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Lincolnshire County Council executive wants 3% council tax rise to help adult social care and warns of 'devastating blow' of potential highways cuts

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A failure to reverse big highways cuts would be ‘devastating’, according to senior councillors.

Members of the county council’s executive met this morning to put forward their proposed budget for 2022/23.

The authority wants to put council tax up 3% to help with a £13.5 million cost pressure on adult social care.

Lincolnshire County Council. (47441215)
Lincolnshire County Council. (47441215)

The executive agreed to the plans - which will now go out to consultation and scrutiny from committees.

However, the decision came before a result is known on the council’s bid to claw back some of the £12 million-plus that was cut from its highways maintenance fund.

Members said they were disappointed with a meeting held with transport minister Charlotte Vere as part of the campaign.

They said she spoke about the challenges of funding in London, which leader Martin Hill described as ‘the most outrageous statement I have ever heard’ given that London has 'about ten times' as much cash as Lincolnshire.

He added: “To say you are struggling in London just gives you the problem with mindset.”

Leader of Lincolnshire County Council Councillor Martin Hill. (47424994)
Leader of Lincolnshire County Council Councillor Martin Hill. (47424994)

If the campaign fails, councillors will have to revisit the budget numbers and discuss what to do.

Coun Hill said: "It would be a devastating blow if we had to reduce highways maintenance by 25%. It would be very difficult to keep on maintaining the roads."

He said a 'difficult decision' would have to be made and that none of the options are easy.

Coun Colin Davie said: "We need our MPs to stand up for Lincolnshire on this matter."

Councillor Richard Davies.
Councillor Richard Davies.

Coun Richard Davies - executive member for highways - said the Department for Transport appeared to have 'top sliced' its funding to pay for its own 'whimsical projects' and agreed that a failure to reverse cuts for Lincolnshire's maintenance cash would have a 'devastating impact on the people of Lincolnshire'.

Members spoke about the fact that the council cannot continue to raid its reserves to plug budget gaps.

Coun Davies said: "The idea we can just spend reserves is ludicrous and dangerous."

As things stand, the council is facing a budget black hole of £9 million, £6 million and £7 million in the next three years - with members pinning their hopes on a Government funding review that will take place this year and set out the framework for the future.

Councillors hope that a new formula can take into account the challenges of running services in rural areas.

Money is also being set aside to cope with the impact of inflation and the likely rising costs.

District councils will be making decisions on their part of the council tax precept over the course of January.

“We need them to fix our funding so we can fix our roads.”

After the meeting, the county council issued a statement to reiterate the need for its highways maintenance campaign to succeed.

Coun Hill said: “Unlike last year, we haven’t allocated the £12 million government slashed from our highways maintenance grant in our draft budget. This is because we’re still hopeful the Transport Secretary will listen to our plea and reinstate the 25% funding cut thrust upon us last February.

“Despite finding corporate savings of £354m since 2011, we still expect to face a cumulative funding shortfall of around £23m over the next four years. This means we’d struggle to continue covering the £12 million roads maintenance funding gap, as we will already need to increase council tax, draw on our reserves or find further savings – or more likely a combination of all three – to balance our budget.”

According to the county council, continued lack of funding could lead to an increase in unplanned roadworks, a drop in road network resilience and more potholes.

At the moment, 660 miles of Lincolnshire’s roads are classed as being in poor or very poor condition.

Coun Davies said: “It’s incredibly disappointing that we haven’t yet had any commitment from Westminster to reinstate the £12 million that was taken from our roads maintenance grant last year.

“Our vast 5,500-mile road network is crucial to the livelihoods of residents and businesses, so it’s essential that we keep it up to the standards they deserve.

“The £12 million cut by government last year and then backfilled by our reserves fills 24,000 potholes and rebuilds 37 miles of crumbling road. Without it, people will continue to watch as our roads get worse and the local economy takes a hit. That’s why we will continue lobbying government until they listen to us.

“We need them to fix our funding so we can fix our roads.”

Coun added: “In response to a very strong steer from voters and the public, we’ve always done our best to protect the highways maintenance budget from cuts.

“So we will do whatever we can to keep Lincolnshire’s roads in the best possible condition if government doesn’t replace the £12 million funding gap they’ve left us to fill.

“We’ll also continue working closely with our local MPs to get the decision-makers in Westminster to introduce a fairer way of sharing out the available highways funding, ensuring that areas like Lincolnshire are no longer left behind.

“We also encourage everyone throughout the county to help in our fight by visiting our campaign webpage and writing to their local MP to demand better funding for our roads.”

Visit www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/highwaysfunding for more on the funding campaign.

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