COUNCIL bosses have been branded "Grinches" after issuing redundancy notices to half of Hyndburn's under-threat neighbourhood wardens just two days before Christmas.
Opposition Labour group leader Councillor Jean Battle fumed: "The wardens were all called into an office, interviewed and then given their notice just as they were about to celebrate Christmas. It must have completely ruined it for them. It is disgusting."
Her comments likened the council chiefs to Dr Seuss's Grinch character, a grumpy hermit who hatches a plan to ruin Christmas for everyone by "stealing" it.
The axe will fall on five wardens at the end of March, leaving just six wardens covering the four priority areas: Church, Barnfield, Springhill and Central.
Councillor Battle has leapt to the defence of the cash-strapped scheme, as she believes it is making a real difference. She said: "The wardens are doing a fantastic job. They tackle environmental issues and report people who leave rubbish out early.
"When you walk down Blackburn Road and see how much it is improving, all that work will be lost. They are the eyes and ears of the police and tackle anti-social behaviour issues with the junior warden scheme. It seems ridiculous to get rid of a service that is value for money."
Pointing out that the Government had ploughed thousands of pounds into the pioneering scheme since it was launched four years ago, Councillor Battle added: "When the Government gave us this money, it was for four years and it would eventually run out. The council was expected to find other sources of income to keep it going. Come 2006, the scheme will cost £300,000 to run. It seems like the Tories have just washed their hands of it and started looking for funding too late."
But Hyndburn Council leader Peter Britcliffe said his pleas for more cash from the Community Safety Partnership - made up of the police, fire service and Lancashire County Council - had fallen on deaf ears.
He added: "There is never a good time to give people their notice, but we had to do it according to the rules. I despair because so many people are making noises about the scheme but none of them can come up with any money.
"It is an impossible situation because the full cost would be over £300,000 and it would be unrealistic to put up council tax by 10 per cent for the sake of four wards. People in other wards would feel quite angry."
He added: "We will continue our search, but I am not hopeful. All the people who are making the noise such as Jean Battle and Greg Pope don't seem to be able to offer sources of income.
"They know in their hearts that the council can't meet the funding and they have shed a lot of crocodile tears over this."