On 5 March at 11am, I will be involved in a live debate on BBC Radio Sheffield with Michael Heseltine about the legacy of pit closures on mining communities.
Everyone in Barnsley knows about the massive impact that the decline of the coalfields had on our town. The pit closures of the 1980s and the loss of jobs that came with it left our town struggling to recover.
Barnsley families were rooted in that industry – friendships were forged there, countless generations had jobs which relied upon it and communities physically grew up around it. The loss of such a defining industry was a devastating blow to Barnsley’s economy but also to our identity.
That is why the work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust is so important. There are 5.5 million people – or 1 in 11 of the entire population of Great Britain – who live in coalfield areas.
Significant challenges face all of these communities. Across the coalfields as a whole, there are just 50 jobs for every 100 residents of working age. Furthermore, the number of pensioners living in poverty in these communities is twice the level of the South East. The miners’ strike may now be receding into history, but its impact is still being felt.
The Coalfields Regeneration Trust has done some truly excellent work to support these communities. Partnership and working cooperatively are at the heart of everything that it does.
For example, working closely with Barnsley Council and Bernslai Homes, the Trust has bought a derelict property within the borough and plans to build much-needed affordable accommodation. Furthermore, the Trust will offer important apprenticeship opportunities during the building process.
It is vitally important that we do not let the current economic difficulties undo the Trust’s work. A great deal can be done with funding from the Trust, but it will also require the involvement of, despite their limitations, Local Economic Partnerships and European investment. And we also need government departments to prioritise support for these communities.
Here in Barnsley our council has been working to regenerate and reinvigorate our borough, despite severe cuts in their funding from central government. As well as the current redesign of our town centre they, like myself, are continually sending out the message that Barnsley is a fantastic place to visit, to raise a family and do business in.
There is great potential here in Barnsley and in coalfield communities across the country. I am optimistic that, with the right support, we can help those communities that were so badly damaged by the decline of coal industry continue to recover.
I will continue to do all I can to help bring high-quality jobs to Barnsley and I know the Council, the Trust and the Chamber of Commerce are doing the same. We will attract businesses by promoting what is great about our town – its people. By investing in the people of Barnsley, we can help to undo some of the damage that was done during the pit closures and forge a new identity as a prosperous and economically vibrant town.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Independent on 3rd March 2015.