Geoff Driver: My vision to tackle funding black hole
Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver CBE has been underfire over plans to shake-up County Hall. Here he explains the steps he is taking to change the authority.
Since taking control of Lancashire County Council in May this year, we Conservatives have wasted no time in moving our election promises from being ink on paper to buses on roads, books in libraries, and tarmac in potholes.
As we have passed our first 100 days in office, I wanted to take the time to explain what I have been working on as the leader of the county council and my vision for the future.
While we have made great strides in delivering on our promises, we have also had to take difficult decisions that the previous Labour administration had ducked.
For example, they had agreed the need to restructure the senior management and reduce the budget accordingly but then did nothing to implement the changes and simply kept overspending month in and month out.
We have grasped the nettle and taken this head on and while I don’t think it is appropriate to discuss the confidential personal details of a management restructure in the press, you may have seen over the past few weeks the deliberately misleading political messages the opposition are trying to put out.
I want to set the record straight; there is no chaos at County Hall, there is simply the difficult work of clearing up the mess the last Labour administration left behind. Yes, it is hard work to repair the damage – but we will repair it.
We made a promise to the people of Lancashire that under a Conservative administration there would be much more prudent management of the council’s finances and resources, allowing for a greater investment in getting the basics rights.
We passionately believe that Lancashire County Council exists for one purpose and one purpose only; it is there to serve the people of Lancashire by working as efficiently and effectively as possible to prioritise the services you want.
That is the focus of all of our efforts and that is our vision for the future. We are not a business but we must be business like.
We know that the state of the roads and the flooding caused by blocked drains is a concern for residents and that’s why we have announced an extra £5.6m a year for fixing potholes, resurfacing residential roads, preserving the public realm and clearing drains more regularly.
There will be an injection of some commonsense as well as cash, for example, by creating the right procedures so contractors can be flexible and fix other potholes they find when out on jobs – so we stop the ridiculous situation of one pot hole being filled and another being left!
We also know that people across Lancashire, especially those in rural communities, were really hit hard by Labour’s cut to bus services and that’s why only last month we approved an additional £1m (50 per cent budget increase) for our public transport network; restoring lost bus links across the county.
I saw first-hand how many communities were devastated by the closing of their libraries and that’s why we have already re-opened many that had been closed and have plans to open the rest.
I have spoken to so many residents who are delighted, as they thought they were gone for good.
All of that said, we have to face the fact that the County Council finds itself in a very difficult financial situation.
It is the duty of any council to fight for its residents and try and ensure the most advantageous financial settlement from government and I shall certainly continue to do that.
But our main responsibility is to deal with the world as it is and not as we would like it to be. That means that we have to make difficult decisions about how we use our resources.
The last administration has left behind a huge funding gap which currently stands at £90m next year and which rises to £167m in 2021/22.
As such, we are now on a journey of looking at how we make the council more efficient and financially sustainable in the long term, taking the big strategic decisions that Labour ducked.
We have just agreed £45m of savings, found by a painstaking, forensic look at every line in the county council’s service
The savings will come from efficiencies, continuing underspends, income generation and some service changes which will not affect front line service delivery.
That is what being business like is all about. We are absolutely committed to protecting the services that the most vulnerable in our society rely on, including social care for those with disabilities, for the oldest and youngest people in our communities and these savings do not impact on those services.
We are already starting to do things differently. In adult social care, for example, we are making significant changes in order to deliver better services for less money by helping people be independent in their own homes for as long as possible.
So I am proud to say that regardless of the way people voted, the residents of Lancashire, from Lancaster to Chorley, and Blackpool to Burnley, are now seeing the tangible benefits of a Conservative-run council.
We are already showing them that we keep our promises, that we can deliver better services, and we will now go on to show them that we can run a more sustainable and prudent council that will continue to serve the people of Lancashire for generations to come.