Number crunchers show lifestyle improvements for Barnsley as council policies bear fruit

Highly detailed analysis of Barnsley’s progress over the last 12 months reveal the town’s prospects are improving in key areas such as health and education – despite being the English town worst affected by Government austerity cuts.

By Paul Whitehouse
Wednesday, 14 August, 2019, 15:33
Brighter outlook: Statistics show Barnsley residents enjoy improving lifestyles

Barnsley Council has begun an annual review of crucial areas of public life, monitoring performance against averages for the Yorkshire and Humberside region and England as a whole.

The result is a catalogue of data which pinpoints how levels of health, educational success and job prospects are changing.

While the council acknowledge work is still needed in some areas, the results show a set of improvements which indicate life is improving for the population across the board.

Figures show the council is advancing with the task of turning around the performance of the town’s education system, with performance of key stage one pupils improving to match the Yorkshire and Humberside average.

Slightly older children at key stage two can now be expected to outstrip the national average figure, with 65 per cent performing well at reading, writing and maths.

While that performance is not yet equalled in secondary education, the council’s new chief executive, Sarah Norman, believes that will change as the next generation of pupils – currently outstripped national averages – feed through into comprehensive education.

“I think this is really positive and as young people move through the system, I am sure we will see a big improvement in secondary education,” she said.

“We have still more work to do at secondary level.”

Barnsley remains a town badly affected by child poverty, including those with working parents, which “remains part of our economic challenge”, she said.

Part of the council’s plan is to create more high quality jobs and schemes to draw business into Barnsley are already well advanced, with business parks in areas alongside the M1 at junctions 36 and 37, as well as other locations in the borough.

That is important for job creation and also improving Barnsley’s performance in generating business rates, the charges paid by companies which occupy buildings.

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National changes to funding rules mean it will be increasingly important for local authorities to increase the amount of income generated from business rates in future and although Barnsley is currently substantially below national average figures, its growth rate is healthy.

Statistics in the report also show Barnsley citizens may also feel the town’s improving prospects personally, with the ‘average’ resident now expected to stay healthy for substantially longer than in the past.

Figures show that has increased by more than a year of healthy living, with the average person now expected to reach 61 before health problems begin to kick in for women.

In 2017, men could expect two more years of healthy life than when statistics were produced covering 2015, the statistics show.

That is credited in part to work done by the council with projects such as its innovative work to make the town a smoke-free borough and more will be done by public health staff over issues such as breast feeding, known to give children a positive start in life, where rates in Barnsley remain low.

“I was surprised to see how much healthy life expectancy is improving, compared to the region and nationally, she said.

Some figures appear alarming, such as self-harming rates reported at 323 for every 100,000 residents, compared to 185 nationally but it is believed that could be at least partly attributed to differences in the way information is recorded.

Crime and anti social behaviour are also shown to be less of a problem in Barnsley than neighbouring communities, with the council now focused on work to address the public perception – rather than the reality – of the risk they face, in tandem with new joint working measures to keep the town centre with a highly visible squad of police, PCSOs and council wardens.

Areas where Barnsley scores very highly come in the affordability of housing, which remains low compared to many areas of the country and the quality of the environment, which stems in part from the fact the borough has large swathes of Green Belt.

Carbon dioxide levels are also shown to be low, which provides a strong starting point for the council’s declared objective of beating Government targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases in future.