BIG cut down to size as number of town hall independents halved

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The Barnsley Independent Group of councillors (big) saw its numbers halved as Labour increased its dominance of the council.

Only a few years ago BIG was strong enough to leave Labour within a whisker of losing its control of the local authority, but has clawed back seats in recent elections.

On Thursday that process was advanced further, with the BIG losing five of the ten seats it held and Labour taking another from the Conservatives and one seat held by an independent councillor. The results leave Labour with 52 seats, BIG and the Conservatives with five seats each and one remaining independent member.

BIG emerged years ago to include many former Labour councillors who had been replaced with new candidates by the party. Several of those, who were very well known in the communities they served, stood down at Thursday’s elections and their replacement BIG candidates failed to win over voters.

However, BIG spokesman Coun Phill Birkinshaw, who was re-elected, said the group would continue its work to provide an effective opposition.

“We had quite a number of our senior members, 50 per cent, retiring. We had new candidates who are not so well known as those retiring and they worked hard but it is very disappointing. However, we are where we are.”

Among those who retired was veteran councillor Ronnie Fisher, who had been involved in local politics since the late 1960s. The Darfield ward that he represented was among those relinquished to Labour.

Former Barnsley East MP Jeff Ennis, who stood down from Parliament at the last election, made a return to local politics by taking a seat on the North East ward, which had also previously been held by a BIG councillor.

Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis described the result as “a brilliant night for Labour in Barnsley and a brilliant night for Labour across England”.

He added: “I am delighted that an additional nine Labour candidates have now become Labour councillors in Barnsley and I know they will do a fantastic job of speaking up for our town in very difficult economic times.”