Council tax rises but services saved as Lincolnshire County Council sets budget

A rise in council tax and substantial spending cuts have been approved by Lincolnshire County Council as the authority sets its budget for the 2016-17 financial year.

At a meeting of the full council on Friday, February 19, an amended budget proposed by Lincolnshire County Council’s ruling Conservative-dominated administration was approved by 40 votes to 13.

Councillors voted to raise the authority’s share of council tax by 3.95% and make savings of around £42 million.

Original budget proposals would have seen the closure of 15 children’s centres, an end to funding for companies subsidising rural bus routes and a reduction in the gritting of Lincolnshire’s highways from 33% of the network 25%.

However, a last minute u-turn announced by council leader Martin Hill saw the Conservative-led group retain funding for subsidised buses, winter gritting and children’s centres for the next two years.

Campaigns against the previously planned cuts to bus services and the closure of Sure Start centres attracted the support of thousands of Lincolnshire residents in recent weeks.

Additional money needed to retain the services will be drawn from the council’s Financial Volatility Reserve.

Balanced budget

Lincolnshire County Councillor Marc Jones

Lincolnshire County Councillor Marc Jones

Councillor Marc Jones, Executive Member for Finance, said that the budget was “balanced” bearing in mind the circumstances.

He said: “The public want long-term sustainable economic growth and sound financial management. Of course this has meant reductions in public spending.

“The public understands we’re making tough decisions in tough times, especially as we lose out in government funding compared to more metropolitan areas.

“At the 11th hour, and in response to determined campaigning by this Conservative-dominated council and the county’s MPs, the government gave us an extra £7.7 million.

“This was a sign of real movement by the government that they had listened to shire counties and Lincolnshire in particular.

“The funding has allowed us to cancel proposed cuts to bus services, gritting, and the closure of children’s centres in response to the public’s concerns.”

Alternative budgets rejected

Lincoln West seat councillor, Robert Parker. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Lincoln West seat councillor, Robert Parker. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

An alternative budget proposed by the Labour group was rejected, with 12 councillors voting for the amendment, 49 voting against, and five abstaining.

Councillor Robert Parker said of the administration’s budget: “Pay more, get less. That’s the offer going to taxpayers in Lincolnshire.”

He added: “We are being told that there is no alternative but to make deep cuts in important services.

“Labour’s alternative is based on making use in the coming year of both new income, including the recently announced extra government grant, and money that we have underspent in the current year.

“That way, people will get a fairer deal out of the increase in council tax.”

A separate budget proposed by UKIP was also lost, with 12 councillors supporting the amendment, 43 opposing, and 10 abstentions.

UKIP’s Anne Reynolds questioned why residents were being asked to pay more for less, and suggested a proposed 50% cut in council tax by removing the new adult social care element.

Councillor Marianne Overton from the Lincolnshire Independents called for an all-party campaign on funding from central government.

Her alternative budget was also comprehensively defeated, by a margin of  42 votes to six, with 17 abstentions.