I’ve been asked a lot recently about how councils are struggling to make ends meet with the reductions in government support, most notably of course in Northamptonshire.
I am proud to say as leader of Lincolnshire County Council that we have a good track record in running our finances.
By 2020, the main government grant to the county council will have fallen by 86% over a decade. Yet despite this ongoing reduction we’ve still managed to provide value for money services for local people.
We’ve risen to the challenge over this time, finding savings through doing things more efficiently, renegotiating contracts and finding innovative ways of delivering services, such as our community-run libraries.
No, we haven’t been able to keep doing everything we did before, and perhaps some of our decisions haven’t been popular, but they have enabled us to protect the most-valued and most-needed services for our residents.
In contrast, because they have not taken those difficult decisions, Northamptonshire County Council are facing radical cuts to close a potential black-hole of £180 million in three years’ time.
I believe we have played our part in restoring the nation’s finances back to health. However, in the face of reduced funding, we have also seen rising demand for our services, especially in adult care and children’s safeguarding.
But I would like to reassure you that the care and safety of vulnerable people in our county is our top priority.
Increasing costs including those from the National Living Wage, inflation and waste disposal charges, are making balancing the council’s budget more and more challenging.
At the moment we are certain of our financial position until 2020, but if the situation is not addressed, we could find ourselves unable to deliver anything more than the bare minimum of services in five years’ time.
And we’re not alone. A recent survey of councils across the UK carried out by the New Local Government Network, found that only one third feel they will be financially able to provide ‘discretionary’ services beyond 2023.
Over the last year we have been talking with the government about fairer funding and drawing attention to the differences in the grants local authorities receive. If councils in Lincolnshire received simply the average funding in England, we would be £116 million better off every year.
And despite the cost of delivering services in rural areas being considerably higher, county areas receive less funding per resident than our urban counterparts.
The government has agreed to look at this, and we’re hoping to hear about an improved picture for funding after 2020. I believe we’re now close to the absolute limit and something has to change. We’re simply asking for a level playing field – a fairer deal for Lincolnshire.