Burnley’s iconic Queen Street Mill Museum looks set for the axe after Lancashire County Council unveiled massive proposed budget cuts this week.
Libraries and subsidised bus services across the borough will also be targeted as councillors are forced to slash tens of millions of pound of spending.
It is the nearest thing Lancashire has to a world heritage siteHistorian
Around 40 of the county’s 74 libraries face closure. Highways projects and street lighting will also be targeted along with some subsidised school transport.
Up to 370 full-time jobs could also be lost in the next two years as the council looks to save £65m.
The threat to Queen Street Mill Museum in Harle Syke was criticised by respected local historian and Burnley councillor Roger Frost, who said it was the only one of its type in the world, and called for it to be protected.
Queen Street Mill is the last surviving 19th Century steam powered weaving mill. Visitors can also see its famous steam engine “Peace” drive more than 300 looms in the weaving shed.
Coun. Frost said: “Queen Street Mill is absolutely unique. It is the nearest thing Lancashire has to a world heritage site.
“I am disgusted it is even on a list of possible closures. It is a prize asset and needs to be protected.
“Burnley Borough Council pays a subsidy to the county council towards staff costs, which makes me believe any closure could not be done without complicit agreement of the borough council. If that is the case, Burnley Council is equally guilty.
“I have heard the county council is seeking partners to help run such museums. That is a sop because I don’t think anybody would take on Queen Street Mill. Economically it may not make money or be a statutory responsibility, but culturally its value is incalculable.”
Coun. Frost accepted councils were in an “invidious” position due to central government funding cuts, but said it was short-sighted to close heritage landmarks.
The outspoken Liberal Democrat councillor also slammed the county council over its “pathetic” library service, which is also under threat.
He added: “Lancashire’s whole heritage and library offer is pathetic compared to other counties, and these proposed cuts would dilute it even more.
“Closing community libraries will affect the elderly and children more than anyone. This will lead to more isolation. Small villages and communities will suffer.”
Burnley Council dismissed Coun. Frost’s claims it was complicit in identifying Queen Street Mill for closure.
Coun. Bea Foster, Executive member for Leisure and Culture, said: “It is very sad the Government’s drastic cuts to Lancashire County Council could result in the loss of Queen Street Mill.
“I am aware these are proposals the county council will be consulting on, and we will have to wait for its final decision after the consultation has been completed.
“In response to Coun. Frost’s comments, the council does make a grant to Lancashire County Council which provides a relatively small contribution to the overall running costs of the museum.
“In 2015, as part of our wider efficiency savings programme, we reduced the grant by 14%. This reduction is a very small percentage of the overall running costs of the museum and therefore the suggestion this has led to the county council’s proposal is totally unfounded.”
The proposals follow the announcement in August that the council will need to save an additional £262m by April 2020, to tackle a funding gap caused by reduced government funding and rising demand for services.
The savings come on top of £152m. savings announced in the three year budget agreed in February this year. The additional savings mean that between 2011 and 2020 the council will have to have delivered savings of £685m.
County Coun. Jennifer Mein, leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “These are the most challenging times for local government in living memory as we face the combination of relentless central government cuts and rising demand for our services, particularly those serving vulnerable people.
“The reality of our financial situation is such that we will have to use the bulk of our reserves just to balance the budget over the next two years. And by 2017/18, we will only just have enough money to pay for our statutory services.”
The proposals will go before the Cabinet on Thursday, November 26th.