Free swimming for under 16s in Burnley and Padiham

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BURNLEY children are to benefit from free swimming from April.

The proposal, for people aged 16 and under, at a cost of £18,000, was put forward by the Liberal Democrat group, after they rejected a similar motion suggested by Labour at Burnley Council’s annual budget meeting.

Labour’s amendment also included plans to employ an extra dog warden, allow free town centre parking on 12 Saturdays throughout the year, and increase councillors’ ward opportunities fund by 10%, as well as suggestions to balance the budget.

But the Lib-Dems and Conservatives criticised Labour’s plans, saying the money, £108,000, would be spent on one-off projects, and needed to be channelled into more long-term schemes.

The revised amendment, proposed by the Lib-Dems, to allow free swimming at St Peter’s Centre and Padiham Leisure Centre, was supported by Labour, though they accused the Lib-Dems of stealing their idea.

Under the 2012/13 budget, council workers will have pay frozen for the coming financial year, and £245,000 of savings has been rubber-stamped, on top of £669,000 of cuts approved in December.

The council decided to reduce money spent on delivering council services by almost £1m. from £15,731,154 this year to £14,696,330 – almost £4m. less than the figure in 2010/2011.

Council tax will be frozen.

But, in her budget speech, Coun. Margaret Lishman, Executive member for resources, said there would be no impact on public services as a result of the additional savings.

She explained: “We are already looking at 2013/14 and beyond. We will continue to look for opportunities to develop shared services with neighbouring councils, such as building control and shared legal services.

“Our prudent handling of the council’s finances means we have established a fighting fund in our reserves, which will help smooth out any loss of funding.

“Even so, we anticipate we will have to find around £1.5m. of savings in a year’s time.

“We should be celebrating our successes, not going on and on about problems.

“We welcome the Todmorden Curve and the new station, the University Technical College and the new apprenticeships, the Weavers’ Triangle, the investment in the town centre and other achievements.” Coun. Julie Cooper, Labour group leader, accused the Lib-Dems of failing to change Burnley for the better over the last 12 months.

She said families had been left in homes on half-finished building sites, and youth unemployment had risen to an all-time high.

“Last time unemployment soared to this level was last time the Tories were in power,” said Coun Cooper.

“The Lib-Dem/Tory coalition has got it wrong. Public services are being cut back in a damaging and often cruel fashion.”

Coun. Cooper said the budget should have included more provision for improving Burnley for residents.

Labour Coun. Mark Townsend added: “The council needs to do more for ordinary hard-working people. These proposals do nothing for them.”

Conservative group leader Coun. Peter Doyle said he would like to have seen more savings in the budget, and added: “The council accommodation review must be completed and the Nicholas Street offices closed as soon as possible.”

Projects to be carried out under the council’s capital programme, including the regeneration of the Weavers’ Triangle, investment in Burnley open market, the Todmorden Curve rail link, highways improvements and work to Burnley town centre, will continue as planned.