I’ve been talking a lot recently about getting a fairer government funding deal for Lincolnshire. At this time of year, as we make major decisions about how we will spend the limited funding we have and how we will raise the money we need to keep services going, the need for fairer funding becomes even more apparent.
By 2020, the main Government grant to the county council will have fallen by 86% over a decade.
Imagine if your income had reduced like this and your costs were increasing. This is the situation we face as demands for services like adult care and children’s safeguarding go up while at the same time we are having to deal with inflation and meet other cost increases such as the national minimum wage.
This has made balancing our budgets increasingly difficult. Over the years we have taken some tough decisions and tried, wherever possible, to protect the services our residents’ value.
We’ve been innovative and found different ways of delivering services, such as libraries, heritage and youth centres. We’ve also prioritised our services and made them more focused on the most important areas such as keeping communities safe and looking after vulnerable adults and children.
Planning and prioritising is ongoing and thankfully this means that we are in a relatively strong position unlike some other local authorities.
This month, Northamptonshire County Council has found itself in the unfortunate position of banning expenditure on all services except for its statutory obligations to safeguard vulnerable people. This shows the real threat to local government services from the current funding system.
Our government funding has been set for the next two years and I’m confident that we will meet our budget shortfall.
We will have to find more savings, but we are also proposing to use £48m of our reserves, leaving little left in the bank. We will also be proposing to raise council tax to bring in much-needed income.
However, reserves can only be spent once and this is clearly not sustainable. Something has to change in terms of how much money we have coming in to keep services running.
Our campaign for fairer funding in Lincolnshire resulted in a positive meeting with Government ministers and some of our MPs at the end of last year with the Government recognising that this is a real issue that needs to be addressed.
We’re calling for a sustainable funding deal which recognises our future needs, especially in areas like adult social care where costs are projected to increase by £8 million over the next two years alone.
In Lincolnshire where sparsity and rurality make providing services significantly more expensive, a fairer funding deal would make an enormous difference to our residents and the services they value.