[Check against delivery]
Ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured to speak here this evening, on my home turf.
Now, before I begin, I understand there’s a sweepstake on the length of my remarks.
Let me just put everyone’s mind at rest… my money went on 82 minutes – so settle in folks!
Turning to what this evening is all about… Councillor Tattersall – our new Mayor – congratulations!
Madam Mayor, you will be an outstanding Mayor for our borough. You are a tremendous councillor and a force of nature!
I know you have big plans for your term.
Your theme – Educate, inspire and deliver and your charities typify you…
Romero Communities – a wonderful organisation, who have provided invaluable support to countless people in Barnsley.
And one of the friendliest places to get a brew in the borough!
And Hey! – who do so much for our children and young people suffering with their mental health by providing the care they need when they need it most.
The very first time I met Sarah was back in 2011. I was dashing about canvassing for Party members’ support ahead of the selection hustings for the forthcoming by-election.
I knocked on her door.
She kindly invited me in.
I obviously wanted to take Sarah up on her offer – her endorsement would’ve been very useful, but it suddenly dawned on me this encounter was laden with risk.
The dilemma was such: coming in for a chat, meant taking off my shoes which in turn meant – to my great embarrassment – revealing a hole in my sock.
“Shall I take my shoes off” I said sheepishly.
“Yeah, you can just leave them at the door” was the reply.
“Oh dear” I thought – it was actually another 4-letter word, but you get the gist.
I saw coming clean as the best course of action…
“I must apologise in advance, but I have a large hole in my sock” I said.
Now, discussing and exposing my ragged clothing – as you can imagine – was not meant to form part of the agenda for this important tête-à-tête.
Sarah’s response however was both merciful and profound…
“People are more interested in what you have to say rather than the state of your socks. And anyway, lots of people round here have holes in their socks”.
She was right. A sage lesson and one worth remembering.
Madam Mayor – I’m very much looking forward to working with you over the next year.
I have every faith you’ll be a huge success and a fantastic champion for Barnsley.
Ladies and gentlemen, before I go any further I’d like to say a few words about the terrible situation in Ukraine because we are joined here tonight against the backdrop of the most appalling violence and misery.
I know we are all greatly inspired by the resolve, determination and spirit shown by the Ukrainian people.
The response to the crisis from our community has been incredibly moving – we opened our hearts and our homes.
Naturally I wouldn’t have expected anything less.
We are of course twinned with a proud coalfield community in Ukraine – Horlivka.
A town which is now fighting for its very existence.
A fight it did not start, but from which it will not back down.
A few weeks ago – along with my great colleague and neighbour, Stephanie Peacock – I learned I had been personally sanctioned by the Russian parliament – something I see as a badge of honour because Barnsley stands united against Putin’s illegal invasion and we send our solidarity to our Ukrainian brothers and sisters both here and those resisting his barbaric regime.
I do also want to say a word about the Platinum Jubilee – truly a milestone in our nation’s history.
The Queen – overseeing us this evening – has been the embodiment of service and stability, a constant in our lives and it is right we recognise her unwavering dedication.
Ladies and gentlemen… that brings me to another fantastic ambassador, albeit one closer to home – our outgoing Mayor,
Councillor Caroline Makinson.
Caroline… you have been a wonderful advocate for our community and helped see us through the pandemic. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to you for all the work you have done – and will continue to do – for Barnsley.
I’d also like to say something about another outgoing Mayor… me!
In all seriousness, the last time I had the honour of speaking at this event was for Councillor Steve Green back in 2018 – which was only a matter days after I had been elected the inaugural Mayor of South Yorkshire, or the Sheffield City Region as it was then.
I’m now back delivering this address but no longer as Mayor.
Let me be candid, many people were surprised at my decision to stand down, but I said from the beginning that being a Mayor and an MP wasn’t a long-term arrangement.
And I meant it.
Some thought that I would step away as MP and keep going with the mayoralty, but I have a fierce loyalty to our town.
You can’t choose where you were born but you can choose where you want to be – and I chose Barnsley.
I hope everyone knows what an enormous privilege it is for me to represent our community, and how seriously I take that responsibility.
Politicians come and go, of course – and if the people of Barnsley want to get rid of me as their MP, then that is their absolute right. But I am not walking away from them.
Let me tell you why… there is so much to celebrate about Barnsley – but above all, it is the enduring spirit of our people that sets us apart.
And why I hold this place so dear, and why I was never going to walk away from it.
Our community knows all too well the arc of history does not always necessarily steer to a better tomorrow. But we also know that together we have the power to bend it toward a more hopeful future.
When you walk through our town, you are walking through a chronicle of our past – lessons in who we are, voices reminding us of what we have achieved, inspiration for generations to come.
Just outside, we have our square dedicated to the Barnsley Pals battalions. Men who stepped forward to answer the call during the First World War.
Miners, glassworkers, stonemasons, clerics – many of them friends and neighbours. They joined-up together, trained together, fought together and ultimately, many of them died together.
It is a legacy that inspired some of Barnsley’s finest to serve. Tom Hicks who lived in Royston – a veteran of Arnhem who helped write the Airborne Forces into the annals of history.
And Sergeant Ian McKay, who was born in the borough – another member of that proud brotherhood, posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his sacrifice on Mount Longdon 40 years ago next month.
From the First World War to the Second, to the Falklands and every other conflict beyond, Barnsley’s men and women have consistently stepped forward to answer the call.
Their story reminds us that the lone hero is a myth – we are all in fact, threads, woven together to create something much stronger.
Walk down the Huddersfield Road and you’ll find the head office of the National Union of Mineworkers – a paragon of our community built on coal.
While the Pals’ struggle took them to foreign soil, the miners’ struggle was brought to their very doorstep.
To their detriment, successive governments failed to recognise it wasn’t just coal that came out from the collieries, but community too.
Theirs was a bond forged over generations. Mineworkers and their families wouldn’t run at the first sign of hardship, they held their ground and withstood hunger, smears and violence.
Their fight is a lesson in the meaning of true solidarity.
Down in our town centre, we now have our COVID memorial sculpture – one of the first in the world.
It’s our tribute to those no longer with us, to those who lost loves ones and to those working-class heroes who sacrificed so much to keep us safe.
Barnsley's fierce love will hold you forever in its heart.
Our community was left devasted by the pandemic, I know everyone here this evening has their own story – me included.
That suffering will live long in the memory but so too should the resolve of those who pulled us through – our NHS
workers, carers, delivery drivers, shopworkers, posties, transport staff, and many others. Too often taken for granted but
whose true value was there for all to see during our darkest hour.
Men and women from Barnsley have fought, struggled and laboured time and time again for our tomorrow. Their journey is one we continue.
But our story isn’t just one of triumph over adversity. We are so much more.
Barnsley’s sons and daughters have a long and proud history of stepping out and shaping a better world.
Just look at who was awarded the Freedom of the Borough last month alongside our phenomenal Intensive Care Unit…
Mat Wright – the musical director of the outstanding Barnsley Youth Choir
Katherine Brunt – the world cup winning cricketer
Graham Ibbeson – the artist and sculptor
And Katherine Kelly – the acclaimed actress.
Inspirational figures, and every one of them Barnsley to their core.
And it isn’t just our people that are doing us proud, it’s our place.
Our town centre has undergone remarkable transformation in recent times – praise rightly goes to the Leader of our Council, Sir Steve Houghton and his team for the incredible progress we have seen.
I am however acutely aware not everyone always shares my enthusiasm for when the winds of change begin to blow!
I remember once being in complete awe stood outside our wonderful Town Hall by the newly installed fountains one summer morning – the sun was shining, children were paddling, laughter filled the air. It was a scene of pure joy.
I paused to soak up the experience when a gentleman appeared beside me.
We looked at each other, I could sense he was poised to deliver his judgement.
He then uttered the following – words that will stay with me evermore…
“It used to be a lovely little car park”
I believe Barnsley deserves more former lovely little car parks – we deserve the best because we are capable of the best.
Anyone who questions that ambition has a short memory, look at what we have achieved and how we have achieved it… as one.
In every direction, there is much to do. Just as we emerge from a health crisis, we have entered an economic one. Families facing hardship, businesses facing uncertainty.
The challenges we face today and those we face tomorrow are daunting but like the challenges of yesterday, they will be overcome.
You only have to walk around our community and speak to the people who make it so special to know that holds true.
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you take comfort in knowing I still have holes in my socks just as I take comfort in knowing our people don’t care, they are still more interested in what you have to say.
Enjoy the rest of your evening. And Madam Mayor, congratulations once again. Thank you.