BLACKBURN with Darwen council is to cut 500 jobs, scrap school uniform grants, phase out its four old people’s homes, and close children’s centres.
The cuts are part of a package to slash spending by one fifth - £30 million - in the next two years with the aim of freezing council tax.
Burial and crematorium fees will rise by 10 per cent, bulky waste collection charges will rise from £10 to £20, street cleaning and grass cutting will be reduced and library hours cut as part of an initial programme which will save £26.2 million by March 31 2015.
Leisure, swimming and gym prices will rise; the £49,000 a year grant to Turton Tower will be axed; youth clubs, young people services and play provision face reductions or closure; school transport will be cut back; and opening hours at Darwen Town Hall will be shortened.
Even after these cuts of £26.2 million over two years, described by borough Labour leader Kate Hollern as “very painful”, town hall chiefs will still have to find another £3.8 million by March 2015.
They have warned that many of the redundancies, more than a sixth of a current staff of 2,800, will have to be compulsory although they will leave senior management jobs vacant and cut administration costs to keep front-line workers.
The ratio of qualified to unqualified social workers will be reduced, the number of children getting intensive support will fall by 50, small grants to voluntary organisations will be cut, staff numbers and hours at Blackburn Museum reduce, bus subsidies fall, and road safety measures face cutbacks.
Coun Hollern, who planned for £27 million spending cuts from Whitehall grant reductions rather than £30 million over two years blamed the coalition government for the service reductions. This coming year they will cut £13.124 million out of the 2012/2013 annual budget of £150 million, rising to £13,168 million in 2014.2105. The borough has already cut spending by £40 million since 2010.
She said: “Sadly our worst fears have been confirmed and we are now going to have to make some very painful decisions.
“Given so much has already been cut, we are not able to protect even the areas we know are important to people. Services will be cut and jobs lost again.
“The cuts will be a further damaging blow. The council is committed to making every penny count so will use what we have left to focus on jobs and protecting vulnerable people.”
One of the most controversial decisions is to close Blackburn with Darwen’s four old people’s homes, built in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Borough chief executive Harry Catherall stressed residents would be moved in carefully phased transfer to new, better private sector provision.
The 70 residents would be guaranteed places in two new developments under way in Blackburn’s Infirmary District and Shorey Bank in Darwen after careful consultation with them and their families.
Ros Shepherd, vice chair of the joint trades unions, said: “People often forget how many people who work for the council also live or have family in Blackburn and Darwen so job losses here have a big impact on the community. The cuts that the government has asked the council to make are simply unfair.
“Communities are going to begin to see significant effects of these cuts because there simply won’t be the money or people available to deliver many services.”
The Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition groups on the council will present their alternative proposals tomorrow.
CARE HOMES: CLOSURES TO COME
THE new round of spending cuts includes the closure of the borough’s four old people’s homes in Blackburn and Darwen.
Chief executive Harry Catherall said they will not shut until all residents have been moved to newly-built, privately-run specialist accommodation in the borough in a ‘carefully-phased transfer.’ The homes – Laneshaw House, Feniscliffe Bank, and Blakewater Lodge in Blackburn and Greenways in Darwen – currently have 70 residents out of a total capacity for 118.
Although the changes will save £400,000 next financial year and £1.85million in 2014-2015, the decision to shut the homes — built in the 1960s and 1970s — is not just motivated by cash.
He said: “These homes are no longer suitable for the job. They don’t even have en-suite bathrooms so elderly people have to queue up for a shower.
“We would have had to close them anyway. They cannot be refurbished and we don’t have the money to build new ones.
“The residents will be moved to new purpose built-extra care plus developments at the Infirmary in Blackburn and Shorey Bank in Darwen, accommodating more than 160, when they are ready.
“There is no two-year time limit in this. They will move in a carefully phased transfer after consulting them and their families.
“This is not all about money, it’s about better, more modern care. The council has nomination rights for the beds they need for its residents in these developments.”
CHILDREN'S SERVICES: UNIFORM GRANTS AXED
SCHOOL uniform grants for hard-up Blackburn with Darwen families will be axed in the latest round of council cuts saving £156,000 annually.
Last year 5,325 families got the cash worth between £24 and £56 per pupil.
Borough leader Kate Hollern said she was devastated at having to make the change: “I hate to do this.
“I don’t know what some families will do. I can visualise children going to school without proper shoes.
“I just hope schools or charities can help families out.”
It’s just the most obvious of a string of education and youth service cuts aimed at saving £970,000 in the coming year and £1.6 million in 2014/2105.
Others include cutting school buses and taxis for many pupils to faith and other schools and even for children with special educational needs to save £420,000 over two years.
Up to four of the borough’s children’s centres could shut saving £1.34 million over two years out of a total saving £7.15 million by reorganising services for young people.
The changes will see a small number of centres providing early interventions services on a hub-and-spoke basis that coun Hollern hopes will minimise the impact of the closures.
Residential care for young people, sexual health advice, youth clubs, provision for young carers, and cash to tackle domestic abuse will be reduced while intensive support for 50 vulnerable children will be scrapped.
WASTE CHARGES: ROUNDS SAVED
WEEKLY rubbish bin and fortnightly recycling and green waste rounds have been saved from the latest round of cuts but the charge for bulky waste collections will double from £10 to £20.
The frequency of street cleaning will be reduced from weekly to monthly in most cases and those highways swept monthly will go to every eight weeks.
Back street cleaning is set to go from six times a year to just once, There will be a similar reduction in grounds maintenance and how landscaped areas are looked after.
Burial and crematorium fees will rise by ten per cent across the board.
Environment chief Coun Faryad Hussain has been ordered to find £1.5million savings in his budget for the coming financial year rising to £1.9million in 2014-2015.
He is also reducing the number of pest control and trading standards staff and cutting the frequency of cleaning in council and public buildings.
Other services facing cuts in the budget proposals include ending council-run consumer advice, scrapping the neighbourhood bus scheme and increasing charges for temporary accommodation provided by the borough Vacant posts across the council, especially higher-paid management jobs, will be frozen rather than filled.
TURTON TOWER: FUNDING STOPPED
THE £50,000 a year grant to Turton Tower is to be scrapped, opening hours at Darwen town hall reduced and charges for sports, leisure and gyms in the borough are to be increased while library and swimming pool hours will be cut.
As the council seeks to slash 500 jobs, front-line customer services could see reductions of up to 20 per cent.
Leisure services chief Damian Talbot has been give a year to find alternative cash to run Turton Tower or transfer it to new management before the annual council grant is scrapped in April next year.
Libraries across the borough will open later and close earlier while those in Mill Hill, Roman Road and Livesey will need volunteer support to avoid closure.
Blackburn Museum will be open for four days a week instead of five, while Waves swimming pool will see autumn and winter hours reduced.
Daisyfield will lose all public swimming and Audley pool will have shorter hours.
Gym and leisure charges, recently increased, are set to rise again as will charges for using Witton park’s athletics stadium, now being upgraded.