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More Austerity For LCC

January 18th 2016

A pothole

A pothole on the Crescent, High Holme Road

Potholes

Potholes on Monk's Dyke Road

Potholes

Potholes on St Bernard's Avenue

Christmas is over, and it's traditionally time for everyone to tighten their belts. However, there's a point where belt-tightening goes too far, and you start to cut off the circulation, so to speak. In Lincolnshire we reached that stage some time ago when it comes to local government, as evidenced by counter-productive library cuts and a growing problem with potholes.

On Monday, 18th January a public engagement meeting took place in Louth Town Hall to give people a chance to express their opinions on the county council's plans for cuts. The council is looking at a vast reduction in the revenue support grant given to it by central government, coupled with rising cost pressures in a number of areas. This means it needs to make savings in the region of 42 million to balance its budget. The meeting began with a presentation by officers Pete Moore and David Forbes, who laid out the detail of council finances and the scale of the challenge. A few key points stood out.
  • The council's annual expenditure excluding schools is 573.567 million.
  • 9%, or 50.437 million goes on paying back loans each year.
  • The government's Revenue Support Grant makes up 17% of the current budget, or 94.670 million.
  • The council plans to use 39 million of its reserves next year.
  • The number of people over 75 in the county is expected to increase by around 50% over the next 10 years. (This is in contrast with East Lindsey, where people over the age of 75 have been leaving the district).

Cuts are liable to affect every part of the county council's services. However, they recently ran a survey and the feedback so far indicates that people are keen to protect pothole filling and roads maintenance, winter gritting, road safety work, funding for PCSOs, and accommodation for people at risk of homelessness. Unfortunately people who filled in the survey were less keen to protect the following:
  • Libraries
  • School transport for the over 16s
  • Encouraging healthy lifestyles
  • Community grants

Feel the burn

LCC's leader, Councillor Martin Hill, chaired the meeting and took questions from the public. The meeting was well-attended but not packed, and it seemed like everyone else in town was in the ballroom doing Clubcercise whilst this was going on. Councillor Hill didn't look very comfortable whilst people asked about street lighting, bus service cuts, potholes, high officer pay, libraries for job search, transforming to a unitary authority, and other issues. There are huge cuts coming, and there was no hiding the fact that they will be painful.

For some reason there was a large contingent from Tetford, so the discussion focused a lot on the future of the Call Connect service and rural bus subsidies.

The most revealing thing Councillor Hill said, and he repeated it more than once, was that these cuts are a "temporary" measure meant to rebalance the economy.

Sorry, but no. We're five years and eight months into the austerity programme. If things were going to get better they would have already improved, and we wouldn't be obliged to embark on the most swingeing cuts local government has yet had to endure. It's time for Tories to admit that the promised recovery isn't coming, that we'll be forever jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today. It's time to admit austerity is a false economy, and a disguise for turbo-charged inequality.

Libraries are one of the foundations of our civilisation, making literature and learning accessible to all. It was interesting though that Luke Goodwin didn't talk about books when he brought up libraries, but instead mentioned the computers which people can use for job searches.

In terms of community grants, although many people think of them in terms of fixing village halls and similar projects, in Louth recently county councillor grants have been used to provide reactive speed signs. In other words, something that could potentially save lives. So it's hard to categorise council spending into essential and non-essential, when so-called non-essential spending can go towards something that protects the public. Even PCSO spending has been designated as something the council doesn't have to spend money on, but protecting people from crime is surely the kind of service it would be wrong to cut.

No Plan B?

A man called Marcello (I didn't catch his last name) brought up a scenario where all the worst cuts went through and things fell apart. "Is there a Plan B?" he asked.

"No. I don't think there is a Plan B," Councillor Hill replied.




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