Tory leader hits out at £5m Lancaster sports centre revamp plan

Salt Ayre Sports Centre, Lancaster.
Salt Ayre Sports Centre, Lancaster.

The leader of the opposition has launched a scathing attack on plans to cut front line services on the eve of the Lancaster City Council budget.

Councillor Peter Williamson said the idea of collecting bins every three weeks – not two - was an “economic madhouse” when the Labour regime plans to spend millions on a revamp of Salt Ayre Sports Centre.

Councillor Peter Williamson.

Councillor Peter Williamson.

The leader of the Conservative group also said he thought the cost of staff wages was crippling the council.

And he hit back at Labour claims that £5.6m worth of cuts by 2020 were necessary due to a slash in Government funding to local authorities, saying Lancaster City Council has “plenty of money”.

Speaking just 24 hours before councillors meet to vote on the controversial 2015/16 budget, Coun Williamson said: “Every year we hear about government funding reductions putting front line services under threat. Yet we spend £6m on non-statutory services, things we do because we like doing them - the Dukes, tourist information centres, marketing and promotion, the Platform - a failing theatre.

“Bin collections every three weeks? Why do they have councils in the first place? People expect us to keep the streets clean and tidy.

“We’ve got 730 full-time employees, there are other councils who do what we do with about half of that.

“I’m not saying for one minute we go and hand out redundancy notices, but we need to put jobs under the spotlight in areas of local government where there is plenty of slack.”

Coun Williamson hit out at a £5m, five-year upgrade plan for Salt Ayre, saying the council should not run a sports centre at all.

“We have people who have invested their private money in Lancaster opening gyms and beauty salons, and the council decides to go into direct competition with them. They have effectively decided to put them out of business.

“I think, with my cynical mind, that the council is planning to close three local swimming pools (Hornby, Heysham and Carnforth) to suck people into Salt Ayre.”

He also suggested the council should contract out some of its work to local firms, such as the upkeep of the trees in Market Square, to save money.

Coun Eileen Blamire, Lancaster City Council and Labour group leader, said: “We don’t like these Tory Government cuts but we can’t control decisions made in Downing Street and by 2020 this council will have had to cut its spending by £8m over the last 10 years - that’s more than a third even before you take inflation into account.

“We’ve found efficiency savings and restructured services and have had to reduce our staff by one-fifth, but we’re now at the point where we can no longer fund all the services we have in the past.

“All we can do is prioritise those services that matter most, and try to minimise the impact of these Tory cuts. I believe our budget does this, while also making positive capital investments such as the revamp of Salt Ayre Sports Centre and improvements to the centre of Morecambe - which should both appeal to local people and pay dividends for the council and district in the near future.”

The proposed city council budget will be finalised at a meeting at Morecambe Town Hall tomorrow night. Proposals include new charges for green waste collection, a review of the council’s property portfolio including Lancaster and Morecambe Town Halls and a review of the city’s Maritime and Cottage Museums, new charges for Happy Mount Park in Morecambe and scrapping CCTV.