Sharing more services may be answer to spending cuts

County Coun Bill Winlow
County Coun Bill Winlow
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Sharing more County Hall services with district councils could be the answer to £300m spending cuts, according to Lancashire’s Lib Dem leader.

Proposals set to be discussed by Lancashire County Council’s cabinet next Friday would see voluntary redundancy (VR) offered to 13,000 staff, in a bid to shed 2,500 jobs by April 2016.

The Labour council leader Jennifer Mein said she wanted to be “open, honest and proactive” by explaining the decision to employees from the outset.

Conservative group leader Geoff Driver argued it was “cruel” to start the process by setting a target number and offering VR to all staff, saying the Labour-led authority should have set its priorities before telling the workforce.

However, Liberal Democrat group leader Bill Winlow accepted it was a “difficult” decision, and said council chiefs must now look at “completely different ways” to run County Hall.

He said: “I don’t think any of us are happy at the idea of people having to go. The hope is the majority who do go, will go through voluntary redundancy.

“The issue is clearly we have to lose £300m over the next four years from the budget. That is not helped by the fact the last leader, Geoff Driver, cut £7.3m out of our budget last year by cutting our council tax share. It was wrong, it was irresponsible and it certainly made a difficult situation far worse.

“We’re going to have to restructure the whole council and try and make it work in completely different ways.”

Coun Winlow said money could be saved by focusing on avoiding duplication of services between councils.

He said: “I hope we can share some of our services with our district councils because they have got problems too and we could help each other.

“That would have to be a two-way process with both councils putting something on the table to make it work.

“One area you could start with is how we organise planning at the moment.

“It’s a two stage process - the main authority is the district, but the county council is consulted on highways and drainage. We really need to be involved together in the first instance.

“At the moment we have to go through all sorts of back and forth. It might be sensible if we get the planning system for each authority tied down.”

Lancashire County Council already shares IT, benefits and revenue services with West Lancashire Council, through its One Connect Limited partnership.

It carries out payroll services for South Ribble Council and offers VAT advice to all 12 district councils. It also shares treasury management systems with the police and fire authorities.

Coun Winlow said he would like to see county and district councillors work together to identify joint objectives.

He added: “I would really like to see things like area committees, where the group of county councillors for a particular district would work more closely with the district authorities.

“There is an awful lot of work to do over the next year or two. We have got to make sure we get it right so we are still able to deliver services for the people of Lancashire.”