I look back on my time in office with pride | Mark Townsend

As I write this article I am in my final week as council leader before taking on the role of borough Mayor in the coming year.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th May 2021, 2:45 pm
Mark Townsend, who has been appointed Burnley's Mayor this week

While negotiations continue between the respective parties as to who will become the next council leader following last week’s elections I would like to wish whoever that is best wishes in the role.

From Labour's perspective, the borough elections were disappointing losing four seats on the council.

I was particularly saddened that we lost hard working councillors Lian Pate and Tony Martin who have worked so hard and achieved so much in moving the borough forward over the last few years.

They can look back with pride at the significant contributions they have made.

Lian bounced back immediately gaining a seat for Labour on Lancashire County Council the day after the borough count which is great news not only for the residents of South West Burnley but the borough as a whole.

Labour locally were hit by the national swing in the elections but we remain the largest party on Burnley Council by some margin, we won more seats than any other party in the election and secured the most votes in total across the borough.

As the largest party we understand the expectations of residents for us to continue to provide clear and decisive leadership that delivers efficient council services and has ambitious plans for the borough.

Congratulations to Coun. Afrasiab Anwar who has been elected as the new leader of the Labour Group on Burnley Council.

Time will tell over the coming days if he follows me as leader of the council but if he does I know he will do an excellent job.

As council leader you never get the chance to look back, if you stop looking forward opportunities will be missed and the competition will steal a march on you.

Many of the things you do and decide may not be moved forward or completed until well after you leave office and I’m really looking forward to seeing the realisation of the new cinema-led leisure development in Burnley town centre, the expansion of the University campus and the delivery of the Padiham flood defences all of which have been in the planning for a number of years.

The overriding issue throughout my time in office has been balancing the books in the face of massive government budget cuts to councils to run local services.

In 2014 when I took on the role the council employed over 600 direct staff and it is now around 200.

Through a mix of staff reductions and finding different models to deliver services this has had to be done without impacting services to residents who quite rightly expect value for the Council Tax they pay.

Over the last months in office the pandemic has been the overriding factor for the council as the priority has been to protect lives and livelihoods. It has been an unprecedented time but as I leave office hopefully the worst is now behind us and we can look forward with optimism to better days.

Despite the cuts and the pandemic much has been achieved to move the borough forward.

The renewal of Burnley and Padiham town centres through significant investment in public realm and bringing Primark to the town, a growing University campus established, job creation at Innovation Drive and Vision Park, a new station and the re-opening of the Todmorden curve allowing direct rail travel to Manchester are examples of the progress that has been made over recent years.

In addition there has been a big change in the perception of the borough from outside.

We are now a place with a reputation that can be trusted to get things done and delivers on its promises attracting significant investment in new homes and jobs that will bring a more prosperous future.

Looking forward, I will be watching with interest how the Government's promised ‘levelling up’ agenda progresses in Burnley.

Hopefully it doesn’t go the same way as those other meaningless slogans we have had over the years such as the long term economic plan, the big society and the Northern Powerhouse.

All came and went with the divisions between the haves and the have nots in our country being wider than ever in terms of opportunity, living standards and life expectancy.

Burnley certainly needs and deserves more than the £20m allocated for a few town centre projects if levelling up is to mean anything.

More realistically £20m per year is what is needed and it should be for local representatives to decide how it is spent not Whitehall mandarins.

The focus should be on improving neighbourhoods, strengthening communities, regenerating brownfield sites in all areas of the Borough and bringing empty homes back into use alongside a major programme of investment in jobs and skills.