Mick Cartledge: the man behind Burnley’s boom on the Empire Theatre

Mick Cartledge, Chief Executive of Burnley Borough Council. (s)
Mick Cartledge, Chief Executive of Burnley Borough Council. (s)
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With the news that The Burnley Empire was the victim of arson, and the more positive news that the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust has purchased the theatre for £1, it is time speak to the voice of Burnley, Chief Executive Mick Cartledge.

What does one of Burnley’s major decision makers think of the theatre? And what is it like to run a town?

Caroline OHara. Photo credit: James Bellorini. (s)

Caroline OHara. Photo credit: James Bellorini. (s)

Congratulations on running the Burnley 10k over the summer.
Thank you. I beat last years’ time by two seconds.

Congratulations. Is that what you were going for?
Yes.

Tell me about you. What’s best thing about your job?
The best thing about my job is that we are very ambitious as a place. I have been here 16 years and I have seen massive transformations in the town and we still have great ambitions for the future.
Years ago it was a very different place, in terms of economy, job growth, housing development, the place, the parks, the cleanliness, the college and the university.
All these things have really improved and we are still expanding, including the work we are doing with UCLan, Curzon Street Leisure-led Development, the town centre development and loads of new housing developments.
The other great thing is working with a brilliant set of people; our staff, our councillors and our partners. Everyone is very connected and very committed to Burnley.
Also the bond holders are a very important part of it. Their primary aim is to promote Burnley.

What is the hardest thing about your job?
My biggest challenge is taking the town forward. Also, balancing the budget year on year. Since 2013 we have had to save £10 million, and over the next three years we have to save £3.2 million.

Do you have a town that you look up to?
No. I pick the best bits from other towns. You need a mix of old and new.

How do you feel about Burnley people?
When I first came for my job interview, I had a bit of time to kill so I nipped into M & S, and even though I’m from the north, I was really struck by the really friendly welcome in Burnley. And I’ve seen that throughout. They are also very pragmatic; they say it as it is. I find that through the bond-holders as well.
There is a real passion for the town. Burnley people are also quite modest, so the passion doesn’t always come out until someone says something negative about the town and then they say “What do you mean?!”
When we had the Burnley 10k people came from all over.
The Head of Marketing from Asda told me this was one of his favourite runs because of the parkland setting and also the support from the Burnley residents. That says a lot to me about Burnley people. It doesn’t surprise me at all.

Which football team do you support?
Burnley.

Really?
Yes. It gets into your blood.

How closely linked are you to the Empire Theatre?
I always knew it was there, but the first time I was involved was when Burnley Empire Theatre Trust approached the council with the feasibility study.
We couldn’t get involved in taking on the building because of the budget cuts, but if there is a way the council can get involved without a financial commitment we will. We put a small amount of money into the feasibility study.
The councillors were very clear; they would love to see it redeveloped, but because of our financial position, we can’t commit revenue and capital. We need to find out what the possibilities are.
Ideally we would like the building to be redeveloped.
In terms of the options, one is demolition, but that would cost £2 million. I’ve been very clear; the council doesn’t have an agenda to knock the building down.
If the council had £2 million, I have a lot more ambitious and effective uses for it than to knock down a theatre.

What would you like to happen?
Ideally we would like the building to be redeveloped. We would want a rich benefactor to come along.
We would struggle to put any financial resource in, but if someone wanted to bring forth the redevelopment we would work with them in other ways to support them.
We would help with grant applications, and there are a number of other funding bodies. The help would be there.