Yorkshire-wide devolution priority for Barnsley's new council chief executive
Barnsley’s new council chief executive plans to use her previous experience to push forward the campaign for a One Yorkshire devolution deal which would see the town’s fortunes come under the control of a large regional government body.
Sarah Norman joined the authority earlier this month after four years in charge at Dudley in the West Midlands and has a track record of success, including getting a £450m tram project in place to link the town with its big city neighbours through working with a combined authority.
She is planning to bring the same approach to helping to drive forward a full devolution deal for Yorkshire, which has been deadlocked with South Yorkshire’s four councils disagreeing over the best option.
Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis is Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, but full funds for that role have not been released by the Government because while Sheffield and Rotherham Councils are happy with that body, Barnsley and Doncaster Councils want to be part of a larger One Yorkshire grouping.
She said: “I want to use by experience to realise the One Yorkshire ambition. The noises I have been hearing from the Government are that they would see sense in a pan Yorkshire approach and I am confident we will be able to find a way forwards.
“We need to do more work across Yorkshire to really set out our stall, about what we want to achieve and how we can achieve it.
“I think if we do that, the case for devolution will become overwhelming,” she said.
A vote organised by the council has already confirmed most residents want the One Yorkshire option rather than remaining part of the Sheffield City Region.
“Barnsley needs to look both south and north,” she said, “It is important to work with places like Leeds as well as Sheffield”.
Working with council leader Sir Steve Houghton on devolution is one of four priorities she has set for her new role in Barnsley.
Others include “connecting cranes with communities”, or working to make sure that all the borough’s residents see benefits from the extensive regeneration work going off in the town centre and at other sites alongside the M1 corridor.
The task was “how we make sure all communities benefit from the growth in the borough” she said, with another priority being to ensure the council remains fit to meet the needs of the public over the course of the next decade.
“We have started looking ahead, to what we want the borough to look like in 2030 and what the council should be like.
“Looking at technology, carbon footprint, changes in the workforce structure, changes in the needs of the community,” she said.
That project will include working with partners outside the council and the public, to come up with a vision for 2030.
In the more immediate term, she has also set herself the target of visiting each of the town’s 21 council ‘wards’, the areas which make up the borough, to meet councillors and gain a better understanding of local needs, within the first three months of arriving in Barnsley.
Although the town is well documented as being the worst affected in the country by austerity cuts, she insisted the council did not feel that way when she arrived.
“I think the council has dealt admirably with the financial challenges it has had,” she said.
“This is a well-run, well-led council. I don’t think there is anything I am inheriting that I feel the need to rescue or go into panic mode over,” she said.