As I write this, on a beautiful sunny October morning, I am looking out across Barnsley and despite all the challenges we face, I am pleased to see the signs of a town which is improving.
The buildings whose construction had been halted by economic decline have again started to be built. Empty shop units are now welcoming new tenants. Our renowned markets are finally getting their new home in a town centre which is being modernised and improved.
To ensure that this continues, Barnsley needs to continually attract new industries and businesses to create good jobs for local people.
For many years we relied on the public sector for these jobs. But the continued cuts to public services – first by the coalition government, and now by the Tory government – mean that many of these roles have now disappeared.
Overall, the employment rate in Barnsley is nearly 73%, which is higher than the national average. Recognition for this, must in part go to the private sector which, since 2009, has created an extra 9,200 new, fulltime jobs in Barnsley.
I have seen this for myself just recently when I visited the Premier Foods factory in Carlton. The company has invested £20 million into the site, creating 80 new, skilled jobs.
Barnsley is a town that is continuing to develop, and many local businesses are leading the way. I see this every week when I meet constituents and business people. From notable names such as Fosters bakery and Webmart printers, through to the smaller but equally entrepreneurial Rob Royd Farm Shop and Moo clothes shop.
We are also seeing the welcome return of Pollyanna’s to Barnsley – the boutique and coffee shop which brought in visitors from across the country, run by the indefatigable Rita Britton.
They are shining examples of the benefits of setting up in Barnsley – and it’s something the national chains are starting to notice too, as highlighted by the recent opening of Taco Bell and Costa.
The drive to invest, grow and develop is here and thriving in Barnsley. Of course in the retail sector we must ensure that we retain our unique selling point – being an attractive market town. But I believe that the town centre redevelopment will achieve this and, given the excellent visitor attractions we have, Barnsley will continue to attract shoppers, tourists and investors.
Barnsley Council’s vision is key to these plans, particularly through the Barnsley Economic Partnership, skilfully chaired by Ged Shields. Along with the Barnsley Development Agency, they focus on attracting investment into the local economy.
The work of the Barnsley Business and Innovation Centre is vital too – encouraging and nurturing new businesses and encouraging entrepreneurs. This can also be seen at the Digital Media Centre in town, where dozens of local businesses reside and prosper. And the Barnsley and Rotherham Chamber of Commerce work hard, giving local businesses a powerful voice in the town.
With the new town centre redevelopment now underway, and the example set by our local businesses, and the national businesses that have already and continue to invest in Barnsley today, I am sure our town will see more investment.
This is essential, not just for us, but for our children’s future. Because, when businesses are booming in Barnsley, we all benefit.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 9th October.