Labour has taken control of Allerdale council with a warning that tough times are ahead as it attempts to cut £1 million from the budget.

New council leader Alan Smith said this week that frontline services would be protected, but claimed that the previous leadership’s lack of decision-making would make the task more difficult.

The new ruling group plans to introduce an emergency budget and councillors are already identifying £200,000-worth of potential savings.

But Coun Smith pledged rapid progress on:

  • contract negotiations with Tesco for Workington’s Cloffocks
  • the revamp of the former Broughton Moor arms depot
  • car parking issues in Cockermouth
  • street cleanliness in Maryport
  • the future of Workington Leisure Centre and the town’s Carnegie Theatre.

He said: “Things will come to a head rapidly rather than meandering on like they have for the last four years.

“We have been forced into revising the budget, and an emergency budget will follow to reflect the lack of decision-making by the previous authority and the slash-and-burn threat by the national Con-Dem coalition.”

Labour won 28 seats out of 56 at the local government elections on May 5, technically one short of an overall majority but independent members Margaret Snaith, Bill Jefferson and Joe Mumberson voted for Mr Smith as leader at a council meeting on Wednesday.

Workington’s Denis Robertson was the only councillor to abstain.

Coun Smith, of Cockermouth, and his deputy Barbara Cannon, who represents Workington’s Moss Bay, said the new administration would need up to six months to find out the full extent of the council’s financial worries.

High on their priority list will be a lack of affordable housing across the district and the possibility of a nuclear waste dump and new nuclear reactor.

Coun Smith said: “One word we aren’t going to use is vision. We have seen more visions than saints over the last few years.”

Coun Cannon, who will be responsible for budget matters, said: “Allerdale has to find savings of £1m this financial year. The previous administration set a budget but didn’t set out how those savings were to be achieved. They have left it to us. I think that was an act of cowardice.

“No council can say there are no-go areas as far as cuts are concerned.

“The budget sets aside £1m for redundancies but I think that’s an arbitrary figure. We don’t yet know what the state of play is, given that we’ve been in opposition for four years.

“We need to draw up our priorities and use those as a firm basis for a future budget.”

One cost-saving option will be to develop more shared service arrangements with other local authorities.

Allerdale already has a joint IT service with Carlisle and a joint revenues and benefits service with Carlisle and Copeland.

Coun Smith criticised a decision by the previous regime to ask staff to express an interest in voluntary redundancy, despite no figures being set out for what savings might be required.

Allerdale will be led by Coun Smith and a seven-member executive, which also includes former council leader Mark Fryer, Carni McCarron Holmes, Michael Heaslip, Phil Tibble and Carl Holding.

If the Tesco deal goes through and Allerdale council receives £18m from the sale of the Cloffocks to the supermarket, it is unlikely the money will go towards a shared stadium for Workington Reds and Workington Town as first proposed.

Coun Cannon added: “We need to make sure that Workington Leisure Centre is fit for purpose, and rebuilt if necessary.”