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Challenging times for Council, says Leader Langhorn

Author: 
John Freeman
Council leader Stuart Langhorn has told virtual-lancaster the next few years will be "challenging" as it adapts to the cuts to its funding from central government announced as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

"The headline figure of a 28 per cent cut to local government budgets over the next four years will be very challenging for the District Council," he confirmed. "It will inevitably lead to the council providing less services than it does now."

The full detail of the funding cuts have yet to be detailed, he points out.

"The precise amount of the reduction in the government’s settlement to the concil will not be known for another six weeks," he says.

"The Council is not taking any knee jerk reactions – and has in fact been preparing for this news for some time. The Cabinet has been looking at a range of opportunities to share services and to reduce costs.

"Only last week the City Council held a series of listening events to explain the budget situation and to listen to what the public had to say on which services they would be prepared to see a reduction in. The results of this process will be fed into the next Cabinet meeting.

Despite hard times ahead, Langhorn feels administration changes such as the Decentralisation and Localism Bill, due for publication around 18th November, which is intended to return power to local authorities and communities through a number of measures including control of housing and planning decisions, may present new opportunities that might benefit the Council in the long term.

"Councils will have more discretion than ever before with the money they receive from government because of the coalition’s commitment to cutting rules and regulations on how money is spent," he notes. "It reverses the trend of increasing centralisation of local government funding by the last government that saw the number of ringfenced grants increase from 23 to 91. The move will soften the blow to local authorities from the expected heavy cuts to central government funding. It will also make administration simpler, helping them meet efficiency savings.

"Cuts are unavoidable because of the huge deficit left to us by Labour," Langhorn argues, "but these changes are freeing up Local Authorities’ to spend money how they want to not how Whitehall wants to.

"It’s hard to think of a time when more control, money and responsibility will be decentralised by any modern UK government. The Localism Bill will make clear this transfer of power. This is the Liberal Democrat influence over the direction the government is taking.

"Added to this will be an extra £7 billion to give the poorest pupils a better start in life – the pupil premium," he added.

"So though it is going to be challenging, it will also provide new opportunities for local communities."

• The city council’s budget questionnaire is available online at www.lancaster.gov.uk/consultation. Hard copies were distributed in October via Your District Council Matters.
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