A REFERENDUM which could force a shake-up into how Barnsley Council makes its key decisions through its cabinet structure is being pushed for by campaigners who claim residents in the town are being ignored.
Currently the local authority has 63 councillors but final calls are made by council leader Sir Steve Houghton, deputy leader Coun Jim Andrews and portfolio holders Couns Margaret Bruff, Tim Cheetham, Alan Gardiner, Sharon Howard, Chris Lamb and Jenny Platts.
A petition has been launched by campaigners in a bid to force change, with those behind it citing the town’s local plan blueprint - which has resulted in vast swathes of green space being allocated for development - and a contentious new road at Penny Pie Park in the Dodworth ward where the public’s wishes ‘have been ignored’.
If signed by five per cent of voters in an area, it can trigger a local referendum and residents in the town who feel like they have been ignored have been urged to back the switch to a committee system of decision-making which could prompt a town-wide vote.
A spokesman from the Democracy For Barnsley movement told the Chronicle: “We are calling upon Barnsley Council to arrange a referendum to change the way the council is run, much as has already been done in Sheffield though not yet completed.
“For the first time in decades we could have the opportunity to be part of the decision-making process in Barnsley.
“We intended to go for a petition last year but discovered we had six weeks to gather 9,042 signatures. As it happened, fate intervened and no elections meant it gave us time to try again.
“We are ready now and up and running having tested our platforms. We are building a team to promote and explain what we are doing and why we are doing it.
“The Lib Dems and independents previously did put a motion forward for the council itself to adopt a committee system but overwhelmingly, and with the support of the Tory councillors, the council rejected such a move.
“This left us with no other choice but to gather the signatures and try and end the 18th century rule by patronage under one leader and allow the people of Barnsley to have a voice again.”
There are more than 180,000 registered voters in the town and the petition, according to its organisers, requires just over 9,000 people to sign.
Coun Hannah Kitching, group leader for Barnsley’s Lib Dems, said: “The strong leader and cabinet system is certainly effective as it gets decisions made quickly, but it makes those decisions at the exclusion of the vast majority of elected members, even those in the ruling Labour group.
“Out of 63 councillors, just eight make all the decisions. This disengages and disenfranchises not only those elected members, but also all the people who vote for them.
“There is another way of making decisions in local government, one that involves collaboration, engagement and communication, rather than a top-down dictatorial approach.
“Communities do not feel like they’re being heard - the council does not listen to its public and its views are dismissed.”
A Barnsley Council spokesman added: “All elected members are involved in making decisions through the business of its area councils, regulatory boards and overview and scrutiny committees.
“In particular, key decisions which set the policy and budget framework, are reserved for meetings of the full council, which all elected members attend. These arrangements are clearly set out in the council’s constitution.”