Fighting food and fuel poverty, investment in CCTV and tackling anti-social behaviour all feature in an ‘ambitious’ budget being finalised by the Labour group which runs Lancaster City Council.
The revenue budget proposals for 2019/20 – which also include support for businesses and the local economy, and a freeze on car park charges – are being finalised by Labour’s cabinet.
A 2.99 per cent rise in the city council’s share of council tax has been recommended by cabinet members. If agreed by full council on 30 January, this would amount to a £6.59 increase over the year in the amount of council tax levied by the city council for a typical Band D home.
The city council receives just 13 per cent of the total bill, with the lion’s share going to Lancashire County Council and other amounts to the police and fire services and parish councils where applicable. Further Government funding cuts mean the amount the city council receives from Government will have fallen from £15.1m in 2010/11, the year the Conservatives came to power, to just £5.8m for 2019/20.
Labour plans for the City Council to continue to offer 100 per cent support with council tax to the lowest income families were passed at last month’s full council meeting despite opposition from most Conservative councillors.
The budget proposals include a new one-year post for a public health project coordinator charged with tackling food and fuel poverty, health inequalities and social isolation, coordinating support from communities and bidding for external funding.
Funding is earmarked to continue the ‘smart’ CCTV system introduced last year following a successful pilot during which it has helped police with 18 serious investigations. The council plans to build on its success by using it further to help with fly-tipping investigations and is also looking to use the cameras to assist with the work of its anti-social behaviour team. Labour has budgeted £53,200 for the team to continue after a successful trial which has seen staff tackle community concerns including unruly youth behaviour.
A review of grass-cutting is proposed, with a view to freeing up staff to work on other issues like weeding and removing graffiti, while £75,000 is proposed for park improvement projects. The mini-zoo at Williamson Park could be further developed with the introduction of racoons, skunk and porcupines, interactive displays, a wildlife pond and a nature trail, which should boost income.
There is £145,000 proposed for economic growth initiatives including business and skills support, marketing the area following the launch of the ‘Lancaster Story’ and to support local wealth building to ensure spending stays in the district, benefiting the local economy. There would be a continued focus on attracting investment to the district, like the Eden Project, encouraging business growth and start-ups, creating and safeguarding jobs, and boosting visitor numbers – with the Lancaster Visitor Information Centre moved into the City Museum to increase footfall in both and help maximise visitor spending.
A bid would also be lodged for funding for extremely fast full fibre broadband, offering speeds of a gigabit per second, with benefits for businesses, public services and homes.
A funding gap of £800,000 caused by Government cuts would be met through a mixture of savings and efficiencies, including a reduction in planned property maintenance, staff restructures, increased income – for example, from certain types of planning fees – and reduced funding of capital spending by borrowing.
Cllr Anne Whitehead, Labour’s cabinet member for finance, said: “We have again come up with some really exciting and ambitious budget proposals, despite a continued squeeze on our funding by the Conservative Government.
“These plans protect frontline services, help people who need help the most, support our local economy, create jobs and ensure our district is clean, green, safe and interesting.
“We are working really hard to overcome the financial challenges we face and offer services we can be proud of and which people can rely upon – while going above and beyond where we can to make sure our communities are happy and healthy.”
The revenue budget proposals will be finalised by cabinet next month before going to full council on 27 February. Full council will vote on council tax at its meeting on 30 January.