Heading Upstream

Barnsley Council have been redistributing power and resources to local citizens, families and communities.

Barnsley's Innovations for Social Justice

Author: Simon Duffy

For more than 12 years Barnsley Council has been quietly pressing ahead with a series of interconnected reforms whose purpose has been to transform the relationship of local government with local people. Even while austerity has savaged local government funding, Barnsley Council has persisted with this strategy: to advance social justice, not through public services or privatisation, but by giving citizens, families and local communities more power and control over their own destinies.

This report is an independent perspective on the nature and meaning of these reforms. The report argues that the only sustainable future for local government that is consistent with social justice is one where the rights and responsibilities of citizens are made central. Barnsley has already demonstrated that:

  • Local people and employers can help people find work better than the privatised providers who have been parachuted into local communities by Whitehall
  • Local families can be empowered to organise more effective health and social care for themselves if they are given clear entitlements and the right kind of support
  • Local people can improve their own communities, if local government works in partnership with them and focus more on the smaller communities where people live

Not only does the report document some of the important progress made, it also brings together important sources of information to demonstrate that:

  • Local government and poorer communities have been the primary target of central government cuts
  • Resources and power are centralised in London and in other non-accountable bodies
  • The current distribution of resources severely disadvantages proud Northern towns like Barnsley
  • There is an enormous reservoir of citizen capacity within our communities, which can be galvanised by the kinds of strategies developed in Barnsley

Barnsley is not alone in trying to develop a socially just response to austerity and in trying to develop a positive role for local government in the twenty-first century. However its quiet long-term commitment to the values of citizenship and community are striking and the results very impressive. Moreover, when you examine the detail of its achievements then serious questions are raised about current talk of devolution:

  • Will devolution really offer any meaningful change?
  • Will power be shifted to local communities or simply to large regional bodies?
  • Will the overall financial settlement continue to be so radically unfair and biased against the North of England?
  • What constitutional protections will protect the rights of citizens and the coherence of any emerging structures?

Everyone is agreed that England needs to become much less centralised. Paying attention to the learning from Barnsley offers insight into what is possible, but also the grave obstacles in our way.

Read and download the free pdf in your browser, link below.

The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Heading Upstream © Simon Duffy 2017.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.