Lancashire County Councillors voted through all proposed cuts at their annual budget meeting.
It sees £65 million slashed from services, including funding for five museums across the county, some bus routes in rural areas and other services, such as libraries.
All elected members were present in what would arguably be one of the most important meetings of the year. Labour councillor, David Borrow, began proceedings saying the budget outlined had been some of the “most difficult decisions” they have ever had to make.
Cllr Borrow said, if current spending continued, there would be no reserves left to be used in emergency situations, by the 2018/2019 budget. The Preston North West councillor said in May the cabinet had to make the decisions from working with multi-agencies. He commented that other Conservative controlled councils, such as Surrey, are not facing such financial difficulties: “Lancashire has been one of the hardest hit.”
The government’s ‘transitional fund’ has given the county £2.3 million. In comparison, Surrey has received £24 million. Hampshire gets £18 million and the Prime Minister’s home county of Oxfordshire will receive £9 million.
“There will be cuts for years to come”, Councillor Borrow said. “I know how important it is for all museums to continue.” Views and expressions of int
interest in running the facilities are being sought up until March.
It was noted that the highways budget is being looked at “which should reassure those who are the victims of the floods.” Cllr Borrow went on to say that, at the beginning of the coalition government (in 2010) spending was cut for flood defences.
Continuing to criticise the conservative government, Cllr Borrow said “the public health grant has now been cut by 1.7 million.”
[PHOTO: Councillor David Borrow addresses the chamber from the Cabinet.]
Former leader of the county councillor, Geoff Driver, was next to stand. The Preston North member was presenting an amendment of from the Conservatives to Labour’s budget plans. Cllr Driver said that, when he was in charge, the Tories left more money in the reserves than they inherited. “This administration has not helped itself”, he said. “There is a corporate strategy but no plan.”
Cllr Driver then criticised the council’s handling of turning the listed building of Preston Bus Station into a Youth Zone. Speaking of the competition to fund a new design he said: “there will be insufficient funds… It’s absolute madness!
“It’s alright saving money for a rainy day, but it’s raining now.” The Conservative budget amendment to the proposed budget mainly looked at financing services by borrowing money to fund them, rather than cutting. Councillor Graham Gooch was one of a series of members who spoke in the debate that followed. The South Ribble West representative said: “No consultations had been done before these budget decisions were made. The decisions have not been made properly.”
A lively discussion broke out with councillor John Fillis, from Skelmersdale East. It left Burnley chairperson Margaret Brindle reminding members to show respect: “This is not a bear pit”, she said.
Sitting near the back of the chamber, alongside Independent members, Lancashire’s only Green Party councillor, Gina Dowding from Lancaster, said: “The government’s financial settlement did not give us any more money.” Cllr Dowding gave an example of the Public Health cuts earlier announced. “[Chancellor] George Osbourne plans for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Here in Lancashire, he’s only focusing on Northern workhouses.”
Liberal Democrat, David Whipp, of West Craven spoke next. He said his party propose a “cushion” to allow the “cuts to library services to evolve.” He said he has “issues with axing the parish bus initiative” and the Lib Dems approach the budget with ‘compassion and compromise’.”
“I haven’t met with any conservatives [about the budget] then they trot this out at the last minute. Well, we won’t be supporting it”, Cllr Whipp said. The chamber voted on the Conservative amendment and the motion was lost on an eight vote margin.
The Liberal Democrats then proposed their amendment and councillors voted against that also. However, all Conservative councillors abstained. Tory Councillor Paul White, of Pendle East, commented on how his party should “commend [the Lib Dems] for having the same aims [as them]”, even though they chose to propose it differently.”
Independents and the one Green member were next to propose their amendment. They suggested a further £3 million contingency to be made available from the reserves to facilitate the transition of services. As well as cross party cabinet groups be set up to explore and support the transition of services and arrangements. This motion was passed, despite 34 members abstaining.
Next up was a proposal on bus subsidies by the Conservatives, focusing on reinstating transport to day-centres. They planned to do this again by borrowing, rather than using budget reserves or charging. Their proposals included green energy plans and under-spending on concessionary travel. This was the motion that had the most support from the public gallery, with protesters from Chipping and Ribchester staying on to find out the result.
Tory councillor, Michael Green, representing Leyland, said: “Cutting bus services attack the most vulnerable people in society; those who can’t afford to run a car, unlike most of us who will drive our cars home tonight. It is an attack on the elderly, who can no longer drive. It’s an attack on young people, who catch the bus to get to college or an apprenticeship. It’s also an attack on town centres that will lose out on business because of these cuts.”
Labour’s David Borrow said: “We have barely enough funds to deliver statutory services. Can we afford the 4.5 million of this service? We are pretending to ourselves and those in the public gallery. Some of things we have to cut [in this budget] are horrendous. We need to give the council a fighting chance.”
A tight vote on bus subsidies followed. 40 councillors voted for the motion, 42 were against and one person abstained. Therefore, the motion was lost on a slim margin of two votes. That means some bus routes will now no longer operate. Residents of the Ribble Valley, could see a reduction in services by next week.
[PHOTO: Bus campaigners protest before the meeting.]
Councillor Michael Green gave the next Conservative amendment. He mentioned he thought the previous bus subsidy would be passed, which explains the focus of their next proposal. He wanted to see £500,000 for waste services that are not needed in East Lancashire be invested back into highways. Cllr Green said: “in the grand scheme of the budget, £500,000 is not actually a lot of money.”
Labour’s Councillor Borrow said he: “can’t see any reason to oppose this amendment.” He spoke about when he goes back home in Yorkshire he can see the roads get worse and that Lancashire should be proud of the state of the highways. The motion was voted for unanimously, although Labour’s Cllr John Filis did shout: “Why not give it to the bus people?” during the discussion.
Entering the seventh hour of the meeting, the last vote of the night was whether the budget cuts would happen. The chamber broke out into passionate debate from members. Leader of Lancashire County Council, Jennifer Mein of Preston, stood to tell members she understands it’s late in the day but she was “ashamed and appalled” by members’ behaviour when discussions got heated.