Extra £7m of budget cuts could leave Lancashire in the dark

Bosses at cash-strapped County Hall are planning a further £7m of economies.

Thursday, 30th November 2017, 6:20 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th December 2017, 12:48 pm
Street lighting is an area where economies are planned

The Conservative administration, which took control in May, is aiming to lop spending on a host of additional services including street lighting maintenance, sheltered care, museum collections and traveller information centres across the county.

Jobs will inevitably be affected, although numbers have not so far been assessed.

With the council facing a £161m funding gap by 2021, leader Geoff Driver (left) will hand his party’s medium term financial strategy to Cabinet next Thursday.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It includes a list of 12 areas where savings can be found, amounting to almost £7m over the next three years.

“We have made no secret of the fact that the county council faces an extremely serious financial challenge,” he said as the suggested cutbacks were revealed yesterday.

“We know we will face a funding gap of £161m in 2021/22 and that we will have spent the council’s available reserves within the next two years.

“It is imperative that we put plans in place to make the necessary savings to secure a sustainable future for the county council and the vital services that our most vulnerable residents rely on.

“That will inevitably mean making very difficult decisions and it is clear that these proposals will require very serious thought and consideration of their implications when the cabinet meets next week.”

While some of the savings will be purely accounting measures - moving items like drainage maintenance and traffic signal maintenance into the authority’s capital programme - there are still a number of economies which will have a direct effect on people and jobs across Lancashire.

Plans to save a staggering £2.1m by cutting back maintenance of street lighting is the biggest economy of all – and one which is bound to cause alarm.

The authority is looking at ending funding for up to eight schemes of extra sheltered care from the 13 it runs across the county at present.

No details of which schemes will go have yet been released. But those which could be at risk include one in Preston, two in Leyland, two in Lancaster and one each in Longridge and Clitheroe.

Years of withering “austerity” cuts by central government have left Lancashire facing a funding shortfall of £65m from next April, followed by £26m in 2019/20, £53m in 2020/21 and a further £17.8m in 2021/22, totalling £162.26m over the four-year period.

Only last month the council stepped back from the brink of scrapping paying the Foundation Living Wage to almost 6,000 of its lowest-earning workers.

Coun Driver said: “Cabinet concluded it would not be right to make changes which would affect our lowest-paid members of staff. But we have agreed to consult on general terms and conditions, such as unpaid leave and sick pay. Staffing accounts for more than 70 per cent of our budget, so we have to consider these issues.”

Looking back on the first 100 days of the Tory administration, the leader added: “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.

“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.”

Labour has branded the latest round of cuts as “callous” and accused the ruling Tory group of “attacking the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Leader Coun Azhar Ali demanded the Conservative administration go cap in hand to Westminster for help as yet more economies put the county council in danger of imploding.

“They haven’t got the humility to go to the government and put the case for Lancashire and say we need more money,” he stormed. “It’s like they don’t accept that the government has cut us down to the bone.

“Before they got power they said we didn’t need to make cuts and that we had got it wrong. Now they say that by 2020 there will be no reserves left.

“By making these cuts, bit by bit they are attacking the most vulnerable in our communities.

“Having a go at street lighting is going to mean more lights will be out for longer, leaving vulnerable people like the elderly feeling more insecure.

“This just shows how callous this Conservative administration is.

“They have already announced £45m of cuts. Now they are proposing another £7m.

“And they will have to find another £62m by the budget in February.

“If this is the start of things to come this is only a trickle. I dread to think what will be in the budget.”