Lancashire County Council Budget
Mr Graham informed the meeting that the County Council was facing significant financial challenges over the coming years due to a reduction by the Government in public spending combined with increasing costs in areas such as inflation, pensions and the demand on services of an increasingly older population.
As a result the County Council was faced with making savings of around £300m over the next few years and had adopted a number of approaches to achieve this, including a review of planning assumptions/forecasts which had led to a reduction of £17.4m in the level of savings required over the next four years and the identification of £19.1m of efficiency savings over the next two years through measures such as reducing the level of supplies, squeezing costs, removing staff vacancies or reducing their hours.
It was noted that the County Councils strategy was to initially set a balanced budget for 2014/15 and then work towards achieving the necessary savings moving towards 2017/18 which would involve reshaping many of the Councils services.
When considering the report the following issues were discussed by members of the Forum and the public who were present.
a) It was suggested that in the future it was vital that the County Council ensure it received value for money in relation to the investment it made into the provision of services.
b) It was suggested that the County Council should not neglect areas such as the arts which brought investment into Lancashire and recognise that the recent transfer of responsibility for public health from the NHS to the County Council provided a valuable opportunity to work with partner organisations in the Voluntary Sector to provide quality services at a reduced cost.
c) The introduction of the Living Wage and its importance in terms of the local economy was discussed and it was noted that the County Council had adopted the Living Wage for its own employees.
d) With regard to the cost for the public in contacting the County Council it was reported that the Cabinet was due to consider a proposal to begin using 0300 numbers for services which was cheaper than the existing 0845 numbers.
e) Greater use of telecare services were discussed though it was recognised that previously such services had not operated satisfactorily in areas of the Borough such as Turn Village. In view of the geographical nature of the Borough it was suggested that services based on land lines rather than mobile services should be pursued.
f) It was acknowledged that learning from recent reviews of procurement activity undertaken by the County Council's Internal Audit Service would inform its work for the Borough Council.
g) Concern was expressed regarding the financial implications of the County Council decision in relation to the bus station in Preston which it was felt would impact on the capital budget and draw funding away from other parts of the County. In response the Chair stated that the County Council was committed to the provision of a new bus station in Rawtenstall which would accommodate public transport demands in the Borough.
h) There was also concern about the prospect of severe winter conditions and the impact that would have on traffic flows in the Borough. In response the Chair reported that the County Council had allocated funds for winter service and would grit main road routes.
It was reported that comments from the meeting would be taken into consideration when developing further proposals to meet the remainder of the savings requirement in 2014/15 which would be presented to the County Councils Cabinet in December and January and would be the subject of further consultation in due course.
Agreed: That the comments set out above be forwarded to the County Treasurer for consideration by the County Council’s Cabinet as part of the process for finalising the 2014/15 budget proposals.