Cat Smith MP

Working for Lancaster and Fleetwood

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Austerity makes council position impossible

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This week we saw the closure of museums, libraries and children's centres across Lancashire. This cultural and social vandalism will have long term effects on communities across the county, so I hope you will forgive me that I don't hold back. 

Between 2010 and 2020 councils’ direct funding will have been cut by 79%. These cuts, from the government to local councils, are unfair because they hit some of the neediest councils hardest. 

In some ways it matters less which party is in control at County Hall when PWC independent report highlights the Council is in an impossible situation. However, where I think which party is in control doses appear to count is in where the axe falls. While Tory councils see an average fall in spending power per household of £68, the equivalent cut for Labour councils is more than £340 –five times higher. Surely this is no coincidence? 

When leafy Oxfordshire and Surrey got an additional boost from national government lately, Lancashire was left with nothing. There is certainly a north-south divide when it comes to funding local councils. The Tories claim to be building a Northern Powerhouse yet have continually let the North down, with severe cuts to services, increased deprivation and much lower levels of investment.

Looking specifically at Lancashire the situation is looking impossible. An independent report by financial experts PWC laid down the facts. Lancashire County Council is not financially sustainable and would have spent all its reserves by 2018/19. Even with significant savings, the long-term financial position of the council is not sustainable.

The review looked at what resources the county council would need to deliver its statutory services. It found that even if it reduced spending in every service to the level of lower quartile spending councils in England, it would still face an annual spending gap of £79m by 2020/21. Significantly, the report forecasts that the council's reserves, which the council are currently using to balance the budget, will run out in 2018/19.

So, what next? In short, the only solution would be a change in Government policy to funding councils. The Council have been creative and innovative, they have made difficult cuts do discretionary services, but the reality is there's nothing left to cut. I'll be asking for a solution in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and I hope Lancashire’s Tory politicians speak up for our county too.