Why Lancashire residents are set to count the cost of Government cuts
A financial squeeze is set to be passed on to Lancashire residents from April as cash-strapped authorities firm up their budget plans.
With no end in sight for the pressures placed on town halls through dwindling cash settlements from central government, hikes to all elements of council bills are expected.
A vast majority of local authorities across the country – reports suggesting as many as 95 per cent – are therefore inflicting inflation-busting tax rises.
The level of these rises is also likely to increase following the government’s lifting by one per cent the cap before triggering a local referendum.
It means town halls across the county are factoring in a 2.99 per cent rise.
Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, told the House of Commons last year that raising the cap would give local authorities “the independence they need to help relieve pressure on local services” while “recognising the need to keep spending under control”.
But the move has been described as “piecemeal” amid criticism councils are approaching financial breaking point.
Meanwhile, social care providers such as Lancashire County Council and Blackpool Council are again permitted to include a three per cent rise ring-fenced for those services, meaning millions of Lancashire residents will see a 5.99 per cent increase to the most substantial part of their tax bill.
Emergency services precepts are also set to rise with Lancashire Police Commissioner Clive Grunshaw having already confirmed the force payment will increase by more than seven per cent.
His fire service counterparts are yet to decide but rates rises are on the table.
If the city council ratifies its budget proposals, Preston residents living in band D properties could next year pay an extra £73 to LCC, £8.86 to PCC, £12 for the police precept and up to £2 for the fire precept, totalling almost £100 extra compared with the previous year.
And those living the jurisdiction of the various parish councils will also be paying another annual fee.
Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, the body which speaks for local councils, has said that some authorities are “perilously close” to financial collapse.
He added: “Extra council tax raising powers will helpfully give some councils the option to raise extra income but will not bring in enough to completely ease the financial pressure.
“Many will have to make tough decisions about which services have to be scaled back or stopped altogether to plug funding gaps.
“This means many councils face having to ask residents to pay more council tax while offering fewer services as a result.”
Lancashire County Council
County councillors gave the go-ahead for a 5.99 per cent increase last week following a four hour, often acrimonious, meeting. It includes the three per cent rise ring-fenced for adult social care, plus the maximum 2.99 hike permitted without triggering a referendum.
Conservative leader Coun Geoff Driver said: “The county council is no different from any family in Lancashire.
“The people of Lancashire know if you don’t get the finances right you can forget everything else.
“With a £144m current predicted deficit it is still a work in progress and there is still much to do.”
Labour leader of the opposition Coun Azhar Ali said the council tax rise would harm the most vulnerable county residents and said: “The people of Lancashire are paying more for less”.
It means a basic Band D payer will be charged £1,294 a year, an increase of £73.
Preston City Council
City councillors are set to give budget proposals for 2018/19 next week. A 2.99 per cent increase has been put forward as part of the Achieving Preston’s Priorities financial plan.
If approved, it means a Band D payer will be charged £305.37, an increase of £8.86.
A 2.99 per cent hike is proposed in Chorley, only the second time in nine years there will have been an increase. Coun Peter Wilson, deputy leader of Chorley Council, said: “We’ve reached a point now where all local authorities, not just ourselves, are faced with having to increase council tax or cut services because the Government is taking more and more money away and leaving us to take the blame for putting taxation up.”
The proposal will be voted on by the council on February 27. The tax hike equates to a £5.41 increase for a band D property payer.
South Ribble Borough Council
A 2.99 increase has been proposed and is expected to be confirmed at a meeting of full council on February 28. If approved, the tax rise will be only the second time in nine years. It means an extra £6.23 per year for a band D property owner, up to £214.61.
Ribble Valley Borough Council
A £5 increase for band D properties - up to £150 per year - is proposed following a meeting of the authority’s policy and finance committee. Ribble Valley is one of 88 shire districts given special dispensation to impose rises of no more than £5 because of their low council tax base compared with other larger areas.
Council leader Coun Ken Hind said: “This is only the second time in nine years we have felt that we have to raise the council tax. We have absorbed additional costs caused by a decision made in 2015 by Lancashire County Council then Labour administration to end recycling payments, increases in staff wages and reduction in government funding.”
West Lancs Borough Council
Proposals not available at time of going to print. Budget setting meeting scheduled for February 28.
Similarly to their counterparts at Lancashire County Council, leaders in Blackpool are proposing a 5.99 per cent increase, including the three per cent for adult social care.
This means the average band D charge for council services will go up to £1,511, compared to £1,425 for the current year.
Coun Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool’s Labour-run council, said the Government had “refused to fund the national crisis in Adult Social Services”, forcing councils to increase the financial burden on council tax payers.
He said: “Ninety five per cent of councils are raising council tax this year.
“The vast majority of unitary councils like Blackpool are raising it by the amount assumed by the Government, in their spending power assessments , 2.99 per cent this year rather than 1.99 per cent in previous years.”
Residents in Wyre face a 2.99 per cent increase.
Those paying the band D tariff, whose bills were £188.31 in 2017/18, will next year pay £193.94 – an increase of £5.63.
The proposals will go before a full council meeting on Thursday, March 8, for final approval.
Fylde Council is proposing a 2.99 per cent increase in its portion of council tax for the coming financial year, with bills going up by £5.85 to £201.61.
Fylde is one of the shire district authorities that is allowed a 2.99 per cent or £5 hike, whichever is highest. £5 would have worked out at an 2.5 per cent increase, so the 2.99 rate is set to be applied.
Emergency services precepts
When April comes and the first bill of the year arrives, Lancashire residents are also set to see hikes to the precepts funding police and fire services.
The police precept will increase by £12 an increase of 7.25 per cent. Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw said: “As this is the only tool available to me to ensure there aren’t further cuts to our policing budget, this has to be the course we take.”
The Lancashire Combined Fire Authority on Monday voted to increase its precept by 2.99 per cent, meaning band D property owners will be paying £67.46 a year, an increase of 4p a week compared to the previous year, the service said.