Hundreds of public sector workers will lose their jobs, rural bus services will cease to exist and libraries and museums - including Lancaster’s Judges Lodgings - will close under county council plans to tackle its multi-million pound funding gap.
Budget proposals announced today provide details of how Lancashire County Council plans to save £65m over the next two years, which would result in the loss of the equivalent of an estimated 367 full-time jobs.
Jennifer Mein, leader of Lancashire County Council said the council faced “relentless central government cuts” against a backdrop of rising demand for services.
Proposals that will go before the Cabinet on Thursday November 26 include:
* Removing funding for all subsidised bus services, to save £7.5m per year
* Reducing the county council’s library network from 74 libraries to 34, to save £7m
* Ending the funding of five museums: Queen Street Mill, Helmshore, Museum of Lancashire, Judges’ Lodgings, Fleetwood Museum
* Removing the subsidy for discretionary denominational transport
* Reducing the Highways budget by £2.8m
The job losses would be in addition to the 1,100 staff who have already left the authority, having taken voluntary redundancy since January 2014.
At the same time the council will be continuing work on delivering the remaining savings identified last year, adding up to a further saving of almost £148m over the period 2015/16 to 2017/18 and a further reduction of more than 500 full-time equivalent posts.
The proposals follow the announcement in August that the council will need to save an additional £262m by April 2020, to tackle a funding gap caused by reduced government funding and rising demand for services.
The savings come on top of £152m savings announced in the three year budget agreed in February this year.
The additional savings mean that between 2011 and 2020 the council will have to have delivered savings of £685m.
A petition has been set up on Change.org to save the Judges Lodgings from potential closure.
Lancaster artist Jack Knight said: “This is a huge part of Lancaster’s history and it’s a fantastically popular venue for school groups throughout the county. “We have to fight to keep it open, even with the loss of the hundreds of jobs throughout the museum service aside, this is a matter of preserving culture, history and education in this city.”
County Councillor Jennifer Mein, Leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “These are the most challenging times for local government in living memory as we face the combination of relentless central government cuts and rising demand for our services, particularly those serving vulnerable people.
“The reality of our financial situation is such that we will have to use the bulk of our reserves just to balance the budget over the next two years. And by 2017/18, we will only just have enough money to pay for our statutory services.
“At the same time, the Government has made clear that it will make further substantial cuts to council budgets over the coming years. This continues at a time when, as the population ages, demand on many services will increase so that we’d be facing financial pressures even if the budget wasn’t being reduced at all.
“The scale of the challenge means that we will have to make ever more difficult decisions. We will do all that we can, and are targeting our resources towards those with the greatest need, but we will have to reduce or stop services and people will notice the difference. Our priority will remain to protect the most vulnerable people in communities across Lancashire.
“Regrettably I’m also no longer confident we can reduce our workforce as much as we need to on a purely voluntary basis.”
Deputy leader David Borrow, cabinet member with responsibility for finance, said: “It is impossible to overstate the seriousness of our financial situation. Prudent financial management has enabled the council to build up significant reserves, that is money we can call on to cover unexpected events. The scale of the savings we have to make means that we will have to use almost all of that money just to balance the books. And we know that we will still face a shortfall of £56m in 2018/19.”
The proposals are published online at: http://council.lancashire.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=878&MId=5266