Like many local authorities, the city council is battling against unprecedented pressures of steep increases in its operating costs, increasing demand for services, and below inflation funding from the Government.
Unless action is taken the council will be left with an estimated £4.2million black hole in its finances for 2023/24.
On Tuesday (January 17) the council’s cabinet discussed initial proposals for tackling the deficit.
The budget plans underline the council’s ongoing commitment to protecting vital frontline services, supporting communities, ensuring access to services for those most in need, and working in partnership to deliver the best outcomes for the community.
While immediate cost-saving action has already been taken, including a recruitment freeze, consolidation of office space, and a senior leadership restructure to cut management costs, significant savings are needed to close the budget gap.
Savings of £2.4million are proposed in 2023/24, with a contribution from the council’s reserves, increased income and other changes making up the difference.
A basic council tax increase of 2.99%, an average of £7.23 a year for a Band D property, is also proposed to ensure crucial frontline services can continue to be delivered to residents and businesses.
The council has also agreed to continue 100% council tax support for those on the lowest incomes and most affected by the cost of living crisis, one of the few local authorities in England to do so.
Longer term, the council is facing a potential deficit of £3.4 million in 2024/25, which could reach £7 million by 2026.
This challenge, however, also provides the opportunity for a fresh look at how services are provided to ensure they are delivering all they can for communities and the local economy.
As part of a long-term plan, the council has embarked on a project which will examine every area of its budget and match resources more closely with priorities to find the savings it needs to balance the books.
Councillor Anne Whitehead, cabinet member with responsibility for finance, said: “These are difficult times for us all and the council’s finances are in a perilous situation. Spiralling inflation and years of Government underfunding all mean that we are not making enough income to cover our everyday expenses.
“Our budget proposals look to stabilise our financial position, whilst continuing to provide essential services to our local communities. Part of this means having to increase council tax, which for the average Band D home will be around 14p a week.
“We’ve also guaranteed that those on the lowest incomes will continue to receive 100% council tax support, which many other local authorities are considering as it not only provides support through the cost of living crisis, but also avoids expensive legal fees in recovering unpaid tax.
“We also have a longer-term plan in place for how we will deliver the further savings we will need to make over the next few years. There are many discussions to be had but the reality is that we will not be able to provide all our services at the current level, so we all need to prepare ourselves for some tough decisions.”
The savings proposals have been prepared following a public survey with residents and businesses, which saw 546 responses and there will be further opportunities for people to have their say.
The council’s Budget and Performance Panel will consider the proposals at its meeting on February 1 at Morecambe Town Hall, starting at 6pm, and everyone is invited to attend.
A public briefing has also been arranged for Thursday January 19 at 6pm to provide more information on the financial challenges faced by the council and how it intends to tackle them. To register visit Lancaster.gov.uk/budget-briefing.
Last updated: 18 January 2023