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Saturday, 01 November 2014

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Grant blow means Copeland council cuts virtually certain

Devastating cuts to services are almost certain to become a grim reality in the wake of the Copeland council’s Government grant cut.

Elaine Woodburn photo
Elaine Woodburn

Authority leader Elaine Woodburn admits there may be no choice but to implement all the service cuts they had feared on the back of a worse-than-anticipated settlement.

That could mean the closure of Whitehaven’s Civic Hall and tourist information centre, as well as Cleator Moor Bowls Club and Sports Centre.

Copeland proposed cuts in October, aimed at saving £2.6 million.

They were based on grant funding from the Government being cut by about two per cent.

But this week’s announcement that the total will, in fact, fall by a 4.6 per cent means that any hope that some of the under-threat services and facilities could be saved appears to be gone.

Miss Woodburn said: “There may have been some flexibility but that has gone right out of the window now.

“I don’t want to prejudge anything – as the final decisions [following the cuts consultation] will be taken in February – but I was hoping that some of the things that we proposed to cut could have been saved. But it now looks as though we will have no choice but to implement it all.

“This is devastating news, and much worse than we were expecting. What we have proposed now looks like being a reality.”

The proposals include Copeland withdrawing all funding to Whitehaven Civic Hall and Cleator Moor Bowls and Sports Centre, both managed by Hexham-based charity North Country Leisure (NCL).

Both facilities will close next year if no partner organisation is found to run them without any council subsidy. The council also proposes to reduce funding to two other NCL-managed facilities, Whitehaven Sports Centre and Copeland Swimming Pool, although these are expected to remain open albeit with possible reduced opening hours and increased charges.

Other proposals include cancelling Christmas lights in Whitehaven, Cleator Moor and Cleator from 2015, stopping doorstep recycling collections of plastic and cardboard, and charging residents to have garden waste (brown) bins collected.

In addition, it is proposed to stop the concessionary travel scheme, reduce the frequency of public grass cutting and remove street furniture and floral displays. An increase to the fees it charges to use council-owned car parks, cemeteries and crematorium is also planned.

Apart from the Christmas lights, all changes are set for April next year and will result in the loss of between 30 and 40 jobs.

The council had to carry out the consultation before the final Government grant was revealed as it would not have had enough time to do so after this week’s announcement.

“These cuts have been imposed upon us by central government and they will severely affect the quality of life for people in Copeland. People will face real difficulties going into 2013,” added Miss Woodburn.

“We have done everything we can to minimise the impact on the public and have already saved £3m while protecting frontline services for as long as we’ve been able,

“We have been assessed by auditors that we have good financial governance – we don’t waste money – but we have no choice any more but to make these drastic changes.”

The Beacon museum in Whitehaven had also been earmarked for closure after Copeland said it could no longer afford to subsidise it. It was given a lifeline last week, however, when Sellafield Ltd expressed an interest in running it as a visitor attraction, in conjunction with the council.

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