Twelve months on

September 2010 seems a long time ago, and certainly allot of political water has gone under the bridge, since Labour assumed control of the Council.

During the last twelve months the Labour administration consolidated its position at the May elections and is proud of its record of listening to people and protecting front line services and the vulnerable where ever we have been able to.

The savage cuts that were announced earlier this year in budget are also now having an impact across all sectors and unemployment is continuing to rise across the area. We have however been able to make some difference by undertaking efficiency savings and cutting out wasteful spending planned by the previous Tories and Liberal administration.

For example, we are aware from the calls that we get that environmental issues such as grassing cutting, littering etc. are important to our residents. That is why earlier this year, despite suffering around £33m in our funding from Government; we have managed to find additional resources to deal with these services despite the financial difficulties the Council continues to face. This is helping make some improvements in the environment, but we all need to encourage everyone to get involved in keeping their neighbourhoods clean and taking pride in their local areas and communities.

In addition, we are aware of the frustration pot holes and poor road surfaces cause and have identified an extra £1m to undertake emergency repairs to the most damaged and important roads in the Borough.

Despite what we are doing locally we cannot get away from the impact that the Tory/ Liberal Democrat National Government policies are having on our town. An analysis of the changes being introduced by the Coalition Government shows they are having a enormous detrimental impact on Boroughs like ours. For example, the proposed localisation of Council Tax will have a disproportionate effect on authorities with high levels of deprivation. In addition, changes to a range of benefits has serious implications to the most vulnerable in society, particularly women and families, who are struggling to cope with increasing prices and facing hikes in their energy bills.

The next twelve months promise to be equally challenging as the last twelve but we promise to continue to do our best for the people who elected us and for all those who live in the Borough.

Statement from Cllr Abdul Rehman

Abdul Rehman, Councillor for Corporation Park ward on Blackburn with Darwen Council has resigned from the Liberal Democrats and applied to join the Labour Party. Below is his official statement.

“I have resigned from the Liberal Democrat party because I no longer wish to be associated with a party that is happy to support cuts that are doing significant damage to the community in Corporation Park ward and the wider community of Blackburn.

This is the 17th most deprived Borough in the country and it has suffered the 5th highest level of government cuts. That is simply not fair and is a betrayal of everything that the Liberal Democrats have previously stood for.

Over the last few months it has been difficult not to feel embarrassed by the long list of Liberal Democrat broken promises but the severity and unfairness of the government cuts programme is, for me, the final straw.

I have applied to join the Labour Party because I have been impressed by the Labour controlled councils efforts to manage these unfair cuts so that, wherever possible, basic services can be maintained. I look forward to playing my part in this work in the future.”

Welcome to an uncertain 2011

Imagine waking up tomorrow and finding your household income down by a quarter. What would you cut from your household budget and what effect would that have, do you pay your mortgage or buy food?

That’s the problem we face in Blackburn because of the Tory led Coalition Government.

As a result of cuts being handed out by the government – 22% cuts in our budget next financial year alone (£28 million) we face terrible dilemmas about the future of vital services in the towns and communities of Blackburn with Darwen.

A farcical situation has been engineered where poor areas such as Blackburn, Burnley, Pendle and Hyndburn are being asked to make huge cuts whilst more than more affluent areas like Ribble Valley, Fylde and the Southern shires with Tory MP’s are having their funding protected.

To make matters worse the Government are telling bare faced lies in claiming we only have to make 8.9% cuts. In calculating our budget they have conveniently left off nearly £30m in grants that we expected but which have been withdrawn. They refuse to explain why and instead they have chosen to use friendly national media in order to spin their way out of what they have done.

Despite this the local Labour administration is trying to minimise the impact of these cuts but the public needs to realise that the reduction in funding is so savage that services will have to change. People will have to pay more in certain areas, services will operate differently and we will have less to spend on many services people think are important such as highways and environmental services.

To minimise the damage to front line services we have already made savings by cutting 8 directors posts and senior manager posts which has saved £2 million. We are also cutting our back office functions by 35%. Despite this we still have to make millions of pounds of cuts that inevitably will reduce services provided to the public.

Throughout the difficult process in the months ahead our focus will remain on ensuring that the most vulnerable people in our communities are protected as much as possible. However, let’s be clear, these are the worst cuts local government has ever faced. They are even worse than the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher and we all know the impact those cuts had on society leaving a generation with no hope. It is ironic that this time the Tories are being assisted by the Liberal Democrats who despite trying to promote themselves as the champions of localism and fairness have chosen to sign up this savage attack on our communities in return for ministerial privileges.

Local Facilities needed more than ever during hard times

The last few weeks in Blackburn with Darwen have been eventful to say the least. And having taken over as the Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport I’ve certainly had a busy time grappling with the difficult issues facing the department. During the Summer the Labour group supported local residents in enthusiastic campaigns to stop the closure of Shadsworth Leisure Centre and a number of the Borough’s community centres, so it was important that once we came back to power we acted as quickly as possible to re-open the Leisure Centre and stop the Community Centre transfer.

Today I was pleased to be at Shadsworth on the day the pool re-opened to the public. This is a vital facility in the Borough and the 220,000 visits during 2009/10 show that it is needed. However, the coalition decision to close the pool has done a lot of damage. The Labour Government, through Refresh, had put large sums of money into increasing sporting activity within Blackburn which had amongst the worst fitness levels in the UK. As a result of the scheme activity is now up to the national average – a fantastic achievement. But when a leisure centre closes history shows that rather than going to a different centre people just stop altogether. And with the obvious effects on health that a possible further recession will have it is vital that people have low cost leisure facilities available.

So I hope you hear the message loud and clear – Shadsworth is back in business – come down and use these great facilities.

A strange tale from a Liberal Councillor up North

After recuperating from the recent special Council meeting, when unsurprisingly Blackburn’s ruling coalition was embarrassed to find that even its own members could not support its damaging cuts packages, I was surfing the internet and came across a strange but interesting tale.

It concerns Lib Dem Councillor Sharron Brook who has put out a letter to her residents of her Dearne South Ward in Barnsley. In it she thanks the residents for voting for her at the recent election and then she gets to the main reason why she is writing to them.

“…. which is to ask you what you would like us to do, seeing that the Liberal Democrats have chosen to form a coalition with the Conservatives, never considering the people in the deprived north”

She continues

“We are ashamed, as you are, of what the National Lib Dems have done in joining the Conservatives. Since 1964 I have had faith in the Liberals thinking they were principled, perhaps they were in years gone by but not after this election”

Cllr Brook then goes on to give her residents three choices and asks them for their wishes for her future:

  1. Go it alone
  2. Join the Labour Party
  3. Stay as a Liberal Democrat

It would be really interesting if the Lib Dems in Blackburn and Darwen asked the voters a similar question as I think we can all guess the answer wouldn’t be number three.

Cuts too far and too fast is not the answer

There was a coalition government in the 1930s. It compounded the problems of a world-wide recession by cutting spending too far and too fast.

East Lancashire was one the areas worst hit.

But in one respect the thirties’ coalition government was more thoughtful than the present one. It recognised that at such a time community facilities were of even greater importance than in normal times. So, for example, public libraries were kept open, and became a haven for the unemployed.

It’s a pity that the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition in our borough have forgotten this, if they ever knew it.

Now, our library service is threatened; and worse still, Shadsworth Leisure Centre, and four Community Centres (Little Harwood, Shadsworth, Ivy Street, and Sudellside) are all earmarked for early closure. This is decision day.

“This is about sorting out the mess the Labour Government left,” says council leader Mike Lee.

By this ‘mess’ I take Coun Lee to mean the levels of public spending inherited from the Labour Government.

Much of this has gone on crucial improvements to key services like Children’s Sure Start Centres, to every school in the borough, to our health service, the new Wainwright Bridge and much else – as well as increased central government grant to the borough.

If Coun Lee had at the time protested about any of this spending, his recent comments would have consistency and credibility. But the reverse was the case – as it was with the then Conservative Opposition who either endorsed our spending plans right up to late 2008, or said that they were ‘tough’.

Cuts on this scale were never spelt out before the election, either locally or nationally. They could and should have been. The only thing that has changed is that the budget deficit is £10 billion less than estimated before election.

Nor is there any good reason for cuts of this scale. It’s not just me or my party saying that.

The Financial Times’ leading economic commentator Samuel Brittan described the current approach as an ‘unnecessary austerity due to a misguided macro-economic policy’ (June 18).

But even if one accepts that cuts on this scale are needed (which I do not) this is not the way to do it.

The current leadership used to claim concern for the more deprived wards of the borough. Why then pick on precisely those areas – to deprive them of their much-needed community facilities?

The money to be saved is paltry – my guess is only around £100,000, after taking account of redundancy costs. And there will be other costs, such as maintenance on unused buildings.

My advice to the local leadership is to go to the library, and take out the ‘General Theory’ of the economist (and proper Liberal) John Maynard Keynes.

He demolished the cut-and-cut again philosophy of that coalition – and what he said then, as Mr Brittan pointed out, is still the best advice today.

But there will be other costs as well. If closed these buildings will lie idle.

Maintenance is always higher on unused buildings; it will be a miracle if they do not become a target for vandals, especially as much of their good work has been in keeping youngsters off the streets with something to do.

And the timescale is gratuitous – with local communities to be given just three months to sort out, if they can, alternative funding.

Many in these areas do not have cars, so can’t travel easily say to Darwen Leisure Centre.

How the Tory chumps have failed Blackburn

The sweeping cuts being made by Blackburn Council’s Tory led administration, announced in today’s Lancashire Telegraph (1st July 2010) show their complete failure not only to understand the needs of the local community but also to stick up for Blackburn in Westminster.

The cuts will have a massively damaging effect on those most in need – take Shadsworth with Whitebirk for instance – one of Britains top ten most deprived wards – it faces losing two community centres and a leisure centre, on top of this the Blakewater College is due to close under Building Schools for the Future – so the ward will have no community facilities at all.

All community centres in the Borough are facing closure – and surprise surprise they are situated in wards represented mainly by Labour Councillors.  The fact is the Tories simply don’t care about these communities because they can’t win any elections there.  In this years’ Council elections they didn’t even bother standing candidates in most of them.

Not only this though, the cuts being made are terrifyingly shortsighted.  Many of the problems of high crime and vandalism that we have experienced were as a result of the last period of Tory government when there was no investment in schools, the police or communities.  Labour did invest which is why we now have the highest ever school standards and the lowest crime for almost 30 years.

It’s a well known fact that Blackburn is one of the most deprived communities in England and its funding from Government reflects that fact.  However, under George Osborne’s proposals the Council is forced to make higher cuts than almost every other authority in Britain – at the same time as authorities represented by Tory Ministers which have to make no cuts at all.

Yet when there was a Council meeting following the ’emergency’ budget the Tory and Lib Dem members in Blackburn refused to back Labour’s motion demanding that the national spending cuts be shared out fairly and equally.

We all know what the Tory answer to this mess is – ‘it’s Labour’s fault’.  Change the record please – in Blackburn the Tories have now been in power for over 3 years – they’ve had massive amounts of money allocated by the then Labour Government yet they have failed to use that money responsibly.  We now have a Tory government which has asked its Tory chumps in Blackburn to make massive cuts – Council Leader Mike Lee must be saying thanks a bunch to his pals David Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne!