Call for Wakefield Council to get help from awarding-winning Barnsley an ‘attention-seeking insult’

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Councillors in Wakefield overwhelmingly rejected a suggestion that they should seek help from a neighbouring authority on how to improve.

Wakefield Council’s leader Denise Jeffery described the call by a rival Tory councillor as “insulting”.

Debate was sparked after Barnsley Council was awarded Council of the Year at the Local Government Chronicle Awards earlier this month.

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Judges praised the “extremely impressive” regeneration of the south Yorkshire town’s centre.

Wakefield Council leader Denise JefferyWakefield Council leader Denise Jeffery
Wakefield Council leader Denise Jeffery

It led to Samantha Harvey, Conservative councillor for Wakefield Rural ward, to table a motion calling for greater collaboration between the Labour-run councils.

It also called for Coun Jeffery to set up an urgent meeting with Barnsley’s leader Sir Steve Houghton.

Introducing the motion at a full council meeting, Coun Harvey said: “Barnsley Council ought to be extremely proud of what they have accomplished.

“This is truly a place of possibilities.

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Councillor Sam Harvey.Councillor Sam Harvey.
Councillor Sam Harvey.

“The incredible achievement of our neighbouring council is yet another striking example of what can be achieved at a local level and a very painful and embarrassing reminder for us here in this chamber of what hasn’t been done in Wakefield.

“This is very much a tale of two cities, except for the fact that Barnsley still doesn’t have city status.”

Coun Havery continued: “With its new shopping centres, thriving market, superb range of entertainment facilities and all the modern infrastructure it now has, Barnsley is almost unrecognisable from what it was just a decade or so ago.

“It has bustling high streets, breaking the national trend.

Sir Steve Houghton of Barnsley Council.Sir Steve Houghton of Barnsley Council.
Sir Steve Houghton of Barnsley Council.

“It is a glowing example of responsible budgeting, sound investment strategies and clever urban planning.

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“Once upon a time, Wakefield had everything going for it too.

“In some ways, our city centre was leaps and bounds ahead of not just Barnsley but most other towns and cities across the region, including Harrogate.

“We had a great market, a bustling high street and many other assets that attracted people from all over the north.

“I have lived and worked in this city for almost three decades and I am incredibly proud of the city’s heritage and people.

“I know how people in Wakefield feel.

“They feel badly let down by this council.

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“The council owes it to the people and Wakefield to seek better growth strategies.

“They need long-awaited improvements to their standard of living.

“Let’s learn from our neighbours and bring that positive energy back to the streets of Wakefield.”

In response, Coun Jeffery said: “When I first saw this motion I thought it was a joke.

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“Then I realised it’s a total lack of understanding about what the local government awards are all about.

“It’s a competition. You put yourself forward to enter it or you don’t.

“Last year we put ourselves forward for children’s services and we won. This year we chose not to put anything forward.

“The fact that a council hasn’t entered for an award doesn’t mean that it has discrepancies or failures. To suggest that it just plain ridiculous.

“I congratulate Barnsley for what they do.

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“Barnsley has a small town centre and they have done marvellous regeneration.

“But when you look at the towns around Barnsley they are not regenerated.

“What we have got in Wakefield is one city and ten towns and we try to spend our regeneration funding across the district.

“We can’t just support one city.”

Coun Jeffery said it was the fifth year in a row that the best council award had gone to a Labour-run authority.

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She added: “It just reinforces that Labour is clearly better at getting the job done than Conservatives.

“I ask you all to reject this stupid motion.

“It’s quite insulting.”

Deputy leader Jack Hemingway said: “We are proud of our Yorkshire neighbours, a Labour authority, for winning this award.

“Although not perhaps as proud as Coun Harvey, who sounds like she might join the Barnsley tourist board given her remarks.

“It’s a bizarre conclusion that, if you don’t win a national award, you are somehow failing as an authority.

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“Let’s introduce some facts into this debate. Wakefield is a high-performing, well-run council with excellent officers and members.

“We have the accolades to prove it.

“Last year we were short-listed for council of the year.

“We won the national award for children’s services last year.”

Coun Hemingway then referred to his party’s recent trouncing of the opposition party at May’s local election.

He said: “The biggest award that we have won recently is the continued support of the people of this district.

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“In May, the residents took a long hard look at the people opposite and they concluded they were the ones that were failing.

“You lost seats in your heartlands. We gained four seats. It was a massive vote of confidence from the people of Wakefield district.

The council meeting was extended by Wakefield Mayor Josie Pritchard due to the high number of councillors wishing to comment on the motion.

Labour’s Steve Tulley (South Elmsall and South Kirkby), said many outlying areas of Barnsley were struggling.

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He said: “Go for a ride through Thurnscoe, and go for a ride through Goldthorpe.

“You can go the full length of Goldthorpe, from one end of town to the other, and there isn’t a shop open.

“Thurnscoe is exactly the same.

“While I accept there may be some element of development, the outlying areas have been left to rot.

“People have been left behind. I find it insulting that you can come along here today and suggest that we ought to take a leaf out of their book.”

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Lib Dem group leader Pete Girt said: “You can’t be held to account on a competition you have not entered.

“It doesn’t make sense. I’m afraid I can’t support this motion.”

David Pickersgill (Labour, Wakefield North), made reference to the number of councillors who have recently left the Tories to sit as independents, saying: “If any group in this chamber needs to go away and learn from others, I suspect it is the Conservative Group because they lost all their seats and they can’t even keep the members they have have.

“This council needs a quality opposition. It’s not good for democracy.”

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Melanie Jones, (Labour, Hemsworth) said: “This point-scoring political exercise has been submitted when this council is trying to protect our residents.

“The Conservative group is showing they are out of ideas, they are out of touch, they are almost out of councillors and hopefully soon out of power.”

Former Tory group leader Tony Homewood, now independent councillor for Ossett, accused Coun Harvey of using the motion to raise her profile in the hope of becoming an MP.

He said: “At first sight I thought it was a ham-fisted attack on the leader and the controlling group.

“In reality, I think there is more to it.

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“This is an attempt by Coun Harvey to big up her profile while the Conservatives are in the process of selecting the candidate for the re-drawn Wakefield constituency.”

Referring to Wakefield’s disgraced former Tory MP, he then said: “She has just as much chance of winning as the former convict and monorail lover Imran Ahmed Khan has of becoming chairman of Railtrack.

“Rather than wasting the council’s time with pointless attention-seeking motions in this chamber, Coun Harvey’s time would be better occupied in achieving her aims if she stopped pushing her colleagues under passing buses and conspiring to damage anyone who gets in her way.

“To not waste any more of the council’s time, I’m content to let Coun Harvey thank me for my invaluable advice later.”