A equality policy introduced almost a decade ago by Barnsley Council could be updated with the bold ambition of creating the “most accessible market town in the country” as well as introducing a catalogue of other measures which include tackling extremism.
The council first introduced its Equality Scheme in 2009 and that has been revised twice already, but now the council’s ruling Cabinet is being asked to approve a new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy which will function for the next two years.
If adopted, the policy will cover a wide range of topics and the success of much of the work will be measured for the first time, to allow council bosses to measure its effectiveness.
While much of the work is aimed at improving conditions for those living in the town, there is a secondary objective of ensuring the same principles are applied within the council, with objectives such as reducing the gender pay gap.
One highly visible element of the work will come with the redevelopment of Barnsley town centre – where construction of the new Glass Works leisure and shopping centre and Light Box library building are currently in progress – with buildings which are accessible and welcoming to all.
Councillors are being told: “We will do this because it is the right thing to do for Barnsley people who have the right to expect equal access and opportunities, but also because it will help build a stronger economy for us all.
“We will make sure the new town centre is the most accessible market town in the region and in the country, meeting the needs of disabled people with all types of impairments and conditions.
“We will harness both the community spirit of local people and the opportunities presented by digital services to deliver innovative new services to support access and inclusion to the town centre, its facilities and events.
“We also want to diversify the town centre offer, to provide more choice to visitors whether they be shopping, have an evening out or visiting the town for its leisure and cultural attractions.
“By so doing we think we can draw on the entrepreneurial energy of Barnsley’s increasingly diverse communities, starting and growing a new variety of food, retail and leisure businesses.”
The same policy will be applied to smaller town centres across the borough, including Penistone, Wombwell and Goldthorpe, with two boards – one for the town centre and one for the rest – to oversee the work.
Migration is a bigger issue in Barnsley than when the original Equality Scheme was introduced and while the council recognises the value of the skills and expertise those moving to the town can bring, it also accepts: “The arrival of new people into a community can have an impact on residents and local services either because they do not understand local customs or practices, or because they cannot access important services due to lack of knowledge or communication barriers.
“If not addressed properly this can cause tensions between different sections of the community and in local neighbourhoods. We are working to minimise any impact of migration and strengthen links between communities by increasing the provision of English language classes and ensuring new arrivals are aware of local laws and customs.”
The council has been successful in getting cash from a fund called Controlling Migration, which will be used to help sort out problems around housing when new arrivals move into established neighbourhoods.
That can involve dealing with waste, recycling and similar day to day issues.
The Cabinet will also hear when it meets next Wednesday: “We will also continue to prioritise challenging hate crime and preventing radicalisation and violent extremism to protect our communities. The Safer Barnsley Board, Tolerance and Respect Sub-Group will ensure this work is implemented and the objectives met.”
Expanding the inclusion work already done by the council will include a major disability festival, expected to take place in 2020, which is now in the planning stages.
“By working alongside each other, celebrating everyone’s contribution and bringing different communities together we can build stronger, safer and healthier communities for all,” a report states.
The Council has a Stronger Communities partnership which will oversee that work.