Agenda item

Question and answer session, Mayor Coppard, South Yorkshire Combined Mayoral Authority.

On invitation of the Chair, Councillor Maggi Clark, Mayor Coppard to present a brief overview of his priorities as Mayor of South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority and take part in a question and answer session with Board Members.


Please note: 30 minutes in total will be allocated to this item.


The Chair welcomed Mayor Coppard, South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority to the meeting and invited him to give an overview of his work priorities, prior to him taking questions.


The Mayor thanked the Chair for her invitation to the meeting. He outlined that his attendance reflected his commitment to doing politics differently and being the most transparent and accountable mayor in the country. He listed examples including taking part in monthly phone-ins on BBC Radio Sheffield; holding a series of Mayor’s question time across South Yorkshire and attending over 30 public meetings to talk about buses and the challenges faced in South Yorkshire. He had also committed to attend each of the overview and scrutiny committees across South Yorkshire.


It was anticipated that there would be an election held on May 2, 2024 for the Mayor of South Yorkshire, integrating the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) functions. This had come about because the Government was satisfied that devolution was working well in South Yorkshire and the partnership was sufficiently mature to combine the PCC role into the office of the Mayor.


A key priority was growing the local economy; the Mayor outlined flagship investments such as Boeing and securing the U.K.’s first investment zone as being major achievements. Other examples included a 10-year £160 million investment in the advance manufacturing sector, a growth corridor between Rotherham and Sheffield as well as opportunity sites in Barnsley and Doncaster. The South Yorkshire Pension Authority had made significant investment which would benefit communities long-term. In addition, a strategic partnership with Homes England meant investment in local housebuilding.


The Mayor gave details of his plans to improve public transport systems, including bringing the tram and bus network under public control. It was noted that legislation in the 1980s removed democratic control of public transport from local authorities. However, it was noted that the financial picture with challenging.


The Mayor also outlined his ambition for South Yorkshire to be healthiest region in the country. He noted that a baby born in Rotherham today was likely to die five years younger than a baby born in a more affluent part of the country. It was important to turn this around and that was why SYMCA agreed to provide £2.2 million funding for the “Beds for Babies” scheme, to make sure every child under five across South Yorkshire was guaranteed a safe place to sleep. He expressed support for the Rotherham council’s “Baby Pack” initiative to provide all newborn babies within the Rotherham area with essentials.


The Mayor highlighted the work of the Citizens Assembly, which comprised of over 100 demographically representative people across South Yorkshire. The assembly’s contributions informed the decisions made on achieving net zero targets. This demonstrated how communities were being brought into conversations about decisions.


He gave assurance that the governance of SYMCA was effective and accountable. He concluded by reiterating his commitment to making devolution work and also gaining additional powers and more control for South Yorkshire.


The Chair invited questions from Board members, taking those which had been submitted in advance first.


Councillor Robert Elliott cited a recent article which reported that Alexander Stafford MP (Rother Valley) had claimed that there were plans submitted to the Mayor for an “Active Travel Neighbourhood in Sitwell and Herringthorpe. More bus and cycle lanes with ULEZ (being) the likely outcome”. Was this true?


In response, the Mayor outlined that there were a number of proposals across the Borough for area wide schemes to improve bus journey times and conditions for bus passengers, make public transport work more effectively, and make improvements for pedestrians and cyclists. These were being developed as part of the Government-led regional City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement programme. He confirmed that there was a budget allocation in the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement programme to look at such works in residential parts of Sitwell and Herringthorpe. He stated that it was important to ensure that measures were taken to improve air quality, as required by Government. However, he categorically rejected that this would lead to an expansion of the clean-air zone in Sheffield across South Yorkshire or the introduction of an ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ). He asked that the misleading comments be withdrawn.


Councillor Adam Tinsley asked if the Mayor could detail what the plan for a low traffic neighbourhood in Maltby would entail and what consultation had been carried out with residents and councillors.


The Mayor referred to his previous answer, confirming that there was a programme of work outlined with the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement, with the objective to improve conditions for those traveling by bus, as pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.  He reiterated that the scheme had been designed in partnership with Government and funding had been released only when the Government was satisfied with the plans outlined. He confirmed that there was budget allocation in the CRSTS programme to look at work in residential parts of Maltby. This was the lowest priority scheme in the programme and its inclusion arose from negotiation with the Department for Transport.


The scheme was not yet designed and would be subject to public engagement consultation from the early stages to ensure it met the needs of local communities, including residents and businesses.


In asking a supplementary question, Councillor Tinsley sought clarification if public consultation would take place locally. He felt it was crucial to seek local views as the areas identified were residential and did not suffer high volumes of traffic. In response, the Mayor indicated that should he be returned to office in May 2024, he was willing to look at how the public can be engaged.


Councillor Taiba Yasseen noted that the Mayor held significant power in making decisions that impact South Yorkshire residents and the allocation of public funds. Given the importance of ensuring these decisions reflected the needs and priorities of diverse communities, how did the Mayor balance decision-making whilst ensuring robust and meaningful community consultation, particularly when considering projects with significant impact on local communities and potentially high costs.


Mayor Coppard thanked Councillor Yasseen for her question. He stated that democratic control was fundamental to how he wanted to work. If devolution was going to work, people needed to feel that that decisions were taken close to the communities that the Mayor represented. One of the brilliant things he was able to do through his role was to engage through councillors with communities. If confidence with politicians was to increase, there was a need to be clear with people about what was being done and learn and listen throughout the process. The way in which consultation sometimes happened was that a decision was made and then people were asked if the decision was right. It was his view that the process should be reversed. He gave an example of the Citizen’s Assembly about how listening to communities could happen in practice.


Councillor Yasseen appreciated his aspiration for doing politics differently. She cited an example of a recent experience with the Mayor’s office in respect of cycling routes within the Boston Castle ward. She felt that the community consultation had been poor and had written to the Mayor but had not received a response. In her view there was a disconnect and it worried her that there was a failure to respond when people had reached out to his office.


Mayor Coppard offered a further conversation with Councillor Yasseen to establish what had happened. He accepted that as a relatively new organisation, there were gaps in their systems and committed to learning and understanding where they had got things wrong.


Councillor Miro asked if there was a potential conflict of interest when leaders of the district councils chaired boards and committees within South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, particularly when making decisions that directly impact their own areas?


The Mayor stated that the authority strove for high standards for transparency, openness and accountability about the money it received and how this was invested. Each member of the Combined Authority submitted a register of interests which was published on the website. In addition, members were asked to declare any interest on specific agenda items. Where there was a conflict, the member would not take part in that particular discussion, or the Monitoring Officer would determine the most appropriate course of action. He explained that under the previous governance model, thematic boards were chaired by local authority leaders. However, following the governance decisions taken last year this was no longer the case. Decisions were now taken by the Combined Authority Board, comprising of the leaders of the local authorities and chaired by the Mayor. The Mayor indicated that he was happy to have a further conversation should the Councillor have specific examples.


Councillor Lyndsey Pitchley cited a recent scrutiny review looking at preparation for adulthood for young people with special educational needs and disabilities and the lack of opportunities for many young people with additional needs to access meaningful employment, training or placements. She asked the Mayor to outline how his work addresses this issue and any future plans to increase opportunities. She also thanked the Mayor for his work around “Beds for Babies” and noted his reference to Rotherham’s “Baby Packs”.


Citing his previous work with the ‘BookTrust’ charity, he noted the commitment of partners in Rotherham to work with families to make a difference. He reiterated that every person needs support to be able to “stay near and go far” in South Yorkshire. The Skills programmes underpinned this. Programmes such as UKSPF, Community Learning and Working Win were supporting individuals to develop the skills and capabilities they needed to access meaningful employment, training or placements. He noted that a skills strategy was to be launched and welcomed views on how this could be implemented to be more inclusive. He noted that South Yorkshire was home to the world’s leading advanced manufacturing sector and there was a training centre which provided opportunities for young people to get world-leading skills on their ‘doorstep’. However, if a young person found it difficult to access training or opportunities on public transport or lacked confidence, its proximity to Rotherham was irrelevant. He outlined that 16% of people across South Yorkshire had no formal qualifications; 43% of the working age population are qualified at level 2 and below: only 51% are qualified to Level 3 and above, compared to a national average of 57%.


Councillor Clark welcomed plans for bus franchising and active travel and their contribution towards net zero. She asked how else was the Mayor was integrating affordability, environmental sustainability and resilience into transport plans – particularly in respect of rail networks? How did plans to reopen Doncaster Sheffield Airport sit alongside net zero targets?


In response, the Mayor outlined that transport was fundamental to the work of the MCA because a bigger and better economy depended upon effective public transport. He referred to evidence that showed that places that thrive had a mass transit network, however South Yorkshire did not have this at the moment. He argued that this was arisen because of the privatisation of the bus market in the 1980s and the failure of the Government to give South Yorkshire fair funding. He highlighted that that residents in the West Midlands Combined Authority received £30 more per person in Government funding compared with people living in South Yorkshire. 


Whilst there had been investment in the public transport network, progress had been limited by lack of funding. It was noted that passenger numbers had not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Consequently, profits for private operators had reduced which had led to greater demand on tendered services. This had risen some 300% from £7 million to over £21 million in four years. The intention was to change how the system worked with the franchising assessment processes to use money from profitable routes to invest in less profitable services. This would mean a different model using bus services as an investment in local communities.


The Mayor referenced the extension of the tram train network and the opening of a station at Magna. It was noted that mass transit networks were an important part of net zero solutions. Because of the pioneering tram train technology, there were opportunities to integrate with the rail network across South Yorkshire.


In respect of Doncaster Sheffield Airport, the Mayor accepted that it would be a challenge to achieve Net Zero by 2040, however the plans had huge economic benefits to the region and he supported the airport’s reopening. He expressed a view that it was possible to ‘fly less, fly better’ and still have a thriving regional airport. The advanced manufacturing section was at the forefront of building a sustainable aviation hub.  A facility with Boeing was being built at AMRC that would be in the vanguard of designing the future of sustainable aviation. Hybrid Air Vehicles were being developed by Sheffield University that would deliver new aircraft powered by clean energy. 


Councillor Elliott noted that plans were being developed for a new mainline railway station in Parkgate. He asked if the plans would include schemes to alleviate the already heavy traffic (sometimes gridlocked) on the roads in the surrounding area, including the Broad Street and Mushroom roundabouts.


The Mayor stated that the new mainline station was a fantastic opportunity for the town and region to re-establish direct rail services to Rotherham and other key destinations across country. The station would contribute to reducing the large productivity gap between Rotherham and the rest of South Yorkshire. He noted that the productivity gap between South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester had widened from 99% to 90% in the last twenty years, which in his view, was partly as a result of poor transport connectivity. As part of the work on the station, there were proposals for a new adjacent tram train stop as well as improvements to bus, walking and cycling infrastructure to ensure that there was a sustainable infrastructure around the Parkgate station. There also plans for a transport assessment which would look at highways infrastructure in order to make sure that local access improved and congestion was not increased. There would be conversations with Council colleagues about these issues.


Councillor Miro referred to questions asked of him as the councillor for Catcliffe, Treeton and Waverley about the poor bus services and different bus routes, and how the provision of appropriate bus stops can be enhanced. Did the Mayor have anything to say to his residents about this? And would he come with me to meet my residents and explain the issues to them in person?


The Mayor would be happy to attend a public meeting on buses. He outlined that there were over 7600 bus stops across South Yorkshire and approximately half of them have got shelters. The infrastructure around public transport in South Yorkshire required a huge amount of investment, unfortunately the Government did not allocate any funds for this from the recent round of bids. He stated that he was trying to find additional money to be able to invest in the infrastructure to develop better bus stops. He noted that to get people to use buses, a reliable service was needed with stops equipped with adequate shelters, up-to-date electric fleet and real-time data. He committed to having a further conversation with the Councillor about specific concerns.


The Chair opened the floor to questions.


Councillor Joshua Bacon asked about the time taken to respond to correspondence and what action he had taken to improve this since the Mayor had taken office?  He also asked if the citizens assembly provided best value for money and if it duplicated the role of elected representatives.


The Mayor reiterated the importance of engaging with communities and putting their voices at the heart of everything the Combined Authority did. He noted that the Councillor was entitled to say that as a direct representative, he had the answers to everything that his residents wanted, however, the Mayor disagreed with this view. He stated that he did not know what everyone across South Yorkshire wanted which was why he chose to engage with councils, community groups, businesses and institutions, and the wider public.


In response to the question about delays in response from his office, the Mayor repeated his offer to hold a meeting. He outlined that whilst the capacity of the MCA had increased, in his view this was still not sufficient. As with all public bodies as a result of 14 years of austerity, there was not enough money to do everything he would like to do. However, were things fell through the gaps he was happy to try and resolve the problem.


Councillor Wendy Cooksey welcomed the £2 cap on bus fares, however tram fares were more expensive. Were there any plans to bring tram fares in line with buses as it was a really nice way to travel?


The Mayor agreed that the aim was to get fares lower and more equitable across the whole system. However, whilst buses remained privately operated, it was difficult to mandate lower fares. It was noted that the tram network would come back under public control later in the month and there was some discretion about fare levels. However, there were still limits on what could be achieved because of financial pressures and the lack of Government funding. The challenge was to increase patronage, thus generating more income which could be reinvested across the network. It was noted that unlike buses, the Government did not offer fare subsidies to tram networks.


Councillor Yasseen made a recommendation that a member seminar is organised in the new municipal year, aimed at understanding the authority’s role and its decision-making structures. The seminar would provide insight into how decisions were made on behalf of the people of South Yorkshire, particularly given the expanding remit of the authority including the Police and Crime Commissioner functions.


Councillor Pitchley asked that future consultation also included young people. The Mayor reiterated his commitment to this engagement, citing examples of how he had worked with young people from Rotherham.


The Chair thanked Mayor Coppard for his attendance at the meeting and hoped that this was the first of many sessions to come. She invited him to return on an annual basis.




1)    That the South Yorkshire Mayor be invited to attend a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board on an annual basis.


2)    That a member seminar be organised in the new municipal year on the role of the combined authority and its decision-making structures.