BOROUGH Tory leader Mike Lee today called on Blackburn with Darwen’s Labour leadership to stop paying £94,000 a year for town hall union representatives and use the cash to save school crossing patrols.
He and Liberal Democrat leader David Foster said 50 per cent cuts in lollipop men and women, reductions in road safety education and maintenance of traffic signals, road signs and speed calming measures could put people, especially children, at risk of injury.
They were reacting to Labour’s proposed service cuts to be debated at the council forum on January 31.
These include axing 500 jobs, phasing out old people’s homes, scrapping school uniform grants, closing up to five children’s centres and reducing library, swimming pool and gym hours.
Coun Lee highlighted plans to slash the number of lollipop people.
He said: “They are talking about saving £75,000 over two years by halving the number of school crossing patrols yet there is an item in the budget for £90,000 a year to pay and provide offices for unions reps.
“That should go. Why should the council taxpayer fund them, instead of the unions?
“We should have a freeze on annual salary increments for council staff which would save £1million pounds and possibly 30 jobs, cushioning cuts elsewhere.
“We must examine whether the council can afford to lease the office block in Cathedral Court and whether it should support the Blackburn College sports development.
“The borough needs to look at maximising revenue from sports and swimming facilities, as at Darwen Leisure, rather than cut hours across the board and then look at closing underused facilities.
“They also need to speed up transferring community centres to local groups, particularly Bangor Street.”
Coun Foster said: “We are concerned at the size of the cuts and their impact on local people.
“Cutting back on road safety, roadsigns and reducing school crossing patrols will put people at risk and could cause injuries shifting the costs elsewhere.
“We should be looking at how we can save costs through working with other authorities and agencies and investing to increase our local economy.
“I will fight long and hard to keep borough services at Darwen Town Hall.”
Darwen Sunnyhurst Labour councillor Pete Hollings said: “These were very difficult decisions. Everybody in the Labour group was devastated at the level of cuts. It seems the government is penalising the North of England for voting Labour.”
Family fears struggle without clothes grant
MUM-of-three Catherine Jordan struggled to buy her three children’s school uniforms even with a council grant.
She believes many of the 5,325 Blackburn with Darwen families currently getting the cash, worth between £24 and £56 per pupil, will really struggle without the help.
Mrs Jordan, of Bolton Road Darwen, used the grants, which are to be axed, to buy school clothes for her Melissa, 15; Matthew, 13; and Victoria, five.
She said: “I used the grants to get their first uniforms. It was really difficult. I was struggling to afford them and pay my gas and electricity.
“They were really useful. I don’t know how some families will be able to afford uniforms, gas, electricity and food without them.”
Mrs Jordan, used Mum’s The Word, a Shadsworth-based group that collects, refurbishes and recycles uniforms across the borough, to replace the items her children regularly ruin during the school day.
It provides blazers for £12 instead of £26 to £100, shirts for 50 pence to £1 instead of £5 to £10 and shorts for 50p.
Rachel Rhodes of the organisation said: “Without the grants a lot of families are going to really struggle with affording uniforms.”
Sue Cotton, chief executive of Child Action North West said: “I am very concerned about these cuts. Closing children’s centres will have a real impact on families. They provide early intervention and support that can prevent all sort of problems later on.
“I deeply worried about proposals to reduce the number of children receiving intensive support by 50. Their needs will not just go away.
'Shutting homes could store up problems'
PHASING out Blackburn with Darwen’s four old people’s homes by the end of 2015 and reducing care for elderly residents in their own properties have raised concerns.
Transferring residents to new-build developments will save the council £1million a year.
The borough is reviewing the costs of home care for pensioners and the future of free telecare for the over-80s, cutting costs at day centres and reducing direct payment rates for personal assistants.
North Turton Tory councillor Colin Rigby, 71, said: “I am concerned that reducing care for older people at home is a false economy.
“Older people want to stay in their own homes and looking after them there is cheaper than residential care.
“We want to do all we can to keep older people in their own homes and there is money in the council’s reserves to pay for that.
“With a large and growing elderly problem the council could be storing up problems for the future.
“I understand people’s worries about moving to new-build modern homes but it the long run it will be better.”
Chief executive Harry Catherall is committed to ensuring this is done sympathetically.”
Liberal Democrat leader Coun David Foster said: “The transfer of elderly residents from borough old people’s homes is going to have to be carefully managed.”
Shadsworth with Whitebirk Labour councillor Jim Shorrock said: “Reducing support for older people at home will increase the pressure on residential accommodation and the NHS.”
Knock-on effects for health
PROPOSALS to reduce hours and increase charges at council gyms, sports facilities and swimming pools have caused concern about the future fitness of the borough’s residents.
Former Blackburn Rovers star Kevin Gallacher, right, said: “Reducing open hours and raising charges means less people use gyms, pools and sports facilities which has a knock on effect on their health and fitness in the long term.”
Sue Cotton, chief executive of Child Action North West said: “Making it more difficult and expensive to access fitness facilities will not just affect the health of children but whole family activities. Many parents take their children swimming.”