Debt legacy of County Council to be cleared 34 years after it was disbanded by Thatcher

In its heyday South Yorkshire County Council was rarely far from controversy with a raft of ambitious policies – including heavily subsidised bus fares which saw a generation of children riding the county’s network for just two pence per journey.

By Paul Whitehouse
Tuesday, 13 August, 2019, 07:54
Disappearing history: The old South Yorkshire County Council headquarters in Barnsley is now a building site

But more than three decades after the hard line authority – which earned itself the nickname of ‘The People’s Republic of South Yorkshire’ – was disbanded, its legacy of debt still remains.

That is about to change, however, when next April a final payment from the county’s four district councils will finally clear the books.

Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government decided to scrap metropolitan county councils and that happened in 1986, despite an energetic campaign to save SYCC, leaving the county’s four local councils to take on board its responsibilities.

That included the debts it had taken on for expensive long-term projects, which the four councils have been paying off over the last 33 years.

Now it has emerged the authorities in Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley will make their last payments, totalling almost £20m, in April next year, finally bringing a chapter of South Yorkshire’s political history to a close.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Rotherham Council has had the job of administering the debt repayments and a spokesman said: “The debt relates to the financing of capital expenditure which for the County Council would mostly have been used for infrastructure assets like roads and transport, with loans taken out for up to 40 years, in line with the life of the assets.

“The amount of debt outstanding on 31 March 2019, including interest due, was £36.998m (shared out amongst the four South Yorkshire Councils with an appropriate formula to determine individual council shares). “The next re-payment due was 23rd April 2019 and a further £17.309m was repaid on that date, leaving £19.689m currently outstanding which is due to be repaid on 23rd April 2020. The debt will be cleared when the final scheduled repayment is made.

“Early repayment was not in tax payers’ interest as this would have resulted in an early payment penalty charge, which would be significant on a debt this size.

“Rotherham Council administers and accounts for the loan re-payments to the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB), the Government’s debt management agency, and charge the other three South Yorkshire Councils their appropriate shares.”