‘High performing’ accolade for Barnsley Council despite a decade of austerity cuts

Barnsley may be England’s worst affected town for austerity cuts but the council has managed to achieve a glowing report for its performance following a rigorous inspection by a team of experts.

Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 4:11 pm
Accolade: Barnsley Council's neighbourhoods work has been praised after inspection

All local authorities have been subject to harsh cuts since 2010 but research has identified Barnsley Council as the worst affected, putting the authority under intense pressure, but a recent inspection by the Local Government Association resulted in praise across the board for the way the council operates, with findings council leader Sir Steve Houghton described as a “remarkable achievement by the council and its staff in particular, stepping up to the mark.”

A team of seven specialists, chosen from other local authorities, spent four days examining key elements of the way Barnsley Council provides services, manages its operations and treats its staff.

They found the authority was well led on both a political and management level, with the council deemed “high performing” overall.

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A report on the findings will now go to members of the council’s ruling Cabinet and that states: “The council is clearly delivering against its ambitions and has played a key role alongside a strong partnership with schools to bring about improvement.

“This achievement has been enabled because the council benefits from sound financial management and there is a willingness to take reasonable risks to bring about change.”

Barnsley Council was restructured as cuts began to bite, with a network of bodies called area councils and ward alliances established, to ensure residents get the support most suited to their own communities.

The report states: “The approach to neighbourhood working is innovative and exemplary, and the council is rightly proud of what it is achieving in this approach to local devolution.

“The creation in 2013 of six Area Councils and 21 Ward Alliances, supported by small teams of officers, has brought a new focus to locality working. It has enabled members to develop their community leadership roles whilst also supporting a longer-term ambition of helping local people become less dependent on the council and become more community minded.”

A recent example of that is the council committing £5m to regeneration projects in the borough’s ‘principal towns’ and urban centres, to help ensure they are not left behind by the current transformation of the town centre.

That has resulted a far-reaching scheme being suggested for Penistone, which will see the town hall and Paramount cinema upgraded, along with a range of other schemes intended to boost the local economy and bring in more visitors.

However, Sir Steve said: “It also shows areas to improve and we are not perfect and not complacent

The report identified “anxiety” among some staff who had concerns for the future beyond the retirement of chief executive Diana Terris, who left earlier this summer.

While the report recommends the council continues to communicate with staff, she has been replaced by Sarah Norman who has already said she recognises the existing quality of the body she now manages.

The LGA report left a checklist of areas where its inspectors believe the council can make further progress in the years ahead – including doing more to ensure the most disadvantaged can get the maximum benefit from the town’s economic development.

That has already been flagged as a priority by the new chief executive who describes the situation as ‘cranes and communities’, where residents must be able to feel the benefits of redevelopment work which is going off around them.