Former Conservative leader Peter Britcliffe is still ‘pulling the strings’ for the opposition group despite stepping down from the role, a Labour cabinet member has claimed.
Councillor Ken Moss, Labour’s cabinet member for leisure, education and the arts, likened Coun Britcliffe to Thunderbirds puppetmaster Gerry Anderson and accused the Tory group of indulging in ‘populist nonsense’.
The claims were made at the recent full council meeting around the new £2 million town centre square at which the Conservatives failed with an amendment to scrap the scheme.
In response to Coun Moss’s claims, opposition leader Coun Tony Dobson told the Observer that Labour were trying to deflect attention from unpopular issues.
Addressing Coun Dobson, who took over as Tory leader in May 2015 after Coun Britcliffe relinquished the role he had held for nearly 23 years, he claimed: “Your backbencher is speaking for you and you’re soliciting advice from your backbencher.
"It doesn’t really bode well for a strong leadership of the Conservative group.
“You are worth better than this, Tony, to be having your strings pulled by the ghost of Conservative past and everybody knows it.
"We have a very cordial relationship now we have moved on past that and I’m very grateful we have discussions. It’s just a better working relationship.”
The Rishton councillor also mocked the Tories for their performance at last year’s Hyndburn local elections, at which Labour made one net gain from the Conservatives and held on to nine of the other 12 seats up for grabs.
He added: “Labour are at their lowest ebb nationally for a long time and yet we spanked you in the locals. You are not moving forward.”
Speaking after the meeting, Coun Dobson said Labour were on the ‘back foot’ over the town square debate and were ‘trying to change the focus’ by deriding their leadership.
He said: “What I find with the controlling group is that when they get onto dodgy territory that they can’t quantify and give you a reasonable answer for they transfer the focus onto either government cuts or Peter Britcliffe.
“I really made my point that we are spending all this money and nobody has thought to put events on or event to coordinate a set of events on the square.
I think that hurt them, not only on Facebook but in the press.”
Council were ‘late’ in tax rise
Hyndburn’s council taxes should have risen a lot sooner to meet budget shortfalls according to the council’s former leader.
Coun Peter Britcliffe said Labour should have been ‘brave enough’ to increase council taxes after they came into power in 2011 and that it would have meant extra £500,000 in this year’s budget.
Hyndburn has hiked its share of their council tax bill for the first time in eight years after the authority approved a 2.2 per cent rise last month. Residents will have to shell out at least £34 a year more after Lancashire County Council confirmed a 3.99 pc rise in its precept.
Coun Britcliffe told full council: “If you had put the council tax by 1.95pc every year, pennies to people in Band A properties, you would have £500,000 more in the kitty. When there’s a rainy day you have got to look to be brave.”
But Labour councillor Gareth Molineux responded by saying: “If we suggested that last year you would’ve absolutely berated us for it.
“It is just populist politics and not dealing with the problem. It’s saying what people want and you hope that they are not intelligent enough to understand.”
Coun Ken Moss said: “Just look around at the borough and what actual investment was there? I’m struggling beyond the market hall, and I can never take that away from you, that was a really good bit of town centre investment.”
Coun Britcliffe responded by citing the regeneration of Broadway, bringing a cinema back to Accrington, regeneration improvements to West Accrington and securing Green Flag status for Hyndburn’s parks.