Better bus lane enforcement amongst plans to bridge county council deficit

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Plans will be put before Lancashire County Council’s cabinet next month designed to reduce the authority's budget deficit by £77m.

The proposed measures include new cameras for those bus lanes which are not already covered by them and the introduction of on-street pay and display spaces in some parts of the county.

County hall plans to save 77m in the next four years.

County hall plans to save 77m in the next four years.

READ MORE >>> Where will the new bus lane cameras and pay and display machines be?

But as well as revenue-raising, suggestions have also been made for significant savings, including reductions in the number of street lights operating in selected residential areas. 18,000 out of 100,000 could be switched off between midnight and 5am.

However, the biggest budget savings will come from the adult and children’s services departments.

Proposals have been unveiled to move adults with learning disabilities from residential care into specialist flats, reduce the level of payments which individuals are allowed to build-up for unexpected care needs from ten weeks to four and also to end the short break service for children with special educational needs.

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Leader of the Conservative-run authority, Geoff Driver, said the plans were about setting the council’s priorities to make its most important services sustainable.

“If we don’t make the finances viable we won’t be able to provide the necessary services to the really vulnerable people of Lancashire and that’s what we’ve promised to do,” County Cllr Driver said.

And he denied that it was those vulnerable people who would lose out if the savings are approved.

“We’ll be providing better services and we will save in the long run if we don’t have to pay for more expensive care in the future,” County Cllr Driver added. More than £3m is expected to be saved by providing community-based alternatives to residential care.

If the proposals are adopted by cabinet next week, they are expected to reduce the county council’s budget deficit to £46m by 2022/23. That means the authority will now be able to set a balanced budget for the next four years, when it was previously unexpected to be able to do so beyond 2019/20.

County Cllr Driver said his administration had “dispelled the myth” that the authority was in danger of collapse and that those who had been saying otherwise should “eat their words”.

“We’re in a much better position than we were when we took over last year, but we clearly haven’t finished and we want to make sure the deficit is removed altogether,” he said.

But leader of the opposition Labour group, Azhar Ali, condemned the Conservatives for “not having the bottle to challenge the government for cutting half a billion pounds from Lancashire’s budget”.

“It’s the most needy and vulnerable who will suffer under these plans. They will put carers and families of those with special educational needs under greater stress - and I believe this package of cuts will cost lives” he added.

The biggest individual saving under the proposals would come from a reduction to payments made to independent providers who supply overnight care workers. Almost £7m is expected to be saved by bringing the so-called “sleep-in fee” in line with the level paid to county council staff doing the same job.

Meanwhile, the union UNISON has expressed “concern” about a review of home care packages currently delivered by two staff to determine if the use of new equipment could allow a single worker to make the visit instead. Area organiser Jason Hunter said he would have to look at the entire package before commenting in detail, but added that the union would “support any workers who may be put under pressure as a result of the changes”.

Elsewhere, there could be reductions to services to tackle drug and alcohol misuse, as well as programmes to help people quit smoking and reduce their weight.

Almost £5m is proposed to be spent on 'invest to save' schemes - including a programme of targeted interventions to prevent children coming into care.

Councillors will see reductions to their travel and food allowances totalling £5,000 and residents will be encouraged to make any regular payments to the council via direct debit.

The equivalent of 163 full-time jobs will be lost if the the proposals are accepted, 30 of which are currently vacant, but just over 100 new permanent roles will be created. It is understood that there could be some opportunities for redeployment.

WHAT ARE THE PLANS?

If approved by cabinet members on 3rd December, some of the savings proposals would require public consultation, including:

***Ending the Lancashire Breaktime service for children with special educational needs, which provides breaks of at least two hours for carers by offering "fun group activities" - saving £1.04m.

***Ceasing funding for the Lancashire Wellbeing Service, a consortium of charitable organisations working to help people with long-term health conditions and lifestyle changes - saving £2.01m.

***Reduced funding for health improvement services, targeting drug and alcohol misuse, smoking and obesity - saving £2.1m (whilst simultaneously investing £0.5m to make the service more efficient).

***Limiting the Welfare Rights Service to providing advice only about complex cases - saving £380,000.

***Part-night lighting, where 18,000 residential street lights would be turned off between midnight and 5am - saving £37,000.

Other proposals would not need to be put to the public, including:

***Reduction in family support workers, but with a view to ensuring the most vulnerable families still receive sufficient support to prevent them requiring formal intervention - saving £550,000.

***Modernisation of supported housing to transfer adults with leaning disabilities from residential care into flat schemes - saving £3.9m

***Review the 800 care packages which are currently delivered to by two workers, with the aim of using appropriate equipment to enable them to be carried out single-handedly - saving £2.2m

***Reassessing direct payments to reduce the amount individuals can hold in their accounts for care contingencies from a period of ten weeks to four - saving £2.5m

MAKING THE NUMBERS ADD UP

At the time of the local elections in May 2017, Lancashire County Council’s budget deficit - the difference between its annual income and expenditure - was forecast to stand at £198m by the start of the 2020s.

By September 2018, a series of reductions announced earlier this year had brought the figure down to £135m. If the proposals to be put to cabinet members next month are approved, the budget gap will be reduced to £46m.

But cabinet papers reveal that there are some uncertainties which could put the reduction at risk.

At last month’s budget, the government announced an additional £640m for under-pressure adult and children’s services departments across the country next year. However, that money is currently pencilled in for just twelve months, while local authorities await a longer-term plan due to be outlined by ministers.

While county hall has underspent its overall budget in recent years, adult and children’s social services budgets have been exceeded - something which is predicted to happen again this year.

The authority is on track to achieve 93 percent of the savings outlined in its previous budgets, but the remainder are described as proving “challenging” to deliver.

The government’s Fair Funding Review of how councils are financed is also expected to report next year.

Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver said he is “still awaiting signs that austerity is over” for local government. He recently declined to sign a letter sent to government on behalf of England’s county councils, because he didn’t feel that it went “far enough” in putting the case for reform.

However, he added that ministers are listening and plans which Lancashire has put to them have been “well received”.

Meanwhile, county hall’s reserves - which were due to run out by the end of next year - are now expected to last until 2022/23. But as things stand, they will continue to be used up to cover budget gaps - something which the authority says it is aiming to avoid.