the devolution deal currently on offer for the Sheffield City Region, but to press local politicians to push for a better deal (stronger, more ambitious, more democratic and based on proper consultation) rather than walk away
The project, entitled Democracy Matters , has been organised by the University of Sheffield, University of Southampton, University College London and University of Westminster, in conjunction with the Electoral Reform Society, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) . Sheffield is one of two pilot areas taking part in the experiment. In Southampton, citizens in a parallel Assembly for the Hampshire area will gather to reach their conclusions next weekend.
These Assemblies come in response to the sweeping constitutional changes currently facing the UK. In 2012, two out of three voters in Sheffield rejected the option of a directly elected mayor for the city, while in 2015, the City Region Combined Authority committed itself to public consultation on any new governance model.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“As the Government seeks to devolve powers towards local areas, they need to include citizens and not simply deliver their chosen solutions from above. This Citizens’ Assembly has given local people the chance to come to the fore and shape the devolution agenda. Politicians should sit up and take note.
“The Assembly has been an exciting demonstration of the fact that people are more than capable of grappling with complex constitutional questions. By creating the space for citizens to inform themselves about the issues and debate with each other, the project has shown the potential for a new kind of democratic politics.”
Professor Matthew Flinders, Principal Investigator for the project, said:
“Assembly members preferred a ‘rego’ over a ‘devo’ deal for the future, but they also want a better deal in the here and now. If a vote on the current devolution deal had been held this past weekend, a two-thirds majority of Assembly members would have rejected it. Another vote showed strong opposition to an elected mayor.
“But corresponding votes revealed that Assembly members did not want their leaders to walk away from negotiations. It’s not that the Assembly members did not want devolution. What they want is genuine devolution with more powers and stronger accountability.
“It’s simply untrue that people do not care about politics and are disconnected from democracy. What these Assemblies show is that citizens are ready, willing and able to embrace rigorous democratic deliberation.”
Professor Will Jennings, Co-Investigator for the project, said:
“These Assemblies challenge the myth that people are disengaged from politics. When they are given the chance to assess a range of different positions and possibilities they do it with gusto. This marks an important contribution to the conversation about politics and democracy in this country.”
- The first weekend of the Sheffield Assembly in October was opened by Lord (David) Blunkett, who stressed the importance of local people having a say on the future of government in their area. The Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council John Mothersole took questions on the nature of the devolution deal that is currently on the table. Other advocates discussed more radical options for change. In response to members’ requests, the subsequent weekend included a presentation from Councillor Sir Steve Houghton CBE, leader of Barnsley Borough Council, urging the Assembly to embrace the model on offer (a mayor-led combined authority) and play a full part in consultation to be announced next month. In addition there were advocates of a Yorkshire Assembly, and an advocate of sticking to the existing council structure. The project is supported by local politicians including Angela Smith MP and Alan Whitehead MP (for other endorsements see http://citizensassembly.co.uk/home-page/about/).
- The Citizens’ Assemblies are being conducted by Democracy Matters, a group of leading academics from the University of Sheffield, the University of Southampton, University College London, the University of Westminster and the Electoral Reform Society in a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Research Directors from four Constitutional Conventions from countries outside the UK have acted as project advisers.Read the biographies of the project team here: citizensassembly.co.uk/home-page/about/project-team/
- The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.