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‘Council crisis is not the fault of works staff’

HYNDBURN Council leader Peter Britcliffe this week insisted he does not blame the former Works Department for the authority's £1.8M cash crisis.

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HYNDBURN Council leader Peter Britcliffe this week insisted he does not blame the former Works Department for the authority's £1.8M cash crisis.

In an apparent about-turn he has written to all former staff of the now-disbanded department to tell them: "It's not your fault.''

When the crisis was first revealed in early December, Councillor Britcliffe said: "In particular, it appears that last year the former Works Department, which provided services such as refuse collection and building maintenance, was actually operating at a loss of around £537,000.''

But this week he said: "There were lots of different factors which came together at the same time, causing us to nearly fall into a financial black hole.

"I feel it's unfair for one section of the organisation to keep being blamed for something which was actually due to unidentified weaknesses in our financial management system, which led to problems across all service areas.''

In his letter to staff he blames the media for "unfair'' reports.

And he tells them: "I would be very sorry at this stage if the good relations between us were to be lost as I have always had great faith in the work you do.''

Asked about his apparent change of heart, the Tory leader said: "The Works Department was just one of the factors involved.

"At the time a conscious decision had been taken to dismantle it so it could not be expected to turn in a large profit. There is no suggestion that its employees were not working as hard as they should have been.''

In the end a projected £250,000 profit became a £150,000 loss.

Councillor Britcliffe went on: "Now is not the time to cast blame. There will be plenty of time for recriminations and blame once the problem has been solved.

"I want our workforce to know that they are respected and valued and that they are not being made scapegoats for what has happened.''

A number of cost-cutting measures and initiatives, including the planned sale of Great Harwood's Premier Mill, have cut the deficit in the council's budget to around £200,000 and Councillor Britcliffe said there was now light at the end of the tunnel.