THE Barnsley Independent Group will be fielding candidates for Westminster for the first time in its 15-year history at the next general election, it was confirmed this week.

The group was formed in 2004 when a group of like-minded independent councillors and candidates decided to get together in a unique way -which it was clear from the off was ‘not a political party’.

The group soon became the main opposition on Barnsley Council but never had any interest in national politics.

But this week group leader Coun Phil Birkinshaw told the Chronicle that due to the current state of the political scene, it was fielding candidates in Barnsley Central, Barnsley East and Penistone and Stocksbridge in the hope of giving an alternative voice for Barnsley people in Westminster.

Coun Birkinshaw said: “The last four years has shown and proven the need for Barnsley to have a local voice, one that will speak independently and not scared to say the truth,” he said.

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“Our national manifesto will be published in the very near future but will include no to HS2, leaving the EU and respecting the referendum, supporting the most vulnerable in society and supporting a free NHS.”

BIG began with a handful of councillors in 2004 but within just a few years it grew to 23 members out of the 63 on the council. At one point they and the other parties and groups on the council were within one seat of removing the Labour Party’s majority on Barnsley Council.

But when the 2010 general election was held on the same day as the local elections, the group saw significant losses, which it put down to Labour supporters coming out in strong numbers for the general election and voting the same way locally.

“The reason we formed was to give a separate identity for anyone wishing to stand, as before, independents needed to either have ‘independent’ or nothing at all behind their name on the paper.

“What we’d experienced previously was people putting themselves up as independent councillors simply to split the vote, but we wanted to offer a real alternative.

“We all still act as independents, we don’t have party whips, all councillors are free to vote in the best interests of their community, we didn’t have a manifesto like political parties, but we’d set out joint aims and objectives.”

However now the group will need to draw up a manifesto ahead of the next general election - whenever it takes place.

Candidates for BIG will be selected in the coming days, but Coun Birkinshaw confirmed he won’t be among them himself.