The leader of Lancashire County Council has confessed she is making “horrible decisions” which will affect the lives of county citizens.
Coun Jennifer Mein’s comments came as the county council’s Cabinet was warned by the council’s top financial officer that there could be question marks over the legality of its budgets in 2017/18.
Councillors met to consider their financial strategy for the years ahead and to recommend a 3.99 per cent increase in the county council’s Council Tax for the year ahead.
They were told that officers were already doing more “root and branch” reviews of service budgets for 2017/18 to find further economies, even before an intended £65m cuts for 2016/17 are approved.
The £65m cuts, which will go to full council on February 11, will hit services ranging from libraries and museums to flood prevention planning and subsidised bus journeys.
Looking ahead, finance boss Damon Lawrenson, who has to agree budget proposals are financially realistic, spelt out how the county’s cash reserves will be so depleted by 2017/18 that to make ends meet services and their delivery would need “redesign”.
A report to the cabinet predicted a £200m funding gap up to 2020/21. The council says recent cuts mean in total it faces a £303m reduction in central government funding over the next four years.
Explaining he had to look at “risks and robustness” Mr Lawrenson said the council could pass a legal budget in 2016/17 only with “heavy use of reserves” adding other councils were similarly affected: “It’s the national picture, not just Lancashire.”
Failure to deliver next year’s cuts would, he warned, put the council in a “heavy risk” position in 2017/18,
After listening to a report on wide-ranging concerns from organisations about cuts Labour council leader Coun Mein said: “Most of the consultation responses reflected my feelings completely – but unfortunately we haven’t got the money so we have to take the horrible decisions.”
Earlier predictions of an overspend of £33.2m in 2015/16 had been reduced to £9.6m.