Lancashire ‘hammered’ by government cuts

CUTS: Coun Peter Rankin, Coun David Borrow and Coun Alistair Bradley

CUTS: Coun Peter Rankin, Coun David Borrow and Coun Alistair Bradley

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Funding cuts for Preston have been labelled “atrocious” as the city has been given one of the worst settlements from central government.

Authorities across the country are set to see their overall spending power reduced by an average of 1.8 per cent from next year, but northern councils including Preston and Lancaster will see theirs cut by 6.4 per cent.

As accountants work to establish what the settlement means in real terms, Preston’s leader said the city had been “hammered again”.

Coun Peter Rankin said the cuts were not unexpected and were accounted for in the council’s three-year forecast, and said: “We are working to make our savings and of course we have handed the bus station over to Lancashire County Council, we have sold the Guild Hall, we have managed to save enormous sums and we are having a management restructure which will be announced in the new year.

“We are doing all we can to make the savings but we have a fiscal cliff coming up in 2018/19. If we are hit by worse cuts next year, and all you have to do is look at George Osborne’s autumn statement to see local authorities are going to be absolutely hammered if the Conservatives come back next year, I really don’t know where local government or public service is going to go because we face a very bleak future.

“Council tax pays for part of what the public receives but we have depended a lot on central government grants.”

The figures show that Lancashire County Council is set to see its spending power cut by 0.7 per cent, Preston Council by 6.4 per cent, South Ribble Council by 2.4 per cent, Chorley by 0.8 per cent and Ribble Valley by 1 per cent.

Spending power in Lancaster is to be cut by 6.4 per cent, Wyre by 3 per cent, Fylde by 1.5 per cent and West Lancs by 5 per cent.

The spending power figure combines regular central government funding with one-off grants and things like council tax, a proportion of business rates and other fees and charges. However, authorities have looked at the figures in real terms based on their cash settlements and direct government grants and say in reality the funding cuts they face are much higher.

Lancashire County Council bosses say the authority faces a reduction of £55.5m or 14.4 per cent. David Borrow, deputy leader, said: “The fact that there are no major surprises in the announcement is cold comfort as we are still facing cuts on an epic scale.

“Central government cuts and rising demand for essential services, such as social care, mean that by April 2018 we have to reduce the council’s budget by £315 million.

“That will take our total savings since 2010 to £547 million, so this will need radical action.

“Whilst we can achieve some savings by finding more intelligent and efficient ways of working it is clear that we will have to change some services and stop providing others altogether.”

Coun Alistair Bradley, leader of Chorley Council, said: “The reality is we are seeing a 15 per cent cut in the grant from Government on top of the 14 per cent cut we had last year. It may look like we compare favourably to other areas as our spending power is down 0.82 per cent (£120,000) but this is largely down to what we’ve been doing to regenerate sites for new housing.”

Wyre Council received a reduction in funding of 15.6 per cent compared to 2014/15. Leader, Coun Peter Gibson, said: “It is a tough settlement but we’ve budgeted for it and don’t envisage any cuts in the services that we provide.”

Ribble Valley Council said the figures showed a 14 per cent reduction in cash terms, while South Ribble and West Lancashire Councils were still assessing the impact of the announcement.