Double financial windfall allows Barnsley Council to increase spending
A two tier spending spree is on the cards in Barnsley as the council’s finances for the current year look better than expected and the Government has announced plans to provide extra cash for the year starting in April.
The Government has to tell local authorities how much money it intends to hand out and the forecast for the year starting next April is more generous than expected, though Barnsley Council has pointed out the terms are only a one year commitment by Whitehall.
That opens the door to some one-off investments, with the authority now working to establish how that money might best be spent.
In the meantime, the council’s own finances for the current year are healthy enough for senior councillors to sanction a £900,000 investment into a range of projects over the next few months and the authority’s ruling Cabinet will be asked to approve that spending.
The biggest investment will be in a ‘blitz’ on graffiti and cleanliness, which will extend across the borough and soak up £245,000 of the available cash.
A range of projects have been identified – all chosen because they are seen as priorities where the public want to see action – and that includes calling in temporary staff to clear a backlog of annual reviews of education, health and care plans for those with special educational needs.
Communities will benefit from a range of investments, including a boost of £10,000 to each of the ward alliances, small bodies made up of councillors and key figures within communities who identify local project which benefit from funding with council cash.
Tree planting across the borough will be supported by £40,000 and £30,000 has been put aside to help steer new traffic regulation orders through the legal process.
They have become a bone of contention and involve the installation of yellow lines and other measures to control traffic problems, but the council has not been able to afford to fund such projects centrally, leaving the costs to ward alliances and other localised bodies to fund.
Meanwhile, the council’s own estimates of cash which has to be set aside to deal with potential legal complications has risen, leaving some schemes stalled to the frustration of residents.
Eight new wardens will be employed in the town centre, though four of those will be temporary three year postings.
The council has made it clear it wants the regenerated town centre to be a safe and welcoming environment for visitors and workers, with plans already announced to increase the police presence in the area.
A report to Cabinet members said of the Government’s spending proposals: “Although this was a one year only commitment and provided no longer term funding certainty, the improved position as compared to the council’s previous planning assumptions affords the opportunity to consider some one-off investment in 2020/21.”
“In addition, the council’s longer term approach to planning its reserves strategy and the financial outlook for the remainder of 2019/20 also provides the opportunity to accelerate some of that investment into the current financial year.
“Against this backdrop, the council has sought to identify a number of investment proposals which are capable of being implemented in the current financial year.”
The proposed projects, which Cabinet members will be asked to approve, have been chosen because of the expectation of having maximum impact in terms of meeting the council’s priorities and providing a strong return on the money spent.