Council leader Sir Steve Houghton told a scrutiny meeting on Tuesday that he had a ‘big worry’ over the plan - despite Barnsley’s financial diligence in austere times being praised in a local government report - as the proposal would mean the town would go without ‘essential’ grants from the government and instead use the council tax and business rates it generates to fund services.
The meeting, held at Barnsley Town Hall, was told that rates go to the government currently but are distributed and pumped back into local economies to provide vital frontline services.
“It’s still unclear what the local finance model will be but my big worry is the government’s intentions with this as Barnsley doesn’t have a massive economy,” he said.
“Barnsley’s needs are far greater than our economic performance and we rely on extra funding.
“Elsewhere, in towns and cities which have large economies, they’re rubbing their hands together as they will be quids in if the government goes ahead with it.
“Barnsley will struggle under that model but we’re lobbying hard for this not to happen as we cannot survive on our own income.
“The poor get poorer and the rich get richer.
“Government budget reductions have forced us to make tough and unpopular decisions such as changing the way we deliver our services and increasing council tax for our residents.
“We don’t know what the future holds, but we can assure our residents and business that we continue to push back against the government budget reductions that are being imposed on us along with the fair funding review to get the best outcomes for Barnsley.”
Since 2010, savings of an estimated £107m have been made, including £5.8m which will be made this financial year, while jobs across the council have also been cut by nearly 40 per cent as a knock-on effect.
While it has been the hardest-hit local authority in the country, the Local Government Association (LGA) recently praised its leadership and financial work during times of adversity.
Neil Copley, director of finance at Barnsley Council, added: “There’s a lot of uncertainty and no-one’s 100 per cent sure, but what is in place is a robust financial plan for the town’s long-term future.”
The fair funding review - which will affect how cash is allocated and redistributed from this year onwards - is ongoing but it is anticipated than more will become clear in the next ‘six to 12 months’, according to Coun Houghton.
Stephanie Peacock, MP for Barnsley East, said: “Once again local authorities are being forced to shoulder drastic cuts in funding through this government’s continued obsession with austerity.
“Barnsley Council has seen its budgets slashed since 2010, but demand for vital local services in our community continues.
“It’s grossly unfair and unrealistic to expect local authorities to continue providing the same level of local services with ever-dwindling resources.
“This government needs to take responsibility for their cuts and provide the resources local authorities like Barnsley desperately need to continue providing for local communities.”