A political row has broken out after Pendle Council members voted narrowly to change the opening hours of Nelson's ACE Centre and introduce what Labour has dubbed a 'death tax' as part of its new budget.
As reported by the Leader Times last week, Pendle Council agreed a Council Tax increase of 2.99% at last week’s annual budget-setting meeting, as well as a raft of other money-saving measures.
Chief among these was the decision to only open arts and cultural venue the ACE Centre at times when there are events or meetings, saving £40,000 in the process, and a plan to increase cemetery fees by 12%.
Pendle's Labour group slammed the ACE Centre decision as "callous" but the council's Tory leader Paul White defended the move and said they had avoided a recommendation to close the centre, which is losing £200,000 a year. The Bistro at the centre will remain open as normal.
Coun. White said: "Considering the losses the ACE Centre is currently experiencing, it makes perfect sense to have it operating in the same manner of Colne Municipal Hall.
"One of the recommendations was actually to close the centre but we did not want to do this. There is a masterplan currently being worked on for Nelson town centre so it would have been absolute madness to close the ACE Centre which could become integral to the town."
But Labour Bradley ward councillor Nadeem Younis said the public would not forgive the Tories.
Coun. Younis said: “The callous decision to change the structure opening of the ACE Centre amounts to a decision to close this centre which is well-used by many residents across Pendle. I believe the people of Pendle and in particular Nelson will never forgive the Tories who voted this through."
Labour also criticised decisions made to increase cemetery fees, the introduction of a charge of £24.90 for replacement wheelie bins and the stopping of garden waste collections between December and February.
Speaking about the cemetery fee increase, Labour leader Coun. Mohammed Iqbal said: "The Conservative decision to significantly hike the cost of burying loved ones is clearly a 'death tax'.
"We put forward an amendment asking for no increase in cemetery charges but this was opposed by the Tories. They should be ashamed of this steep increase at a time when burying loved family members already costs thousands of pounds."
His Labour colleague Wayne Blackburn described the wheelie bin charge as penalising local residents at a time when their incomes are being cut, describing the Tory leadership as "out of touch."
However, Coun. White defended the decision and said they were made purely to cover costs.
He said: "Pendle Council is operating on a very decreased budget. All we are trying to do with the cemetery increases is to cover our costs, not to make money. Regards wheelie bin replacement charges we are following a number of other Lancashire authorities that do this. The charge is in line with the county average.
"The winter garden waste collection has been scrapped because we found very low levels of people using the service in the winter months."