‘Dangerous times for local government’

Lincolnshire County Council leader Martin Hill (Con) ENGEMN00120130731130031
Lincolnshire County Council leader Martin Hill (Con) ENGEMN00120130731130031
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“We feel very aggrieved – these are dangerous times for local government.”

That was the message from Lincolnshire County Council leader Coun Martin Hill as he expressed anguish at the scale to which shire authorities such as his own are being squeezed in Government support grant by comparison with more heavily populated authorities.

For 2016-17, the support grant will be £70.35million – a lower figure than was expected – prompting a controversial proposal to increase council tax by 3.5 per cent, the maximum permissible.

At a media briefing, the leader complained: “Inner London boroughs, for instance, will proportionately be receiving twice as much as us. Nothing is impossible but I don’t see how we can achieve the costs savings we are expected to make. We are shouldering too high a burden, and we will continue to lobby in the hope of a rethink.”

The county council’s total budget for 2016-17 will be £476million, of which 50 per cent will be met by council tax income.

Of the remainder, 22 per cent will come from business rates, 23 per cent from Government support grant, three per cent from other grants and five per cent from reserves.

On a wryer note, Coun Hill suggested that Lincolnshire should declare itself a “foreign port” and seek monies from the Government’s overseas aid budget: “That’s an area where Whitehall expenditure is increasing,”he declared.

Despite his gripe, the leader of the Conservative-controlled council said he continued to support the Government’s ongoing commitment to ensure the country lives within its means.

The county council tax increase for next year will be between £20 and £100 depending on the property band. For Band D, it will be £43.

However, the total could be even higher, depending whether district councils such as South Holland also decide to raise their precepts.

The maximum increase allowable for them would be only two per cent. If they were mindful to increase their precepts by a higher amount, they would be obliged to put the matter to a referendum.

Where the cash cuts are likely to fall

Despite the likelihood of an increase in the precept set by the county council, there will still be widespread cuts to services.

The details of where these will fall have not yet been finalised, but the following areas are among those likely to be affected to a greater or lesser extent:

• Highway maintenance including grass verge cutting

• Community safety, including police community support officers

• Road safety initiatives

• Adult frailty care

• Safe and healthy children strategy

• Fire and rescue

• Environmental protection

• Street lighting

• Economic regeneration

• Information Technology management and support

• Legal services

• Library and information services

• Coroner service

• Sexual health services

• Prevention and treatment of substance misuse

The controversial issue of staff redundancies will also come under the spotlight, but this will inevitably involve consultations with trade unions as well as the individuals themselves before any information is made public.

Quizzed about the likely number, LCC’s chief finance officer David Forbes told the Press briefing: “We don’t know.”