arnsley Independent Group

The Only Way

© Copyright 2011
All rights reserved

Local Services:
Many local services have been cut to the bone due to the cut backs announced in the recent budget.

Having said this last year a raft of them were preserved due to pressure from the Barnsley Independent Group in conjunction with the public outrage that the cuts engendered. These included 'free week-end parking', 'school crossing patrols', most libraries saved, 'bowling green grass cutting' and no increase in Council Tax and retention of the aged persons Council Tax discount scheme.

For this this coming year the budget cuts would have meant cutting services by half. Services such as 'highway maintenance', 'pavement resurfacing', 'street cleaning' and 'grass cutting'. In addition there were cutbacks to the vulnerable adults budget (this would have largely fell onto the elderly services provision).
The Barnsley Independent Group, immediately after the meeting with council officers in which this was revealed, proposed to introduce amendments to cut non-self-financing 'central bureaucracy' by half in order to retain this services.

In the face of this opposition the Labour party reversed their decision at the last moment and the budget went through with extra cuts to central bureaucracy and the cuts to the services in question were 'defered'.

Cut Town Hall bureaucracy to pay for Essential Services

Elderly People's Services:
Elderly and disabled people's needs are being stymied by a combination of government provision and the particular service model that Barnsley Council have chosen to operate. In particular cleaning is excluded. This means that people who are house proud and have been as clean as new pins can become distraught because they are no longer able to maintain the standards of cleanliness they are used to. There is not even the facility to do some of the heavy jobs that elderly people have no possibility of doing themselves; such as taking curtains down for cleaning or moving furniture in readiness for a spring clean.

We understand that money is short and that cut-backs are having to be made. This does not excuse the fact that people who have paid into the welfare state all of their lives are now being short changed when they need it most. The problem is that it is too easy for central and local government to target services for our parents and grandparents and no one notices. Alteratively sly tax increases are introduced without being identified. Barnsley Independents care about elerly people we will make a fuss about any cut-backs we see being brought in by back door methods.

Our Parents Looked after us. We should now look after them.

The Barnsley Independent Group have frequently raised the issue of the appalling jobs situation in Barnsley. The Labour Party have let Barnsley down in this matter by not building sufficient employment sites (industrial estates, Business Parks, etc) when the opportunity was available. In addition they also allowed prime industrial sites with direct access to main roads to be converted into housing.

Such as:

- Wombwell Foundry
- Perfecta Bedding
- half of the Low Valley Industrial Estate
- Downings
- Slazengers
- the previous Yorkshire Traction Depot

to name but a few.

According to the Government's Labour Market statistics in the year 2000 Barnsley job situation was much of a muchness with other local towns such as Wakefield, Doncaster and Rotherham. Since then the number of jobs per 100 people of working age has gone down by 8.3% in Barnsley but increased by 10% plus in the other towns. We now need 22,000 jobs to get up to their level of employment and 33,000 to reach national average.

We have been reporting this for many years now but don't just take our word for it this has been confirmed in a report by former Barnsley MP Mick Clapham who went on to say "Barnsley is a town of no opportunity, low life expectancy, a lack of enterprise and isolation".

Labour have let Barnsley down

The cuts are now biting deeply and much of the reason is a problem of this Labour controlled Council's own making.

Over the previous three years the Labour controlled Council spent £6M from reserves to bolster the Revenue Budget, knowing full well that the 3 year medium term plans had identified a £17M deficit in year 2011/2012. In the event this has turned into a £25M deficit due to government cut-backs. The money was spent on give-aways aimed at winning that year's, 2010, election (which worked). Some of these items were laudable and we agreed with them in principle; but the council could not afford them without savings in other areas that were not forthcoming.

The Barnsley Independent Group have been campaigning for years, on issues such as 'free town centre parking' and that 'Council tax raises should be limited to inflation'. The trouble is that when these were eventually provided they were not funded from savings (found from say cutting bureaucracy) but from capital reserves. This means the underlying costs are still there, inflated year on year, but the reserves have been shredded. Those reserves could have provided 180 jobs for a year. Enough to allow job cuts to match natural retirement for over 100 people.

In addition the Council has spent almost £23M on purchasing the Gateway Plaza, of which only the office block provides benefit, and a further £2.5M fitting out the offices. They are borrowing to fund this but it has to be paid back, with interest. Our point is that this is to provide quality office accomodation for council officers when serious cuts in services to ratepayers are being made with no corresponding reduction in Council Tax.

£7M in total spent on refurbishing the Town Hall and converting half of it into a museum (requiring of course alternative office accomodation to be found for the officers that used to work there). Less than half of this money came from Lottery funding the rest from reserves.

Many, many millions have been spent on the new market project with no visible progress. The latest rumour on this is a new proposal to build an inferior town centre costing less than half the original proposal. Also, that the Council have given away town centre parking to the developer who has in turn handed it on to a National Car Park company. What price free parking then?

Labour have spent reserves un-wisely

Millions of pounds have been spent on school buildings but educational standards have struggled. Too many schools have fallen into the OFSTED Special Measures category. Often with a comment from Children's Services "We have known about this for sometime" or "It has not been a surprise to us". This is not good enough.

It is Children's Services job to be aware that a school is failing or inadequate. Only half the job is being done if it does not take steps to correct the situation before it becomes an educational problem.

We have primary schools in Barnsley with outstanding OFSTED reports. Surely it is not beyond the competence the Council to work with struggling schools and transfer best practice from outstanding ones. This is a damning indictment of a failed Labour education strategy. Our children's future is too important to leave to political ideology. They deserve better.

Secondary education has apalling GCSE results for the number of students geting 5 or more GCSE's A* - C grade including Maths and English. In a table of 151 education authorities Barnsley is third from bottom. To make things worse other local towns have corrected their deficiencies. Doncaster, Rotherham and Wakefield were much of a muchness with Barnsley 5 years ago. They are now all on or close to national average whilst Barnsley still languishes at the bottom.

Our Children are too important to not get their education right

Crime and Safety:
Barnsley Independent Group councillors work extensively with the Police and the Safer Neighbourhood Teams. We are gratified to note that crime and antisocial behaviour has fallen significantly in Barnsley. It is now the safest town in South Yorkshire. You will probably be aware of this in your day to day living. Reported burglaries, car crime, drug abuse, drunkenness and antisocial behaviour are all significantly reduced.

This is not to say that crime and antisocial behaviour have stopped. In fact some crime categories are still higher than we would like them to be. It is essential that all concerned continue to keep on top of the situation. Criminals must be dealt with. Otherwise we risk sliding back into the state of affaires we were in before.

We promise to keep permanent vigilance

Roads and Pavements:
Many roads and pavements in Barnsley have been a disgrace for years. A lot is due to the recent run of hard winters but much is due to years of neglect and inadequate funding. Pot holes are just filled in and not patched properly. The next bad weather just returns the potholes again.

Prior to 2002 government funding for both the Education and Highways was top sliced by the Council and monies transferred to more favoured social schemes. Since 2002 the government has not allowed this to happen with education.
Now of course the government does not proscribe how funding is spent but schools' monies go directly to schools.

For many years road and pavement repairs are said to have been conducted on a worst first basis across the borough. This means centrally controlled. A resident reports a pothole to a local councillor who in turn informs the Highways Department. They then send an engineer out to inspect it, who reports back to Highways. If the assessment is that it could cause a claimable accident the pothole will be filled in immediately as described above. Otherwise it is listed with all scheduled inspection information and will influence a programme of resurfacing work for the following financial year. When it may or may not be actioned on the said worst first basis. This is a catalogue of bureaucracy. Additionally only the state of the road or pavement is taken into account and not the usage that it gets. This can and does lead to situations where relatively little used backings between rows of houses are resurfaced when a far more highly used roadway is not done.

Barnsley Independent Group's policy for many years has been to devolve actual budgets to the Wards. This would allow local councillors in conjunction with residents and the advice of highway engineers to decide which roads get done this year and which get deferred to next. Local residents will then clearly see the situation. They will understand why one road repair has preference over another.

Cut central bureaucracy and empower communities