Political parties unveil their budget plans for the Lancaster district

Eileen Blamire.
Eileen Blamire.

A new team to tackle anti-social behaviour is among measures being proposed by Labour councillors as part of its spending plan due to be unveiled this week.

Improvements to Morecambe prom and Happy Mount Park are also among areas the Labour group which runs Lancaster City Council has pledged to increase spending on in the 2017/18 budget.

Coun Peter Williamson

Coun Peter Williamson

The budget, due to be announced at Wednesday’s full council meeting, is expected to include increased funding for amenity improvements on Morecambe promenade and pathways within Happy Mount Park as well as continued funding for Morecambe streets, the View for Eric scheme and sea and river defence works.

The proposed three-strong Anti-Social Behaviour Team would be piloted for two years from June.

Its remit would include using formal enforcement powers to investigate and tackle issues like litter, fly-tipping and drug and alcohol-related problems.

However, Green and Conservative councillors have criticised the proposals, which include cuts to street cleaning.

Jon Barry

Jon Barry

Other proposals in the budget include support for public CCTV until September as discussions continue around future funding of the service.

The council will also continue to run the Heysham and Carnforth community swimming pools on behalf of Lancashire County Council until September when it is hoped local schools will be in a position to take over their running.

The proposed revenue budget also includes £500,000 to help boost economic growth.

That cash could be used to attract new businesses to the area and create jobs, support regeneration of the Heysham Gateway area around the new link road, and help existing businesses.

A new project manager is proposed to help drive the evolving proposals to regenerate the Canal Corridor North site, while other posts would help to tackle the blight of empty homes, beef up the council’s pest control service and conserve the district’s heritage.

Money is also earmarked in the budget for the next phase of the Salt Ayre Sports Centre revamp, as well as further improvements to Lancaster city centre under the Square Routes scheme and to Morecambe town centre and Morecambe promenade.

The separate housing budget includes £4m for improvements to council houses and new support for council tenants.

Council and Labour group leader, Coun Eileen Blamire, said: “This is a budget which protects vital services so far as we can in the face of further cuts by this dreadful Tory Government.

“Through careful use of our resources we are also looking to tackle the scourge of anti-social behaviour, help to keep our district clean and safe and support economic regeneration and employment.

“We still need to save another £3.6m by 2021 and although work is going on behind the scenes to identify how we can do so it’s inevitable that there will be an impact.

“The easy option, which the Tories would take, would be to take a chainsaw to local services and privatise many of them at enormous cost to residents.

“But if we plan and invest carefully through exciting schemes like the Salt Ayre Sports Centre revamp, which Tory and Green councillors opposed, we can maximise income and reduce our costs while still offering quality public services and boosting our local economy.”

Meanwhile the Conservatives say they will be proposing “the most radical vision for Lancaster district in living memory” at the meeting.

Conservative group leader Coun Peter Williamson said that their alternative budget will show that frontline services can be protected, council tax does not need to rise and the council’s overall priorities should shift to creating jobs, security and growth for the district.

He said: “We are going to present an ambitious, positive and balanced budget proposal that prioritises frontline services for every resident across our district.

“Let’s harness the potential of the inward investment we are beginning to see, especially along the Bay Gateway, to ensure that the Council stops cutting and encourages growth.

“Our three priorities are creating long-last economic development for all, improving and maintaining front line services, and restructuring the Council to maximise the positive impact every employee of Lancaster City Council makes for our community.”

The Conservative proposals include savings of £15million in restructuring the council and “bringing service delivery into the 21st century”.

The intention is to create a streamlined organisation to focus on delivery and bringing long-term prosperity to the District.

Coun Williamson said that while Labour’s budget proposals include saving £80,000 by forcing some of the lowest paid workers into new contracts, the Conservatives will reverse this decision and ensure there are no redundancies for staff earning less than £40,000.

The proposals include a four-year Council Tax freeze.

Coun Peter Williamson said: “Our balanced budget proposals ensure that no frontline services can be cut and we can still find enough savings to pass on a tax freeze to every Council Tax payer.

“Last month, the councillors agreed a pay rise; as a party we opposed this and think the priorities are all wrong. Let’s freeze Council Tax before we increase our own allowances. We propose to reduce senior managers and reduce the number of councillors by half.”

Coun Charlie Edwards champions these proposals and wants to put economic development at the heart of the council’s agenda.

“As a council, we need to be enabling businesses to thrive, working to help them grow and ensuring high-skilled high-pay jobs are created,” he said.

“We want to see a council working smarter and working harder to maximise results for residents.”

Coun Andrew Gardiner, representing Overton, wants to put maximising the potential of Heysham Gateway at the heart of the council’s vision.

“We want to ringfence £3million to get the Heysham Gateway project off the ground,” he said. “We want to push for an Enterprise Zone, we want to attract businesses, make sure we have superfast broadband in the area and support improvements to other key infrastructure.

“It’s about creating real jobs for local people who can prosper from this investment.”

Protecting and regenerating rural communities is another key part of the Conservative vision.

Coun Phillippa Williamson said: “We live in a beautiful area and have an ambitious new strategy to create vibrant, sustainable rural villages across the district.

“We will encourage small rural businesses through rate relief and sympathetic planning; retain rural pools and encourage more tourism by looking to extend the Lune Valley Cycle Path.”

Green party leader Coun Jon Barry said group members are “shocked” by some of the proposals in Labour’s budget.

He said: “Unlike the county council, the city council’s finances are in a relatively strong position.

“More than £160,000 has been put into balances and £500,000 has been set aside for a rather vaguely defined “economic development reserve”.

“Given this, Green group members are shocked by some of the proposals in Labour’s budget.

“The Labour budget reduces spending on street cleaning by £80,000. This has been done by changing workers’ contracts and by reducing overall hours by 112 per week.

“Officers claim that the new contracts will result in a more efficient service – but we find it difficult to see how losing that many hours will not reduce the cleanliness of our streets.

“Given that Labour is putting aside £500,000, we would have thought that they should have taken advantage of any efficiencies in street cleaning contracts to improve the overall service – that is, get more done for the same money.

“Currently 1 422 hours are worked per week. This will be reduced to 1,310 hours in 2017/18. The Green group will be seeking to restore some of these hours using money put into council balances. The group believes that providing a clean and healthy environment is a good way to boost jobs and tourism.”

Labour also plan to cut youth work money to the Marsh Community Centre.

“This sum of only just over £13,000 is of immeasurable value to give young people on the Marsh some direction and a decent start in life,” Coun Barry said.

“The Green group will be seeking to restore this money for a year whilst a council committee conducts a review into spending on the voluntary sector.

“Labour proposes that the spending on the £500,000 economic development reserve will be decided by officers and so will not be subject to scrutiny by cabinet and the rest of the council.

“The Green group wants to see this money properly scrutinised and will be proposing this at full council.

“The Labour group have been avoiding a ‘property review’ for many years. It is well known that taxpayers are having to pay large amounts of extra money because the council’s buildings are not fully occupied. I

“In particular, operating two town halls is very expensive – the Green group believes that the city council should be making better use of Morecambe Town Hall to raise revenue for the council. The Green group will be pushing for this property review to be completed in the 2017/18 financial year.

The Green group fully supports the improvements to facilities at Salt Ayre. Last March, many green councillors wanted another month before supporting £5m of investment into Salt Ayre – because they wanted more information on the financial projections for the initiative.”

Coun Anne Whitehead, Labour’s cabinet member for finance, said that the changes to the contracts of the council’s valued street cleaners had been subject to consultation with trade unions and brought their terms into line with those of other staff.

She said the changes reflected the fact that street cleaning was a 365 day a year service, that people expect the same quality service at weekends, and added that the quality of service would not be reduced overall.

She added: “People will see through the Conservatives’ fantasy figures. They will realise that pledges to make even more cuts on top of those imposed by the Government, as well as hints at making council staff redundant will do nothing to improve local services and will see many privatised, putting profit before local people.

“All the Conservatives can do is echo our plans for growing the economy and creating jobs, whilst failing to put sufficient resources in place with which to do so.

“With the cuts still to come from the Conservative Government which involve completely phasing out our revenue grant, it’s nonsense for the Greens to suggest we are awash with cash but it is fair to say we are preparing for the devastating consequences of what the Government are planning in the best way we can.

“The decision to oppose a small increase in council tax by some Green councillors including Jon Barry, as well as Conservatives – even though people on the lowest incomes will continue to receive support with this – would actually have resulted in us needing to cut another £200,000 from our budget. That amount would be more than £2m with a four-year freeze.

“Only a Labour budget will get the balance right between making savings, growing our economy and ensuring we protect as best we can the vital council-run services which people rely upon.”