Lancashire County Council £179m. cuts - how you will be affected

DISABLED youngsters, children in care homes, struggling families and the elderly will be among the hardest hit as Lancashire County Council unveil the full-scale of £179m. budget cuts.

Despite promising to focus the cuts on “back-office” functions, County Hall’s ruling Conservative cabinet have unveiled plans to cut more than £100m. from frontline services, including axing children’s homes and cutting services for pensioners. In total, almost 70% of all spending cuts unveiled yesterday will hit frontline services.

Today the cuts were branded a “disgrace” by opposition councillors, unions and charity workers.

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Council leader Geoff Driver said: “We want to shield the frontline as much as we can. Where the savings do affect frontline services, in many cases they will be made possible by new approaches. We have to make some very tough decisions and our goal has been to ensure the proposal feels as fair as it can be in the context of having to make substantial savings.”

County Coun Jennifer Mein, leader of the opposition Labour Group, said it was a “sad day for Lancashire” during yesterday’s cabinet meeting. She said: “We knew it would be bad but not this bad. The cuts are far too deep and far too fast. I am struggling to take it all in. What I do know is I am very disappointed.”

After the meeting, she added: “Don’t believe the rhetoric about protecting the frontline – these are real cuts to the services thousands of residents rely on across the county.”

Charity groups and union officials also attacked the level of cuts aimed at frontline services.

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Dave Brown, chairman of the North West Pensioner’s Association, said: “The cuts are a lot worse than anyone expected and it is going to make a tremendous difference to people’s lives. We find ourselves in a disgraceful set of affairs.”

Coun. Driver defended the budget proposals and said every effort had been taken to protect frontline services.

Overall, £179m. is being cut, with just £55m. being made from “back room” savings. Those savings include £2m. from reviewing the council’s insurance premiums and £9m. refinancing loans.

However, council tax will be frozen in 2011/12 – which will unlock a grant from the government, which equates to a 2.5% rise in council tax. An extra £2m. is also being spent improving the county’s road network following the severe winter weather.

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Coun. Driver would not confirm how many jobs will be lost as a result of the cuts, although he admitted senior officials have a “ball park” figure of how many people could go. Around £10m. has reportedly been set aside to pay for redundancy costs.

Following consultation over the next month, the budget proposal will be brought back to the Cabinet meeting on February 3rd. Cabinet members will agree a final budget recommendation to go to the full meeting of the county council for approval on February 17th.

See Tuesday’s newspaper for more on this story.