Councils across England are facing the deepest cuts in the history of local government.
They’re also bigger than those in any other part of the public sector, even though every department is having to play its part in rebuilding the nation’s finances.
So what does this mean for local services? Imagine if every council in England stopped filling in potholes, turned off every street light, and closed all parks, children’s centres, libraries, museums and leisure centres. Even that would still not save enough to plug the financial black hole we’re facing by 2020.
Given the scale of the problem, councils have to decide what – if anything at all – we can provide beyond what we absolutely have to.
At this council, having already reduced our budget by £129m over the last four years, we’re faced with at least the same massive cut again.
However, the savings will be much harder to find this time, as we’re already running a far more efficient council.
The challenge – and the impact on services – could hardly be greater. Over the next 12 months, we have to reduce this council’s spending by £40m, with further massive cuts over the three following years.
So where are we going to find these savings?
The truth is that the budgets for almost everything we do will have to be cut to some extent. Some non-essential services will have to be stopped altogether.
We may also have to increase council tax much more than we’d like, simply to generate extra income.
The Chancellor has said that councils responsible for adult social care – including this one – can increase council tax by 2% on top of any other permitted rise.
That additional money – about £4.5m a year – would have to be spent on care, and would obviously be helpful.
However, it wouldn’t meet the extra £30m costs that the Government’s national living wage is likely to add to our adult care contracts by 2020.
Neither would it resolve the problem that demand for adult care is rising all the time as people live longer and move to Lincolnshire to retire.
As county councillors, we’re elected to take difficult decisions to balance the books – and we will do that.
However, it’s important we take account of your views before we make those decisions, which is why we’d like as many residents as possible to complete the survey at www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/budget.
Thank you in anticipation – and very best wishes to Bourne Local readers for a happy Christmas and New Year.