Council tax rises in budget but our services are slashed

PCSOs will be saved.
PCSOs will be saved.

Residents across Lincolnshire will see council tax bills increase and services slashed after county councillors approved a budget featuring savings of more than £40 million.

The controlling Conservative group at County Hall managed to push through its budget proposals at a meeting on Friday.

Bus subsidies will not be slashed, as feared.

Bus subsidies will not be slashed, as feared.

The Tories defeated amendments from Labour, UKIP and the Lincolnshire Independents who all claimed the scale of cuts went too far.

Details of exactly where the axe might fall are still being finalised but several key areas will feel the full force of cutbacks including adult care, health and wellbeing services and spending on roads.

Millions of pounds currently spent on community grants and local welfare schemes will be quashed.

There will almost certainly be job losses while the future of some fire stations is in doubt, along with county council-run recycling centres.

Funding for roadworks will be cut.

Funding for roadworks will be cut.

Councillors have also pulled the plug on £1.38 million of funding for the county’s Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs).

However, fears that PCSOs could disappear from the streets appear to be unfounded after outgoing Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Hardwick confirmed he has set aside money to continue to fund them.

While there was widespread opposition to the scale of the cuts, the situation could been much worse as the Government injected an extra £7.7million into the county coffers following lobbying from MPs.

That money meant the threat of controversial reductions to bus services – including school transport – children’s services and the winter gritting programme was lifted.

Even so, the scale of the cutbacks will affect every household in the county – along with a warning that there is no sign of any ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ in terms of funding for future years.

Proposing the budget, Coun Marc Jones said the county had been hit by significant reductions in central Government funding.

He pointed out Lincolnshire would see the amount of Rate Support Grant cash fall from £211 million in 2012 to £20 million in 2020.

He admitted the council faced a battle to protect statutory frontline services, despite a 3.95 per cent increase in council tax bills.

That figure includes a two per cent increase to cover the increasing cost of adult social care with Coun Jones forecasting a 50 per cent increase in the number of people aged 55 and over by 2020.

Coun Jones said: “We face some tough decisions in tough times.”

He maintained residents trusted the council to make the ‘right decisions’.

He praised the county’s seven Tory MPs for lobbying for the extra money and claimed the Government did ‘understand’ Lincolnshire’s problems.

However, he conceded metropolitan boroughs had received a much better funding deal than shire counties and maintained Lincolnshire could continue to campaign for a fairer deal.

He said that by agreeing to continue to fund road gritting, children’s services and bus services, the council had ‘listened to the people’.

Coun Jones confirmed the council would utilise almost £21 million of its own cash reserves to plug a funding shortfall of more than £40 million.

He warned the amendments by rival political groups would lead to a ‘spend, spend, spend’ approach that was not ‘sustainable.’

He revealed the council tax increase would equate to around 82p a week for owners of an average Band D rated property.

Coun Jones added: “The budget is balanced, considering the circumstances we are in.”

He stressed funding for major transport projects including the Lincoln Eastern bypass (£48 million), Grantham Relief Road (£36 million), Lincoln East-West Link Road (£15 million) and Spalding Relief Road (£12 
million) was secure, along with £11 million for the Boston Flood Barrier scheme.

He confirmed the council would be spending more than £31 million on highways and £12 million on schools.

Labour’s Coun Robert Parker described the budget as a case of ‘paying more and getting less’.

He accused the controlling Conservative group of shrinking services to ‘virtually nothing’ and said they had failed to stand up for Lincolnshire.

He was supported by Coun Judith Renshaw (Labour) who questioned the severity of the cuts: “Our grandchildren will look back and ask – ‘what the hell did we do in 2016’?”

However, Coun Patricia Bradwell, deputy leader of the council, said that if Labour’s amendments were adopted, the council would be ‘broke’.

She also stressed that despite significant reductions in spending on health and wellbeing schemes – including anti-smoking and weight loss programmes – the council would be providing ‘more services for more people’.

UKIP’s Coun Victoria Ayling described the last-minute injection of extra Government money as ‘crumbs and peanuts’.

She said: “The people of Lincolnshire are being robbed by Westminster.”

She added the Government should consider pulling out of Europe, stop foreign aid and focus on providing more money to ‘mending pot holes’.

Coun Christopher Pain (Independence from Europe) said it was ridiculous that funding was being cut when the Government was spending £120 million on aid to India and ‘sending rockets to Mars’.

• Top-level talks are continuing about creating a new Greater Lincolnshire Council.

That is the message from Lincolnshire County Council leader Martin Hill.

Coun Hill said other Lincolnshire councils were also behind the idea which, if adopted, would lead to the creation of an elected mayor.

He also confirmed discussions had been held with the Government who were supporting the project.

Benefits of a new ‘super authority’ would include an increase in Government funding and the streamlining of services.

Coun Hill revealed proposals for the new body could be ready to be put forward this summer.