County Hall bosses are to spell out the stark reality of new budget cuts facing Lancashire tomorrow with the chilling warning: “Expect some shocks.”
Tasked with finding an extra £15m of savings on top of the £300m economies already demanded by Whitehall, troubled county council chiefs will publish a lengthy hitlist of services at risk.
In an unprecedented move Labour leaders have decided to put all the options on the table before councillors are asked to decide which ones should face the chop.
And on top of that the authority’s deputy leader, Coun David Borrow, told the Evening Post: “I’ve asked officers to go away and think up some more - because it still isn’t enough.”
The catalogue of potential cuts will be revealed by LCC tomorrow in an attempt to lay bare the size of the task facing the council.
Only services where the authority has a statutory requirement, such as waste disposal and concessionary travel, will be exempt - although some, like library provision, could still be trimmed.
Everything else is up for discussion and will be put out for consultation before proposals are put to the cabinet in January for inclusion in the budget in February.
Coun Borrow, who is also deputy leader of Lancashire County Council, warned: “There is no doubt about it, these cuts will bite into people’s lives.
“Most of our money is spent on looking after the frail elderly and looking after vulnerable children. If we are expecting to save somewhere in the region of 40 per cent of our budget over the next few years, whilst we have tried to avoid hurting those most vulnerable, there are limitations on what we can do.
“The list we will be publishing tomorrow is the worst case scenario. But I have seen the list and there is stuff on there that I didn’t come into politics to be involved in doing. We are in for a few shocks.
“Yet some of those may well happen and county councillors of all parties are going to have to get their heads round where the council is financially and what the options are.
“We don’t want to do any of those things.
“But, if you are elected as a county councillor, you are elected to make decisions and take responsibility.
“This list is not one which has been drawn up by the Labour group at County Hall, it is one which has been put together by officers.
“But I have asked the officers to find some more because it isn’t enough.
“What they have found so far doesn’t bridge the gap and they will need to be looking at even more options which will be unpalatable.”
Government austerity measures have meant LCC finding more than £300m between 2014 and 2018. That figure, on top of savings already made since 2010, will mean the authority has taken more than half a billion pounds out of its revenue costs.
In February the council agreed a budget which should save £142m over four years, still leaving a further £161m of savings still to be identified.
Since that budget the figure has risen by another £15m to £176m due to variables like inflation, increased costs and decreased revenue. Moves to downsize the county council by cutting around 2,500 posts are well underway.
And centralising the reduced workforce will allow LCC to sell off other office buildings in Preston.
But with a general election looming and doubts about government funding in the future, a deep sense of uncertainty now surrounds County Hall.
With Labour only remaining in power with the assistance of the Liberal Democrats, the party is unable to push through a unilateral budget.
“We could do this behind closed doors if we had a majority,” confessed Coun Borrow. “But we are not in that position. So we have to consult everyone and the budget is not just the responsibility of the Labour group - it is everyone’s responsibility.
“We have to reach an agreement which balances the books and delivers the services. We all need to participate in that.
“As a Labour group we will come to what we think should be done, but we know very well that if others oppose it we will have problems.
“We deliver about 300 services and when we do the budget in February some of those are going to be reduced and some of them will disappear.”