Councils are ready to make tough decisions after spending review announcement

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Council leaders are bracing themselves for making some tough decisions as they look to make further big savings from their budgets.

Chancellor George Osborne said on Wednesday that local authorities must look to save an average of 10 per cent for the year.

This cut is on top of the previously-announced 33 per cent cuts in local council budgets.

Lincolnshire County Council’s current revenue budget is about £1bn, and in February it announced it was looking to save £67m.

Last week it announced proposals to make cuts to its library services – including closing Deepings library and reducing Stamford’s opening times – in a bid to save nearly £2m.

The Local Government Association, a cross-party organisation that represents councils across the country, said it believed local services on which people rely will have to be significantly reduced with no area of spending totally immune. Some services will be wound down entirely, it said.

Lincolnshire’s deputy leader Patricia Bradwell (Con) said the impact of the new cuts was not clear but that savings would be found. She said priority services such as the fire service, child protection and highways were protected.

Coun Bradwell said: “The council is committed to playing its part in balancing the nation’s books. Over the last two years the council has found significant savings while also protecting priority services.

“We also have plans in place that will bring a further £67m of savings over the next two years.

“However, it’s important that everyone pulls their weight and that Lincolnshire isn’t asked to do more than its fair share. Rural authorities like Lincolnshire still do not receive the same level of overall funding as urban areas. So the council will continue to call for a fairer deal for local residents.

“Whatever the future holds, we’ll continue to use the resources we have to deliver priority services as best we can.”

The budget for South Kesteven District Council for this year is £14.6m. The council has estimated that the 2015/16 cuts will result in a loss of between £500,000 to £600,000.

Council leader Linda Neal (Con) says the council was already looking at ways to save and that it was tightening spending on audit fees, grounds maintenance contracts and expenditures in council offices to meet targets.

Coun Neal said: “It really doesn’t come as a surprise because it was predicted.

“It’s going to be hard to see how we’re going to be directly affected until further down the line because it is not clear how a 10 per cent overall local government spending cut will affect district authorities, but touching frontline services will be a last resort.

“We’re going to have to examine ways in which we do things and make sure we are as efficient as we can be.

“We are where we are and we have to make the most of the money we have available.”

Local Government Association chairman Sir Merrick Cockell said that nationwide, culture and leisure facilities, school support, road maintenance and growth-related programmes would be the worst hit from the cuts.

Sir Merrick said: “This cut will stretch many essential services to breaking point in many areas.

“It’s disappointing that a feudal approach still exists in relation to government funding.

“Vital services are being damaged because councils do not have a seat at the table to negotiate a fair deal.”