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Cut and cut again


14 THE BIG ISSUE IN THE NORTH · 28 FEB - 6 MAR 2011
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SPENDING CUTS: GOLDTHORPE

Unemployment has scarred


Goldthorpe since the miners strike
and now government cuts threaten
every housing scheme, community
centre and training course that
supports people in the impoverished
South Yorkshire area. The first in a
major series on how the cuts are
affecting our towns and cities by
Helen Clifton

Councillor May Noble sighs as she sips her hot


drink, the cafe she is sat in flanked by boarded-up
units in a shopping parade condemned to
demolition.
The site was due to become a new marketplace at
the heart of a regenerated Goldthorpe. But
government cuts have put paid to such plans, and
instead the town’s high street is blighted by
dereliction.
“We wanted to raise people’s aspirations and give
them something to be proud of. But now we are just
back to square one,” Noble says. “We got people to Councillor May Noble (left) abolished. The scheme’s Housing Market Renewal
come out to meetings and get involved. But now says many local young (HMR) funding has been completely cut.
people just put their hands in the air and say: ‘What’s people don’t have the The plans have already cost £20 million – yet they
the point?’” confidence to apply for now face a shortfall of £10 million. And council
A former mining village of around 6,700 people, jobs in call centres – one of officers admit they have little idea where the funds
Goldthorpe is 15 minutes drive from Barnsley. Its the few sources of will come from.
abandoned former pit, one of the last to shut in 1994, employment in the area. Plans included the demolition of Goldthorpe’s
sits just outside the town centre. Above, Billy Wardle, 1960s-built shopping parade, along with 108 terraced
Now used by dog walkers, it is one of many potent carrying a Valentine’s card, homes around the Main Street area, to be replaced by
symbols of Goldthorpe’s past. But none are so and friends. Photos: Helen a new, relocated Goldthorpe Primary School,
powerful as the continued legacy of unemployment, Clifton marketplace, town square and shops.
unbroken since the mass lay-offs following the miners Some homes have been refurbished. But the due to
strike. be demolished terraces still lie boarded up, with a
Across Barnsley, a third of the population is reliant handful locked in legal negotiations with the council.
on benefits. The gap between local life expectancy Council acquisitions first started in March 2010,
and the national average is now around two years, and many residents have lived amongst boarded-up
and has been steadily increasing since the 1990s. houses for almost a year.
Youth unemployment is a huge problem, and only a Recent reductions in crime and antisocial
third of pupils have five or more GCSEs at grade C or behaviour are also set to suffer. HMR pumped money
above. into local anti-social behaviour patrols on the
All this provides a shaky foundation for the impact Broadwater Farm Estate, which, Noble says, were
of huge government cuts. On 10 March, Barnsley having an impact. And according to Unison, 300
Council looks set to give the go-ahead for 1,200 jobs police jobs could go across South Yorkshire over the
to be axed, saving £45 million over the next four next four years.
years. The authority has to save £26 million this year Billy Wardle, 22, is hanging around the boarded-up
alone. houses of Main Street. He carries a Valentine’s card
Reports speak of a “bleak economic future” for Goldthorpe’s for his girlfriend, who’s just had their three-day-old
Barnsley, as a huge amount of public sector baby.
investment from quangos into the commercial sector abandoned pit, He explains that he has just finished a six-month
is slowly pulled out. The cut prompted council chief placement with Barnsley Council as part of the
executive Phil Coppard to brand Communities
one of the last Future Jobs Fund (FJF), which provides skills and
Secretary Eric Pickles a “clown”. to shut in 1994, experience for the long-term unemployed.
One quango, Yorkshire Forward, initiated the Unfortunately, there was no permanent work for him.
scheme to regenerate Goldthorpe as part of its sits just outside “I was committed,” Wardle says. “I would have
Renaissance Market Town Plan. But it was stayed with it but it finished. It’s rubbish around here.
announced in June that Yorkshire Forward is to be the town centre It’s not our country anymore – it’s everybody else’s.”

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SPENDING CUTS: GOLDTHORPE

“I don’t know
what I’d do
without the
library and the
centre. They’ve
been
neglected, all
these little
towns.”
Noble chastises him sharply and shakes her head.
“It’s wrong but I don’t blame them for feeling like
that,” she says.
Although the FJF has now been abolished, Barnsley
Council leader Stephen Houghton has called on the
government to bring it back to the local area, saying it
achieved success in giving people real jobs and
“dignity”.
In an area where call centre work is often the only
choice, Noble agrees that an alternative is crucial.
“Many of our children don’t have that confidence
to sit there and do what can seem like an academic
interview,” says Noble, who worked in a call centre
on and off for five years. “It’s a highly pressurised
environment. I hated it. I have worked all my life but
in Ventura there was no union representation – none
at all.”
She says it will take generations to change
Goldthorpe.
“The previous government have invested in schools
like the Dearne Valley Learning Centre and it’s
already started to change the kids. It’s absolutely
wonderful how they seem to be more confident. But
you just can’t change a brass button into a gold one going. She relies on nine volunteers and is running Top: the team at
straight away.” courses on behalf of Dearne Valley College. Goldthorpe Credit Union,
Recovering alcoholic Mandy Lowe is one of those Lowe agrees her organisation represents the future which has provided nearly
determined people Cameron will be relying on to for the area’s 164 voluntary organisations. “I do 12,000 much needed low-
build the big society in places like Goldthorpe. Seven believe in what Cameron is trying to do. I think interest loans since it
years ago, she launched Turnaround, a substance people need to take more responsibility. opened. It was funded by
misuse service. “What we’ve had to do is look at what funding is the Coalfields
“It’s a huge problem here, absolutely huge,” she available. There was not much for substance misuse Regeneration Trust, which
says. “People have lost their aspirations. It just has a but there was lots for health. We now work with is to close at the end of the
snowball effect and drugs are relatively cheaply people post-detox. month. Above: trained
available.” “There is still grant funding out there. But I wish plumber Michael Webster,
When it was set up, Turnaround received £35,000 the people who made these cuts came out and saw who has been unemployed
funding from the Department for Work and Pensions. the good work that we do. It is going to be a long since 2004, is learning
Lowe has since helped 500 people get off drugs and haul.” computing
alcohol and into training or employment. Yorkshire Forward is not the only quango to have
But as funding became scarce, Lowe was forced to provided benefits to the area. Since April 2008, the
change priorities. She opened the Lavender Training Coalfields Regeneration Trust has funded 128 projects
Cafe in January, and has used up all her savings and in Barnsley, awarding a total of almost
remortgaged her house to keep the social enterprise £4 million. It too will close at the end of the month.

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SPENDING CUTS: GOLDTHORPE

Above: part way through One of these projects was the Goldthorpe Credit “When you have people in a politically neutral role
housing regeneration, Union, which received £380,000 over six years. openly criticising the government, it makes you
funding has dried up. Across Barnsley, credit unions have provided 11,712 wonder. And the government have the effrontery to
Right: Mandy Lowe of low-interest loans worth a total of £4.5 million – come round, saying it is less than a ten per cent cut. It
Turnaround saving locals a huge £1.78 million in interest – and just beggars belief. I dread to think what the worst
taking 2,000 new members on last year. case scenario could be for Goldthorpe, because it
“The amount we have lent has gone up by over could be quite horrendous.”
£17,000 since last January – so you can see in Over at Goldthorpe Job Centre, trained plumber
“I dread to 12 months how much things have changed,” says Michael Webster, 48, queues to see an adviser. He has
manager Gail Foster, whose grandfather launched the been unemployed since September 2004.
think what the South Yorkshire Credit Union from his bedroom in That morning, he was presented with an NVQ in
the 1980s. health and safety at the Lavender Training Café.
worst case Research from charity Church Action on Poverty “That’s got to help, hasn’t it?” he says brightly. He’s
scenario could found that Goldthorpe Credit Union members pay an also attending college to upgrade his plumbing
average annual “poverty premium” of £1,170 extra for certificates and is learning computing.
be for basic services, making them extremely financially “But plumbing is a young man’s game,” he says.
vulnerable. People on low incomes often face higher “I have arthritis in my knees from kneeling down all
Goldthorpe, rates of interest on credit from mainstream providers my life. That’s why I’m looking for something else.
because it and loan sharks, and are unable to get the best deals
on energy bills
“The only computing I’ve done is what I’ve learnt
myself. People can ask me what’s this and that, and
could be quite “It makes me angry when they say there are jobs I don’t understand what they are talking about – but
around here – there are, but there are hundreds going I know myself. That’s why I’ve done these computer
horrendous.” for one job,” Foster says. “There are a lot of people courses – to help.”
being taken off incapacity benefits and being put on The future of Goldthorpe Enterprise Centre, where
the new Employment Support Allowance at the Webster looks for jobs and attends courses, is also
moment. But they are often waiting six weeks or more uncertain. “I don’t know what I’d do without the
for their new claim. And what do they do in the library and the centre,” he says. “They’ve been
meantime?” neglected, all these little towns. The market’s not how
“People have According to the research body Local Futures, more it used to be – that’s more or less dead now. We used
than 37 per cent of all jobs in Barnsley come from the to thrive. Now it just seems like everything is
lost their public sector. By 2016 the total number of job losses grinding to a standstill.”
will be around 1,500 in an area which, according to
aspirations. It BBC research, is one of the 20 least resilient local
NEXT WEEK: “If the community centre
has a snowball authorities in the country. And it’s not just the
council which is laying people off. closed down, it would just rip the heart out
effect and “The NHS, which is also a large employer in the of Meir itself.” How Stoke is fighting back
area, is shedding jobs and the college is also
drugs are downsizing,” explains Malcolm Clements, Unison
against the cuts. Are you battling spending
cheaply Barnsley convenor. “The government’s solution to all cuts in your area? Email kevin.gopal@
this is that the private sector is just going to come and bigissuenorth.co.uk
available.” rescue us. I just don’t see that in Barnsley.

18 THE BIG ISSUE IN THE NORTH · 7-13 MARCH 2010