More cash for county council reserves now - but £144m "funding gap" still predicted by 2021

Council leader County Coun Geoff Driver
Council leader County Coun Geoff Driver

The reserves of cash strapped Lancashire County Council are getting a nearly £21m boost - thanks to underspending by the council in 2017/18.

The council’s cabinet voted yesterday to transfer £20.896m to its transitional reserve.

County Coun Azhar Ali

County Coun Azhar Ali

But before this was agreed a war of words broke out between Tory council leader County Coun Geoff Driver and the leader of the Labour opposition group County Coun Azhar Ali over the ongoing financial plight of the council.

Earlier this week Coun Ali had warned that the council - which is predicting a £144m funding gap by 2021 - is “heading towards a complete meltdown in service provision” and claimed it was on the same track as Northamptonshire County Council which is now being run by Government appointed commissioners after going broke.

Yesterday Coun Ali told cabinet the council used “inappropriate” terminology claiming “savings” when “in actual fact they are cuts.”

Referring to the predicted £144m shortfall in 2020/21 he said: “That’s a serious financial situation for this council to be in and you have to seriously address this.”
In turn Coun Driver accused Coun Ali of “scare-mongering”telling him: “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Coun Driver stressed the Conservative group had managed to deliver a balanced budget in the current 2018/19 financial year. He stressed this was despite warnings by Labour when it was previously in control that there would be no money left.

Noting that more money had been put into the library service and children’s services under Conservative control he said “And we still spent £21m less (in 2017/18)...Actually it’s a good news story.”

Acknowledging the predicted deficit of £144m he said this was progress because the Tory group, which took control in 2017, had “inherited” a predicted deficit of £200m from Labour and still had much work to do.

Afterthe meeting Angie Ridgwell, the council's Interim Chief Executive and Director of Resources, said: “All public services are facing continuing pressures on their services because we have reducing funds and increasing demand.”

Asked about future funding of local government services she noted: " The Government is looking at a number of things at the moment. They are looking at the funding for the NHS and adult social care and we're expecting a Government paper on that in the summer. They are also doing the fair funding review which looks at how they fund local government and a lot of these things will have been thrown into stark reality for the Government with the Northamptonshire position and the recent National Audit Office report discussed at the Public Accounts Committee."