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INTERVIEWS: Full breakdown of "painful" Lancaster City Council budget plans revealed

Car parking charges will be frozen in 2023/24 but there will be cuts to other services

A full breakdown of Lancaster City Council's "painful" budget plans for the next financial year has been announced.

The plans include shutting local Visitor Information Centres in summer 2023, cutting opening hours of Lancaster museums and a restructuring of senior management at the council.

The Platform in Morecambe will remain open until at least April 2024 following a backlash from the public at plans to find an alternative use for the arts and concert venue.

The city council's share of Council Tax will rise by 2.99 per cent in 2023/4, leading to a total predicted rise of £87.65 for a Band D property.

The council is also reviewing its pest control and trade waste services, its operation of cafes, and the use of all of its land and buildings including Lancaster and Morecambe Town Halls.

Some staff could lose their jobs as a result of budget cuts, although compulsory redundancies would be a last resort.

There will be a freeze on charges in council-run car parks and investment in the regeneration of Morecambe, as well as in the Mill Race area of Lancaster city centre.

Councillor Anne Whitehead, city council cabinet member for finance, said setting the 2023/24 budget had been a "painful process".

LISTEN to Councillor Anne Whitehead talking about the budget

She said cuts were necessary to balance the books after "spiralling inflation and years of government under-funding" made worse by the current cost of living crisis and rise in energy prices.

The city council was facing a budget deficit of £2.97m for 2023/24, rising to a predicted £8.41m by 2025/26.

Around £580,000 of council reserves have been used to achieve a balanced budget, on top of £2.4m in savings.

Councillor Caroline Jackson, council leader (pictured below), said she was "disillusioned" at having to make changes but "we are committed to trying to reverse them".

LISTEN to Councillor Caroline Jackson talking about the budget

"We may not be able to manage the same model but we still want to have a Platform offering, we still want to offer museums, we still want tourist and visitor information," she said.

"I'm trying to upbeat and I think it's interesting that we've had so much response from our community and our partners, that we maybe didn't know was there. This is very hopeful for the future."

Councillor Whitehead also said when setting the budget, priority had been given to street cleaning, collecting waste, maintaining parks, benches, beaches and public spaces, supporting communities, and access to services to those most in need.

"We have to set a balanced budget and need a plan for addressing budget deficits predicted for the next few years," she said.

"If we don't and the point is reached where our chief finance officer raises concerns about the council's ongoing financial viability, then the government will come in and take over, like it has in other councils.

"We would lose control over where the savings would be made and we don't want that, so we have to act responsibly and allocate our funding to delivering vital services and to undertaking activities that lead to a positive impact in the district.

"Inevitably that means we will have to reduce or stop some services and many others will be done differently.

"We will be looking to transform services in innovative ways."

The budget proposed by Lancaster City Council cabinet will only be confirmed once full council gets to vote on it at a meeting on February 22.

The cabinet is made up of Labour, Green, Bay Independent Group and Morecambe Bay Independent councillors.

VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRES

It has been announced that Lancaster and Morecambe Visitor Information Centres (VICs) will close at the end of summer 2023.

The VICs cost the council around £250,000 a year to run, it has been revealed.

The council will move towards promoting tourism online.

There will still be access to tourist information at other council buildings ie Morecambe Town Hall and Salt Ayre.

The city council is also talking to other organisations including Morecambe Town Council, shops, the Eden Project and other arts venues, about them running a Visitor Information service.

Councillor Jackson said: "We are struggling with Visitor Information Centres but maybe they're not, in a digital age, necessarily the only way to provide information.

"We need a combination that will allow some face-to-face but also use the internet better than we're doing at the moment."

Both the Morecambe Bay Independent and Liberal Democrat groups on Morecambe Town Council have said publicly that they would like to find a way to run a tourist information service.

Related Story: Visitor Information Centres and The Platform under threat due to council budget cuts - Beyond Radio

 

COUNCIL TAX

Lancaster City Council has already voted to increase its share of Council Tax by 2.99 per cent.

This makes up around 12 per cent of total Council Tax.

The rest of our Council Tax goes to Lancashire County Council, the fire service, police and other sources including parish councils.

Lancashire County Council has already voted to increase its share of Council Tax by 3.99 per cent, including for Adult Social Care.

An annual increase of £15 has been approved for the police.

A £5 increase for the fire service could be approved later this month.

This could see a total Council Tax increase for a Band D property of £87.65 next year.

 

BUDGET CUTS

A total of £2.4m in budget savings is being proposed for 2023/24.

This is made up of £76,000 from central services, £445,000 from communities and the environment services, £338,000 from corporate services, £1.1m from economic growth and regeneration, and £448,000 from a council senior leadership restructure.

Annual budget savings could rise to £3.5m by 2026/7.

A review of city council assets, buildings, land, and hospitality is ongoing - which includes the use of Lancaster and Morecambe town halls, and council-run cafes.

The council is looking to dispose of assets via sale or lease where appropriate.

There will also be reviews of the council's trade waste, pest control and pre-planning application advice services.

Changes to back office support functions would save the council around £500,000 a year.

 

CAR PARKING and GARDEN WASTE

A freeze on fees in city council-run car parks is being proposed for 2023/24.

Garden waste collection would go up by £1 to £41 per year.

 

THE PLATFORM

Initial proposals would have seen the council look for an alternative use for The Platform at the end of 2023.

Following a public backlash, they are now proposing to keep the arts and concert venue running until April 2024.

The city council wants to talk to interested parties who might want to run it themselves, after that.

They have also revealed The Platform costs them £150,000 a year to run.

Councillor Jackson said: "With The Platform, I don't think we were necessarily as aware of the support from the public and what it was doing for our community.

"Community interest has really come forward so we are beginning to talk to partners about what could happen next. Some of that talk is quite exciting."

Related Story: Top rock singer launches campaign to save Morecambe concert venue - Beyond Radio

 

ARTS, CULTURE, HERITAGE EVENTS

City council-run museums in Lancaster, including the City and Maritime Museums, will have reduced opening hours from autumn 2023. This will be followed by a full review of the local museums service.

This could save the council £300,000 a year.

The council is also looking to work in partnership and find grants to run events including the popular annual Light Up Lancaster and Fireworks Spectacular in November.

Councillor Jackson said: "With museums, we are looking forward to going for a big revamp.

"It's a bit tired, the City Museum. I know some people would love it to stay the same, or young people would want us to provide something that gives them a clear narrative about the past.

"There is a chance that now, we could really go for a revamp. So it's not all bad news."

 

COUNCIL STAFF

Voluntary redundancies are "possible" but Councillor Whitehead said the city council would do "everything they can" to avoid compulsory redundancies.

“What we’re hoping where we lose positions is we will be looking for other jobs that these officers could do throughout the council, redeploy them if possible, before reaching, possibly voluntary redundancy options," said Councillor Whitehead.

"We will do everything we can to avoid compulsory redundancies.”

Councillor Jackson said that some vacant positions within the council where they are struggling to recruit, have now been removed, saving the council money. She said they were also looking to share services with other authorities.

 

BUSINESS AND SKILLS SUPPORT

The council is looking to move to a new partnership model, saving £200,000 a year.

 

SPEND

The council will spend around £28m on staff, around £11m on supplies and services, around £5m on premises and £1m on transport in 2023/24.

They have also committed to a £17.1m programme for providing council electric vehicles, council property decarbonisation, asset management of Salt Ayre and improvements to the Mellishaw Park traveller site.

A total of £7m has been committed to a new Gateway Solar panel system, the Lancaster Heritage Action Zone (street improvements in the Mill Race area of Lancaster), regeneration of Morecambe and other works.

 

INCOME

The city council said that Council Tax makes up around £11m of its income, with business rates around £9m, grants £1m, and fees and charges £18.5m.

 

PUBLIC SURVEY

The city council also revealed the results of a public survey which shows which services residents would least like to see cut or removed. 

STATUTORY SERVICES (The question was - should funding be reduced?)

Keeping streets clean 6%

Collecting rubbish and recycling 6%

Providing environmental health services 17%

Providing planning and building control advice 32%

NON-STATUTORY (Should funding be stopped or reduced?)

Managing parks, playgrounds, open spaces, seafront 12%

Providing CCTV and investigating anti-social behaviour 18%

Providing grants and donations to volunteer organisations 18%

Encouraging economic investment in district 21%

Providing sport and leisure facilities 27%

Providing customer support to residents 27%

Supporting local arts and culture 28%

Organising and supporting events 34%

Promoting tourism and providing visitor information 34%

Supporting local businesses and entrepreneurs 38%

Connecting communities, working with partners 51%

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