Lancashire County council have announced plans for £65m cuts over the next two years, as part of a bid to save £262m by 2020.
Originally, the aim was to combat the budget crisis with jobs cuts. Since January 2014, 1,100 staff have left the authority, opting for voluntary redundancy. A further 367 full-time jobs are expected to be cut in this latest round of budget cuts. This, however is not enough to balance the books and the latest cuts will see local services and business affected as well.
Bus services will be hit hard, with the proposed axing of £7.5m of bus subsidies in the county. For those unable to commute by car, buses are likely to be the only practical alternative. Buses are an essential service, meaning the implications will be felt by large numbers, especially those who rely on them to travel to and from work. As a consequence of this, travellers may be forced to use the more costly alternative, taxis. In limiting the ability of people to travel to their place of work, these cuts could in turn affect people’s ability to make a living.
There are also teenagers, students and the elderly to consider. These groups make up the majority of bus users, reliant on them to get to school, university and hospital appointments. Public transport in the North has been heavily criticised for years, and there is a danger that this could further affect public opinion and usage if it limits the everyday lives of its customers.
Museums will also be affected, with five already marked for closure, these are: Queen Street Mill, Helmshore, Museum of Lancashire, Judges’ Lodgings and Fleetwood Museums. Such tourist attractions have always been seen as assets and their eminent closure has caused issue for many.
A petition against the closure of the Museum of Lancashire, in Preston has been launched and so far has gained more than 1,600 signatures. The petition stresses that such closures tend to be permanent, with re-opening unlikely.
40 libraries across the region are also facing the threat of closure, as part of plans to save a further £7m. As well as their clear educational benefits, libraries can act as a community hotspot bringing people together.
Jennifer Mein, Leader of Lancashire County Council, described the cuts as “heartbreaking” but added that they, “reflect the unprecedented financial situation we face.” She blames “years of relentless central government cuts combined with a rising demand for our services” for the huge budget cuts to come.
Mein’s words point to a possible tension between central and local government, an issue that university lecturer Dr Mark Garnett sees as key to the current situation. He believes that changes must be made to the relationship between central and local government. Currently the two are disconnected, with local government seen as a hindrance. Garnett is calling for a process of decentralisation, in which local governments are given autonomy, the ability to raise money by their own methods.
Garnett says: “it seems central government regards local government as something which is subsidiary rather than being important in itself. There seems to be this ridiculous view that central government is more important than local government.”
Cabinet has recently approved plans to set up multi-functional neighbourhood centres, which it is argued will reduce the number of council buildings in use. David Borrow, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council explains that neighbourhood centres will allow the council “to target our resources where they are needed most”, with each centre catering to the specific needs of its particular area.
Mein goes on to warn that “even with these measures we still face a funding gap of nearly £200m by 2020 so unless central government has a change of heart there will be harder decisions to take in future. We are using the bulk of our reserves just to balance the budget over the next two years. We will do all that we can to protect the vulnerable but these are very difficult times.”