Investing in Barnsley’s future - a message from Cllr Sir Steve Houghton CBE, Leader of Barnsley Council

The recent media articles on The Glass Works investment should surprise no one.

Developers making capital contributions to tenant fit-out costs are not ‘sweeteners’, brown envelopes or backhanders. They’re standard industry practice. In fact, this money has been spent on things that will remain in place for a long time.

In our case, the council as the developer provided for these costs in the overall scheme budgets. As a highly regulated public body, we don’t do ‘sweeteners’ and it’s slanderous to suggest that.

It’s good commercial practice. Income streams from The Glass Works will cover the borrowing costs used to fund the expenditure on these capital contributions. Over time this will become a neutral position.

There’s been no mention of the significant investment that the tenants themselves have made. I would challenge anyone to provide a state-of-the-art cinema, bowling alley or modern retail units without the contributions.  

This approach has worked well, and we’ve new jobs, businesses and a town centre to be proud of. We’re the envy of many other local areas.

These investments are not secret. We operate under strict spending regulations and the information on our expenditure over £500 is available for anyone to read on our website.

Local councils’ budgets are made up of different elements - it’s not just council tax income. Investing capital monies as well as revenue spending is part of what all councils do. This may be funded from government grants or prudential council borrowing within the financial regulations. Our guide to our budget and council tax explains this in more detail.

Of course, when we borrow, we need to pay it back as with any business. When it’s repaid, we can then borrow again to invest again if we need to.

This is how we build new schools, roads and council houses and how we maintain them. It's how we make sure our employees have the buildings and equipment they need to do their jobs. All of the money is invested in Barnsley.

New ways of funding

Sadly, the biggest investor in Barnsley apart from the council has been the European Union. People voted to leave the EU and now that support has gone.

The government has given Barnsley very little over the last 13 years and now it's down to the council and the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority.

Thankfully the South Yorkshire Mayor, Oliver Coppard, cares about Barnsley and is working with us.

As we move forward you will see joint projects being developed across the borough.

Barnsley Youth Zone will bring world-class facilities for our young people and is a joint-funded council-private sector partnership.

The SEAM Digital Campus (Courthouse site) will bring improved car parking, a new town centre urban greenspace and new high-tech jobs and businesses. We are not afraid to change our original plans to make sure we can deliver within budget and meet the changing needs of town centres.

While we’re proud of the town centre, it's about all our town and village centres not just one.

We’ve already invested £5 million on public realm schemes and new shop fronts for businesses and the next £30 million phase will improve things even more. Indeed, Wombwell High Street is already seeing the benefit. 

Hardest hit, but high-performing

Twenty-five years ago, the borough had lost its industry and its purpose. Unemployment, deprivation, crime, and poor education were what they left us. We looked into the abyss. On top of this, over the last 13 years, we have lost over £120 million a year from our budgets (over £1 billion in total), due to government cutbacks.

Twenty-five years later we’re a borough transformed. We provide high-quality services with one of the lowest council budgets in the country.

Capital and revenue investment into our schools has transformed education and GCSE results are up again this year – well done to all of our young people, we’re very proud of you.

New facilities, better teaching and learning and improved leadership mean our performance is up there with the rest of the country. This was a financial challenge but worth every penny. Young people's lives are being transformed and they have ambition and the aspirations to be the best they can be.

We also have new world-class businesses across the borough and massive job opportunities for our people.

Berneslai Homes is one of the best social housing providers in the country and we have a local plan which provides the land for our housing and business needs for the next 20 years.

Contrary to misleading headlines, we can do all this because our finances are sound, and our governance is robust. Extremely challenging and stretched yes, but sound.

It’s why we’re the only council ever to win both the public sector industry LGC and MJ Council of the Year awards at the same time.

It’s why the government are talking to our officers about how we do it and it's why 18 councils are visiting us in September to learn from us.

We’re not perfect and we can always improve. Mistakes are always possible – to err is human – and people will always have different opinions on what is good for Barnsley, but I’m proud to lead an organisation that continues to learn.

The council can’t stand still and neither can the borough. We have to be ambitious and move forward. We have to challenge ourselves and build an even stronger future. The job is far from done and we must have the motivation and confidence to keep going.

I have no apologies for investing in Barnsley except perhaps for it not being quick enough.

Someone recently said to me our borough has got its mojo back – great – now let's be brave again and make it even better.

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