Lancashire County Council has approved a 4% rise in Council Tax and agreed to provide an extra £500,000 for road safety measures.
The decisions came at the council’s annual budget meeting earlier today when councillors met to approve what Deputy Leader Coun David Borrow described as a “no change budget” with most of its details and cuts to services agreed last year.
But he warned of trouble ahead with the council due to run out of cash in the near future unless the Government provides more funding for services such as social care, telling the meeting rising care costs meant “the problems going forward are immense”.
In the next financial year the council will use £73m from its reserves.
Tory councillor Michael Green failed in a bid to persuade the ruling Labour group to reinstate library and bus service cuts. He introduced his party’s “alternative budget”, in the absence of Tory leader Coun Geoff Driver who was ill. Afterwards he said: “We are disappointed for the people of Lancashire. This would have meant 26 libraries across the county could have reopened by July 1.”
The Tory proposals included spending £2.2m on reopening closed libraries, providing £1m in subsidies to retain existing subsidised bus routes and fund more bus services and £1m to provide employment opportunities for young people. Other proposals in the rejected £14m package ranged from increasing the frequency of gully cleaning to reducing the Council’s contingency fund by £6m, cutting the number of vacant posts, keeping Hornby swimming pool open and continuing a subsidy for the Knott End ferry. Coun Green had also hoped to persuade the council to provide an extra £5m for highways maintenance and find an extra £500,000 to reduce congestion.
But his proposals were rebuffed with Liberal Democrat Coun. David Whipp declaring: “I’ve never seen such extreme Tory fantasy financing” and Labour warning against electioneering prior to May’s county council elections.
The council tax rise includes a two per cent increase specifically for social care services and means a Band D Council Tax payer will face a county council charge of £1,221.74.
An extra £500,000 was approved for the county council’s road safety budget after Tory Coun Paul White moved a separate amendment asking that £200,000 in the unused Parish Bus Scheme fund be diverted. Labour pushed the figure to £500,000.
Afterwards County Coun Jennifer Mein, leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “We do not want to increase council tax but our dire financial situation means we have no choice. Even allowing for a 3.99 per cent rise over the next four years we will still have a funding gap of £153m in 2020/21.”
She added: ““We are working extremely hard to ensure that we can continue to provide services to the people of Lancashire, particular to the most vulnerable in our community, but the stark truth is that it is difficult to see how we can continue to do that, particularly beyond 2018/19, when we will have used up all of our reserves.”
Reports to councillors had revealed savings of £51m will be needed as part of the 17/18 budget and a funding gap of £88m is predicted for 2018/19.The budget was approved by 45 votes to 30, with three abstentions.