New shopping centre may not be able to meet loan costs, councillors told

Risk: Barnsley's new Glass Works may not generate the cash needed to pay back borrowing, councillors warned.
Risk: Barnsley's new Glass Works may not generate the cash needed to pay back borrowing, councillors warned.
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Barnsley’s emerging Glass Works shopping centre is now officially regarded as a “strategic risk” by the council because officials accept there is a possibility it will fail to bring in the money to pay off debts for its construction “within a suitable timescale”.

Barnsley’s emerging Glass Works shopping centre is now officially regarded as a “strategic risk” by the council because officials accept there is a possibility it will fail to bring in the money to pay off debts for its construction “within a suitable timescale”.

The council has a Strategic Risk Register which catalogues the issues which could cause serious problems, so they can be monitored and subjected to necessary action by the authority’s staff.

The Glass Works has now been added to that list, shortly after it emerged a £10m contingency fund had already been largely used, with the council having to find £6.5m to top it back up, while the complex is far from complete.

Tension is also rising between the authority and market traders, who are concerned that rents and other costs for stalls in the new complex will be so high that their businesses will become unviable, with some already moving out before the switch to the new premises later this year and others still to make their minds up.

Barnsley Council moved ahead itself with the redevelopment of the town centre, which will see the old Metropolitan shopping centre from the 1970s transformed into the Glass Works, after earlier attempts to get an outside investor involved failed, largely due to the financial crisis and recession which began ten years ago.

Now councillors have been warned there is a risk that the figures will not add up in future, with a report which explains the situation as: “Failure to ensure the Glassworks programme delivers the appropriate levels retail, market and leisure space that allows for a robust level of return on investment to be made that allows the council to recover its borrowing within a suitable timescale and deliver the positive impacts on the Town Centre and wider economic landscape.”

If that was to happen, it would put an extra financial burden on the council, which is already facing spending constraints as a result of reduced Government income year on year through the austerity years, something which is expected to continue.

Other issues which are listed as “significant potential obstacles” to the council’s overall aims include failing to be prepared to help out with emergency incidents elsewhere in the region, with the report stating: “Recent emergencies relating to industrial actions and flooding proves there is still an inappropriate reliance on the increasingly limited resources of the health and safety and emergency rescue service to manage and lead on the management of emergency events.”

Authority officials also know there is a risk the council’s disaster recovery arrangements may not be strong enough to recover “in the event of a business continuity threat or incident”.

One risk, concerning the council’s potential ability to get the best out of the changes to the way it works has been changed, however, with one set of wording dropped and another added, suggesting the severity of that has now reduced.

But the risk of the council being unable to change health inequalities – which see Barnsley’s life expectancy below that which might be expected – remains with a ‘red’ rating, “as analysis of the data that underpins this risks confirms that at this time is not improving.”