Lancashire County Council budget 2024: five percent council tax hike - and how the authority plans to spend its cash

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Lancashire County Council will increase council tax bills by the maximum permitted amount this year.

The authority’s members voted by a majority to approve the 4.99 percent rise, which will add between £52 and £157 to the charge levied on households, depending on which band their property falls into – and generate an additional £30m.

It comes against the backdrop of a double-whammy of surging inflation and increased demand for services which have hit County Hall over the past 12 months. That combination has placed almost £92m of additional budgetary pressure on the coffers for the year ahead.

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Lancashire's £6m overspend on getting children with special needs to school blam...
Lancashire County Council has set its budget for the next financial yearLancashire County Council has set its budget for the next financial year
Lancashire County Council has set its budget for the next financial year

The county council is amongst the estimated 95 percent of local authorities hiking bills by as much as the government will allow without a local referendum. Two percent of the increase will be ringfenced to help cover the ever-spiralling cost of social care services for adults and children.

The authority’s Conservative leader, Phillippa Williamson told a meeting of the full council that while she was recommending the rise with “great reluctance”, it would not be “prudent” to do anything else under the current financial circumstances.

“We are determined to deliver the best services, support and value for money for…residents and businesses - and we know that the foundation to success… is to have strong and stable finances.” County Cllr Williamson said.

Unlike in some previous years, the level of council tax rise prompted neither dissent nor debate from the opposition parties. However, the same could not be said for how the authority plans to spend its money and balance its books - with the perennial potholes discussion this year vying for prominence amidst exchanges over children’s homes, antisocial behaviour and renewable energy.

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The county council’s cabinet recently agreed almost £14m of new savings and income generation - part of a total £97.8m of cost-cutting needed over the next three years, the balance of which has been previously agreed.

>» From travel concession cuts to care fee increases – see the full list of new savings here .

The Labour opposition group’s shadow cabinet member for resources, Matthew Tomlinson, set out what he said was “an alternative to the death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach of this Conservative administration”.

He told the meeting Labour would take £35m from County Hall’s transitional reserve pot - which currently stands at £165m - to fund, amongst other things, extra investment in pothole-filling and to cover the cost of ditching some of the Tories’ proposed cuts.

The two savings packages he said Labour would jettison were the plans to scrap free bus passes for 16-18-year olds who are not in education, employment or training, or who are young carers, and to drop a £1 fare for disabled bus passengers travelling before 9.30am on weekdays.

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He contrasted those policies with the “BMWs, Lexus and Jaguars” that he said could be seen in the members’ car park.

“Imagine driving to County Hall today with your heated seat, your bluetooth stereo and your cruise control knowing that one of your priorities…is to make it harder for young people and disabled people to do something as simple as ride on a bus,” County Cllr Tomlinson said.

That comment prompted what felt like a bizarre game of Top Trumps in reverse, as members lined up to stress the mundanity of their own motors - and saw Conservative cabinet member Graham Gooch point out that prestigious cars were not unheard of in the Labour group as well.

Back to matters of substance, and the Tories condemned what they characterised as the recklessness of Labour’s plan to spend more than 20 percent of reserves in a single year.

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“What will you do when that money runs out?” Conservative member Charlie Edwards asked. “You don't have an answer to that.”

Cabinet member for finance, Alan Vincent, added: “Tough measures and decisions are sometimes needed alongside transformation of services. We have [done] and we continue to do both - and maintain financial stability and key services - because it’s what the public want us to do.”

A forecast budget gap of £856K in 2024/25 will be covered by use of the transitional reserve, which may also be called upon to bridge predicted deficits of £10.5m in 2025/26 and £3.4m in 2026/27, as authority continues its aspiration to develop a balanced and sustainable budget.

Labour’s Lian Pate said that the issue was sometimes more about what the authority did with its cash, rather than how much money it had at its disposal.

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Claiming that special needs services for young people had not been a “priority” for elected members, she said that all sides needed to “start listening to each other in a sensible way and having proper debate that doesn't just start within the chamber”.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats' John Potter warned Labour that as their party was likely to enter national government before the next county budget, this would probably be the last year they could blame everything on “those evil Tories”.

“I haven't heard much from Labour about local authority funding going forward. They will have to put their money where their mouth is from next year,” County Cllr Potter said. He also accused the Conservatives at County Hall of being willing to reject “the best idea in the world” if it came from anywhere other than within their own ranks.

Green party group leader Gina Dowding said she would be unable to support the budget of a Tory administration that was “so woefully lacking in its commitment of resources to dealing with the climate emergency”.

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“They seem to be ideologically committed to slowing down action,” she added.

Former Labour group leader Azhar Ali made his first contribution to a County Hall debate since moving to sit as an independent following his suspension from the party over comments he made about Israel, which emerged in a recording published by a Sunday newspaper earlier this month.

While not currently part of the party, which is reportedly carrying out an investigation into his remarks, County Cllr Ali’s allegiance remained clear.

Declaring that the Tories at County Hall had “failed”, he said: “I look forward to when the Labour group, in 2025, take over...and put matters right.”

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The county budget debate this year was, once again, peppered with talk of potholes - with Labour’s Matthew Tomlinson even crowning them “the people’s priority” as he set out his group’s proposed extra £10m to repair more of the defects.

His party colleague, John Fillis, said better infilling of what fellow Labour member Mohammed Iqbal characterised as “craters” would prevent workers having to return to the same problem spots repeatedly.

County Cllr Fillis added that the transitional reserve from which the group suggested funding the extra pothole spending “belongs to the people of Lancashire”.

“And if you asked them, ‘Should we fix the roads?’ they would say yes - get them fixed…now.”

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Lib Dem John Potter said potholes should not be written off as a “trivial issue”, stressing that they can be as dangerous to road users as they are costly to the council in claims for compensation. He said a mother had recently told him of a “blow out” she had after hitting a pothole while her children were in the car.

Calling for a halving in the minimum depth a pothole must reach before the authority will fill it, County Cllr Potter added that some people were particularly vulnerable. “It is genuinely lethal if you're on a bicycle or a motorbike. Potholes that are filled with water can seem almost invisible as you’re driving towards them.”

Conservative cabinet member for highways and transport, Rupert Swarbrick, told the meeting that winter weather pressures meant potholes were “much more manifest” at this time of year.

He added: “Our teams work incredibly hard and, on the whole, very effectively to fix issues. There are times when we don't do the job properly, we recognise that and we are always grateful to people for when they make those reports.

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“Members should be under no illusion that investment in Lancashire roads is a number one priority, but what trumps that priority…is our fierce desire to protect the transitional reserve.”

Highways lead member Scott Smith added: “Our aim is to fix potholes wherever we find them - first time every time.”


£1.9bn - gross revenue budget to be spent on services (2024/25)

£1.1bn - net revenue budget after income



***Total adult services revenue budget - £828m (the largest share of spending, at 44 percent)

***Total children’s services revenue budget - £326.6m

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***Total growth, environment, transport and health budget - £405.3m

***£51.1m highways capital programme - including £32.4m government grant, boosted by £13.1m of county council borrowing, for pre-planned and rapid response work to maintain roads and infrastructure.

***£32.8m schools capital delivery programme - including £14.8m to create additional school places via expansions of existing facilities or new-build projects and an assumed £13.7m on repairing the most urgent school building defects.

***£13.7m of cost-cutting measures - including scrapping of free bus passes for 16-18-year-olds not in education, employment or training or who are young carers; ending the £1 weekday bus fare for holders of a disabled person’s NoW card travelling before 9.30am; the introduction of a care arrangement charge for individuals who pay the full cost of their care; and the anaerobic digestion of food waste when doorstep collections of such waste begin.

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What was said: Cabinet member for health and wellbeing Michael Green said the county council’s investment in its network of family hubs, which opened last autumn, was already paying dividends.

“On average, we are seeing around a thousand additional…users accessing services at the family hubs every month since their launch,” he said, adding that feedback so far had been “extremely positive”.

Meanwhile, lead member for active travel Scott Smith said local bus fare initiatives had also been well-received, with a million of Lancashire’s £1-after-7pm tickets having been sold so far.


***Create fund to support district councils wanting to develop assisted housing for older people (costing £20m).

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***Create one-off fund to address the most urgent highway issues (costing £10m).

***Accelerate move to developing county council-owned children’s homes (costing £5m).

***Cancel on-street pay and display expansion proposal and the necessary investment - already curtailed after being rejected by two thirds of districts - in its entirety (saving £965K).

***Cancel proposed scrapping of free bus passes for selected 16-18-year-olds, as above (recurrent cost £155K).

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***Cancel proposed scrapping of the subsidised £1 bus fare for disabled person’s NoW card holders during weekday morning peak time (no cost in 2024/25, as saving due to be delivered later)

***Increase planned savings from review of how county council buildings are used (saving further £145K)

Funded by: one-off contribution from the transitional reserve of £35m for capital spending. A revenue budget saving of £965K would be created.

What was said: Labour’s Julie Gibson said an acceleration of the county council’s plan to open its own children’s homes, reducing reliance on private providers, would lessen the “added stress” faced by the 70 Lancashire children currently placed in homes outside of the county - and so living away from any remaining family. She told the meeting the primary reason young people were in that situation was because of “a lack of offers from Lancashire homes and not because it was part of their care plan to live at a distance from their community”.

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County Cllr Vincent pledged that county council-owned children’s homes would open this year and stated that the authority was “fully committed” to the principle and would go faster if there was a chance to do so - but stressed that the practicalities of establishing the facilities can take time.


***Recruitment of six additional permanent youth workers and a senior youth worker (recurrent cost £297K)

***Recruitment of 12 parking enforcement officers, one in each district (recurrent cost £397K)

***Tree-planting investment (costing £210K)

***Reduction of the intervention level for potholes from 40mm to 20mm (recurrent cost £4.5m).

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Funded by: contributions from the transitional reserve of an additional £864K to the revenue budget and £4.5m to the capital programme.

What was said: Liberal Democrat John Potter said that “anyone who spends any time in our communities knows we have a problem with antisocial behaviour”, as he extolled his group’s policy of taking on more youth workers.

“Talk to the police…about the best ways that this council can…help reduce crime, give young people something to do [and] put them on the straight and narrow if they are starting to [veer] off course,” he said.

Cabinet member for children and families Cosima Towneley said there were currently 15 vacancies for youth workers within the county council, but praised the work of roving - or “detached” - youth workers who travel around the county to work with young people in less formal settings. However, Labour’s Samara Barnes said the whole of her borough Rossendale had just three hours' worth of such outreach work each work - and that it wasn’t enough.

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***Increased budget for feasibility studies into use of county council land for renewable energy generation (costing £40K).

Funded by: a £40K contribution to the revenue budget from the transitional service.

What was said: Green Party member Scott Cunliffe said he wanted to “build on” the existing work of trying to find suitable sites for renewable energy schemes.

“The possibility of having Lancashire-wide, on our land…renewable energy…and extracting an awful lot of cash from that, as well as carbon credits…could be built into your mid-term economic review over the next [few] years,” he explained.

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County Cllr Cunliffe said it would also reduce the authority's own energy costs, which are putting pressure on its budget.

However, cabinet member for climate change Shaun Turner said he would not be releasing the requested additional funds, as the work was already being done and a draft report had highlighted 11 possible sites for further consideration.

Labour's Erica Lewis condemned the ruling group for not even being prepared to accept an amendment so small in financial terms that it would amount to "a rounding error" in the overall budget.


Lancashire County Council’s share of the bill only, excluding charges levied by district and parish councils and the police and fire service (increase on 2023/24 rate shown in brackets):

Band A - £1,102.19 (up £52.38)

Band B - £1,285.89 (up £61.12)

Band C - £1,469.59 (up £69.85)

Band D - £1,653.29 (up £78.58)

Band E - £2,020.69 (up £96.04)

Band F - £2,388.09 (up £113.51)

Band G - £2,755.48 (up £130.96)

Band H - £3,306.58 (up £157.16)

Source: Lancashire County Council and Local Democracy Reporting Service