What will Â£65m cuts mean for residents and the future of local government in Lancashire?
Lancashire County Council meets next week to vote on a Â£65m package of cuts to local services which will affect ever family in the county.
These cuts are set to bite in the next two years and the council’s leader has warned of financial catastrophe ahead, even with a slimmed down council financing fewer services.
On February 11 councillors will also be asked to vote through a Council Tax increase of nearly 4%.
Council leader County Coun Jennifer Mein said: “We will see our government funding reduce by more than £300m over the next four years. In spite of previously identified savings and the £65m of savings in these budget proposals, even if these are agreed by Full Council, we will still need to find a further £200m of savings by 2020.
“We also need to spend the council’s useable reserves to balance the budget over the next two years and it is not clear at this point how we will be able to deliver even statutory services beyond that point.”
Half of the Council Tax rise will be spent, says the council, specifically on social services to offset reductions in central government funding.
The Post has taken a closer look at what the cuts will mean for individuals and what they could mean for the future shape and scope of local government.
WHAT IS LOCAL GOVERNMENT FOR?
The financial crisis currently hitting local authorities has raised questions about the future of local government and what it is and should be for.
Lecturer Dr Mark Garnett from Lancaster University believes it is time for real change - change in the way local government is financed, changes in the relationship between central and local government and changes in the powers of local government.
The senior lecturer in politics said: “Cuts like library services and bus services - if we are regarding these as luxuries then we’re talking about an impoverished society.
These are necessary to a healthy society that feels life is about more than pounds, shillings and pence.”
There has, he believes, been a disconnection between local government and central government regarding local councils as a problem rather than an asset.
He said: “It seems to me we have had decades of centralisation where local government has been treated very badly. 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.”
But it is clear, he said, local residents think local government is much more important in keeping local services afloat.
The point is when an individual pays their taxes - who or what should have first call on those taxes?
“Local government has no future as things stand,” he said: “If it’s dependent on central funding as currently it is fair to say local government is in the worst crisis in its history.”
He believes the answer is to press for greater devolution of power to a new style of local government.
He added: ”It can only come about if people realise if they pay taxes - as opposed to the Council Tax - they’re paying for local government.”
He maintains it is time for this local government to be given the ability and freedom to raise money in its own ways, for central government to give up its “iron grip” on councils and for a new style of decentralised local government to take command. Only then can dreams like the “northern powerhouse” become reality.
BUS CUTS WILL HIT HARD
Residents across the county have raised their voices in protest over the proposed axeing of £7.5m bus subsidies in Lancashire.
Janet Timbrell lives in the heart of rural Lancashire and that for her could soon be a major problem.
She does not drive and has health issues which means she has regular medical appointments and wonders how she will get to them if bus subsidies are cut massively as planned.
But her biggest worry is about her son Dylan, 14, who suffers from epilepsy. She says without bus services from her home village of Chipping she will be stranded, unable to get to his school in an emergency.
She said: “I don’t drive. I don’t have any family that do drive. I have a brother and two sisters in the village and they don’t drive.
“We’ll all be stuck. My son at Tom Finney High School has epilepsy. If he has a fit I need to get out of the village quickly to get to hospital to see him. I need the bus for shopping and hospital appointments.”
She continued: “I have serious health issues with my legs and back. I need to see a consultant - they’re not going to come and see me at home.”
Janet says she relies one family for help and fears a lack of public transport could force them to leave the village. Her plea to councillors regarding the cutting of subsidies to bus services is simple: “Don’t do it.”
Without public transport Brenda Duxbury wonders just how much longer she can stay in the job she loves.
Brenda works at Debenhams in Blackburn and is reliant on the buses to take her from her home village of Ribchester to work.
She said: “I need the bus to go to work. I’ve been at Debenhams for 16 years and I love my job and it’s been taken out of my hands. I’m going to struggle because I don’t drive. My husband has his own business so I can’t expect him to be my taxi driver. I’m gutted.”
She said it will cost her £24 a day to get a taxi to work and back.
Meanwhile teenagers who have left school and are attending college or sixth form will be hit by the withdrawal of the subsidised bus services.
In Ribble Valley many students attend college in Preston, Blackburn or sixth form in Clitheroe and they are reliant on public transport to get them to lessons and lectures on time.
Mum Annie Lupton says her daughter will be particularly affected. India Lupton from Forty Acre Farm on Jeffrey Hill, Longridge, is studying for a BTEC in textiles and has been awarded a gifted and talented scholarship. But a day return taxi service from her home to the town would cost £150 a week.
Bev Kershaw’s son Ethan, 16, also studies at the college and she said: “I don’t know how on earth I am going to get him there. To pay a taxi every day - how on earth am I going to afford that?”
Clitheroe Royal Grammar school has urged parents to share their views with the council, while Blackburn College says it will provide students with money towards transport costs. But parents say this will not meet all the prohibitive costs of alternative travel - even if that is available. Meanwhile it’s hoped a link service will transport Preston bound students from Chipping to Longridge.
Campaign groups in both Chipping and in Ribchester, where unless a solution is found all services through the village will end on February 20, say they will now be lobbying councillors over the next two weeks.
MUSEUMS UNDER THREAT
The Museum of Lancashire (MoL) in Preston is one of five earmarked for closure. But if that closed its doors it would be the unkindest cut of all for young Louis and Kate Wall, aged eight and seven.
They are frequent visitors to the building which is a star attraction for youngsters who can step back in time and even try on historic costumes.
The Museum is sited in the town’s former Sessions House and Louis and Kate.
put pen to paper last year to tell museum staff of their concerns about the closure.
Kate told them: “Don’t shut MoL because it’s my favourite place and it will break my heart if you shut it. There are lots of things to do there and if you shut it, I won’t have any fun. Please, please can you keep it open. If you don’t. I will be very cross!”
Louis wrote: “Please don’t shut down MoL, it means almost everything to me and I love to go there.”
A petition against the closure of MoL has gained more than 1,660 signatures. The petition notes: “Once a museum or library has closed, it is most likely lost forever. Re-opening will be an extremely unlikely event. Please support this petition to preserve this small but essential part of our heritage.”
The children’s grandfather Kenneth Cook, who retired in December after more than 30 years as a mobile librarian, revealed his family has an additional reason for visiting the museum. He explained: “My father and grandmother were chauffeur and cook to Colonel Simpson at Nateby and he owned the Golden Thread Company and one of the machines from there is in the foyer at MoL.”
Likening the prospect of the sale of key county buildings as “selling off the family silver” he said: “The children are devastated really. I ask where do you want to go and they can choose to go anywhere they want -and they say let’s go to MoL.”
He fears though that cuts could go through with little public opposition: “There’s so much apathy about - nobody can be be bothered to do anything until it’s too late.” Other museums at risk are the Judges’ Lodgings, Lancaster, Queen Street Mill and Helmshore Mills Textile Museums and the Fleetwood Museum. Entry charges will be reviewed at Gawthorpe Hall, Padiham and Clitheroe Castle museum, Lancaster Castle, Lancaster City Museum,Lancaster Maritime Museum and Lancaster Cottage Museum.
Lancashire County Council’s budget meeting will consider closing 40 libraries to make £7m savings. But the thought that her library could be one at risk stirred one local mum to action.
Joanne Bithell was so concerned about the possible loss of Coppull library that she organised her own campaign to save it.
Now that campaign has grown and grown, culminating lastSaturday with a celebrity attended Read-In there.
The protest attracted VIP support from comic Dave Spikey and local MP Lindsay Hoyle, who each read at the event.
Joanne believes libraries help create communities that care and said: “I’’ve used the library ever since I was a child and Coppull library since I came here three and a half years ago. I, my husband and children Joseph, nine and Jinny, six, use the library quite regularly. If we lose the library we would lose the centre of the community. It’s like the hub. When I moved to Coppull it was my gateway into the community. If people feel part of the community they’ll feel proud of it and protect local services....you get all that from the local library.”
She said: “I started just by letting people know that the library was under threat because I realised people didn’t know about it. I thought if people don’t know they can’t have their say. Then I set up a Facebook page “Save Coppull Library” page so that the county council had comments and people had their say. The support has been immense and the campaign has really taken off.”
KNOTT END FERRY
It may be a Cinderella service for the rest of the county - unnoticed and unused, but for local residents and visitors alike the Knott End Ferry is an economic and tourist lifeline linking Fleetwood and Knott End in Wyre - saving them a detour of many miles round the estuary.
Lancashire County Council is proposing cutting the £80,000 it pays to help keep the service afloat. Now an online petition set up by Linzi Martin calling for the reinstatement of the money in the budget has gathered 4,128 signatures. She wrote: “The ferry forms part of Fleetwood’s great heritage and has been running for almost 200 years in the town.
It forms a lifeline for many locals of Knott End and surrounding areas of Over Wyre who do not have transport to make the long journey across the bridge into Fleetwood which would take approx an hour compared to a few minutes via boat.
“The local council have spent vast amounts of money on The Esplanade to improve its facade and have even had a statue erected in the honour of the famous painter L.S Lowry at Knott End slipway which is of huge tourist interest.
“Local people use the ferry to visit friends and relatives, dog walkers and keen cyclists use the ferry to take trips from Knott End to Fleetwood and vice versa. It is used for shopping trips, people to get to and from work and visitors from the many caravan parks on both sides of the water.”
She continued: “I am a new business directly next to the ferry and I have sent many happy customers through summer on boat trips to and from Knott End who have enjoyed their visit to this historical fishing port. We are trying to bring revenue and more footfall into Fleetwood and the ferry ceasing running would do the very opposite to what myself and other business owners are trying to achieve.”