For the past year council leaders have warned that the future of their authority finances is uncertain, with some going as far to say that they may only be able to deliver the “bare minimum” after 2020.
Since 2014, local authorities have seen their central government grants slashed and funding drop off a cliff. Lincolnshire County Council, who this week proposed its budget for 2019/20, has seen its main grant drop by some £50 million in the past four years.
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Despite the uncertainty, councils across our region still need to set budgets. The county council played its hand first, proposing a 3.95% increase in council tax and dipping into its reserves to cover a £23 million budget shortfall.
North East Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and South Holland are all expected to follow suit in the next month. But, uncertainty still surrounds budgets after 2020 and it is affecting services.
The lack of clarity over how much money is coming from government at the turn of the decade has forced council leaders to issue stark warnings. This week county council leader, Martin Hill, said they may only be able to provide the “most needed services” without “sustainable and guaranteed” funding.
Meanwhile, North East Lincolnshire Council’s leader, Ray Oxby, said the authority has had to “tighten its belts” and find income from elsewhere due to the uncertainty. “It doesn’t help by having a government that’s not giving any clarity after 2020 as to how the funding regime for local authorities will work,” he said.
Ministers pushed back their announcement on how much councils will receive from government. Leadership challenges and squabbling over Brexit have left the plans gathering dust on a shelf somewhere in Westminster. All the while, council finance officers continue to wonder where the next lot of money is going to come from to pay for vital services.