Lincolnshire councillors await government funding deal as £42m cuts loom

Senior Lincolnshire county councillors have approved budget recommendations, including a council tax rise and removal of funding for PCSOs, ahead of a final decision on February 19.

Lincolnshire County Council’s Executive committee agreed on the proposed budget for 2016-17 on February 2, but final decisions will not be made until central government funding is confirmed.

Proposals include a 3.95% increase in council tax, savings to services including £350,000 from adult care and £150,000 from the withdrawal of funding for PCSOs, and use of the council’s reserves.

Forecasted cuts to the budget have also put a question mark above around 160 county bus services.

A report from County Finance Officer David Forbes revealed slightly better news for the council, with the authority set to receive more in council tax and business rates than it initially anticipated.

In light of these improved projections, the Executive approved recommendations to reduce funding from the council’s Financial Volatility Reserve.

However, these recommendations remain in principle as the council awaits a decision on its funding from central government, which is expected by February 11 at the latest.

The budget proposals will then go before the full council at a meeting on February 19.

Lincolnshire County Council Leader Martin Hill. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Lincolnshire County Council Leader Martin Hill. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Council leader Martin Hill said: “We should proceed as planned but wait for the government settlement to make a final decision. It wouldn’t be prudent to make a final decision before this.”

Deputy council leader Patricia Bradwell said: “Our prudent financial management is helping us now as we’re not making cuts to the same levels other counties are making.”

Highways councillor Richard Davies added: “I think we need to be wary of the government who have shall we say proven flexible in their funding.

“Until the cheque lands on our doorsteps, we can’t count any chickens.”

Lincolnshire County Councillor Richard Davies. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Lincolnshire County Councillor Richard Davies. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Other councillors shared this view, including Colin Davie who said that the council should “protect ourselves from all risks” until a decision was made.

Councillor Marc Jones added: “The bottom line is we’re still taking money from reserves. Every single penny is needed to balance the books – there’s no saving money for a rainy day, it’s raining now.

“It’s disappointing if people think of imaginative ways of spending this money when there’s a budget hole.”

Lincolnshire County Councillor Marc Jones

Lincolnshire County Councillor Marc Jones

Councillors also discussed the levels of participation in the budget consultation, with over 7,000 responses to the online survey.

Popular services included pothole repairs and gritting while others such as healthy lifestyle programmes and heritage and library services were not given the same priority.

Councillor Hill added: “There’s been an unprecedented response to our consultation and it’s been a very good exercise.

“I must say it’s ironic that near the bottom of the list of services prioritised by residents was libraries when there’s been so much discussion about them.

“It seems that they’ve endorsed our decision and we’ve probably not actually gone far enough.”