£609,000 waste overspend blamed for pools closure

A HUGE overspend in a council's waste department was today blamed for the proposed closure of two swimming pools.

Public baths in St Annes and Kirkham face being axed in the wake of a 609,000 excess in Fylde Council's Streetscene spending.

The Gazette revealed yesterday an officer in the Streetscene team has been suspended over allegations relating to the authority's finances.

Fylde's ruling cabinet has now voted to recommend the swimming baths close in a desperate effort to plug the 1.2m hole in its finances.

While residents in St Annes and Kirkham launched campaigns to save their beloved pools, opposition leaders called for "heads to roll".

Former council leader Paul Hayhurst, said: "It's disgraceful the people of Fylde are having their pools taken away for this.

"This shouldn't have happened.

"The council knew in December about this problem. The overspend almost exactly adds-up to the amount the pools are going to lose."

Only a last ditch U-turn by council leaders can now save the loss-making pools.

They are under threat for the second time in three years. By closing them Fylde can save 322,000 this year and 646,000 in 2009.

The overspend within Streetscene, which handles recycling, refuse collections and street cleaning in Fylde and Wyre, has been blamed on the price of diesel and the department being blocked from tendering for private sector work by the government. The rising cost of spare parts, caused in part by a 1m arson at a council lorry depot in Thornton last January is also a factor.

The blaze destroyed a number of vehicles and cost Fylde 100,000 in insurance excesses and uninsurable items.

Coun Hayhurst has called on Coun Tim Ashton, portfolio holder for Streetscene, and Coun Paul Rigby, responsible for finance and efficiency, to resign over the overspend.

He said: "It's Coun Ashton's responsibility to keep control of the department. It's his fault the baths are closing, he hasn't been doing his job.

"This overspend happened without anybody knowing about it. The finance department is in chaos."

Kirkham Coun Peter Hardy said people across Fylde were being made to "suffer" due to the overspend.

He said: "There has been a lot of mismanagement. The public are not aware of this problem, they believe closing the pools is just to save money.