A PETITION has been launched to change the way Barnsley Council is run in hope of ‘restoring democracy’ in the town.

The ‘My Town My Voice’ petition was launched on Saturday outside the town hall, with a number of local residents and some councillors on show.

Following May’s local election, the Labour Party has 46 councillors, Lib Dems nine, Conservatives four, Barnsley Independent Group, one, and there are three independent councillors.

The Labour Party’s majority has been slashed to 32 but they retained control of the council.

However, campaigners are hoping to change the way decisions are made, and have strong opinions of the council’s cabinet system.

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The cabinet is composed of the leader, Sir Steve Houghton, and eight other councillors - all of which are members of the biggest political group on the council.

Mike Smith, who started the petition, told the Chronicle: “Under the Localism Act of 2011, ordinary citizens are allowed to petition to raise a local referendum to change the way we are governed.

“Like Sheffield we want people to sign to change to a committee system which would force elected councillors to consult with the public before making decisions and take their views into account.

“It would remove the leader and hand-picked cabinet and give everyone equal rights and equal responsibility.”

The same change, which has been implemented in Sheffield following concern from residents, sees a cross-party committee deliberate over plans and schemes through a committee system.

Barnsley Council bosses responded to the petition claiming the group are spreading ‘misleading’ information to residents.

They have asked the group to correct the incorrect information and are urging residents to check their website to see exactly how the council is run, as well as how they make decisions on important matters.

Shokat Lal, executive director of core services, told the Chronicle: “This council makes brave decisions to provide essential public services and give people the better homes, jobs, services and transport links they deserve.

“We’re committed to, and pride ourselves on, good governance. Our current governance and decision-making model is reassured by the Local Government Association (LGA), and the model is used overwhelmingly by councils in England.

“People have the right to petition the council, and we respect that.

“The My Town My Voice campaign provides little detail on how an alternative system would work in Barnsley.

“It’s concerning that the campaign is stating misleading and factually incorrect information, and we’ve already contacted them about that.

“We ask people to look on our website to fully understand exactly how the council’s decision-making works.

“It shows how all 63 councillors sit on a full council alongside various decision-making and scrutiny committees.
“There are many opportunities for all 63 councillors to actively participate in the development and influence how Barnsley moves forward.”

However, it is thought to have slowed down procedures in the city with many somewhat simple plans being unable to be passed due to no clear majority.

Residents have long been campaigning against a number of projects which were agreed at cabinet meetings, including Penny Pie Park and local housing and business site masterplans - leading to a number of residents becoming disillusioned with those who make the decisions, campaigners claim.

A total of 47,839 people voted in May’s election, resulting in a total of just 25.88 per cent turnout for the borough.

Former deputy leader of the council Jim Andrews also lost his seat in the Rockingham ward to Tory candidate Coun David White.

“It’s fair to say voter turnout in Barnsley is abysmal and the fact that it appears to be acceptable to the Labour group is very worrying,” Mike added.

“Local elections in Germany routinely have 70 per cent turnouts while Barnsley’s is about 25 per cent - of which the Labour group ‘wins’ with roughly 11-12 per cent of the available vote.

“But in Germany their representatives consult widely before decisions are taken - here consultation is a sham.

“And here the anger and cynicism is alarming and unhealthy in what is supposed to be a democracy.

“The Labour group, under the terms of the 2011 Localism Act, has the power to vote in a committee system, which I hope they’ll do - third time lucky.

“If it cannot provide leadership and confidence, the people of Barnsley will.”

The group say they need 9,192 signatures in 365 days to push for a referendum - which will reportedly cost more than £100,000 - but they’re hoping to reach 12,000 signatures by December.

Barnsley Council bosses responded to the petition claiming the group are spreading ‘misleading’ information to residents.

They have asked the group to correct the incorrect information and are urging residents to check their website to see exactly how the council is run, as well as how they make decisions on important matters.

Shokat Lal, executive director of core services, told the Chronicle: “This council makes brave decisions to provide essential public services and give people the better homes, jobs, services and transport links they deserve.

“We’re committed to, and pride ourselves on, good governance. Our current governance and decision-making model is reassured by the Local Government Association (LGA), and the model is used overwhelmingly by councils in England.

“People have the right to petition the council, and we respect that.

“The My Town My Voice campaign provides little detail on how an alternative system would work in Barnsley.

“It’s concerning that the campaign is stating misleading and factually incorrect information, and we’ve already contacted them about that.

“We ask people to look on our website to fully understand exactly how the council’s decision-making works.

“It shows how all 63 councillors sit on a full council alongside various decision-making and scrutiny committees.

“There are many opportunities for all 63 councillors to actively participate in the development and influence how Barnsley moves forward.”