The moral and virtuous Victorians used to say “take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves”. For the last 10 years, Lincolnshire council leaders have been forced to do exactly that.
Services have been outsourced and cut back in order to cope with the gradual reduction and uncertainty in central government support.
Ahead of the turn of the decade, county council leader Martin Hill said the authority needed certainty in the coming years.
More than £50 million has been lost in the council’s main source of funding, its revenue support grant, in the last four years.
Meanwhile, last year officials were forced to dip into the authority’s reserves to make ends meet. A move which could be repeated in years to come.
2020 needs to be a year of clarity for local government and the direction it is going.
Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Local Government, promised “certainty” for councils as he revealed the provisional finance settlement last month.
It pledges £49.1 billion worth of core funding, including a further £1.5 billion for social care and a limit on council tax increases by 2%.
“It is a strong and well-balanced package, that delivers significant extra resources to the priority areas of adult and children’s social care, while offering protection to other key service areas,” he said in a written statement.
Perhaps it will offer certainty, but only in the short term.
The Local Government Association warned that the future funding of social care was not “sustainable”.
It’s an issue which affects Lincolnshire, with council finance officials predicting “significant cost pressures in social care” this year.
Ahead of the county council’s budget, officers have predicted a balanced year based on the financial settlement from Westminster.
Initial plans would see a 3.5% council tax hike, including social care precept, and a new £14 million social care support grant from government.
But, while this year seems to be a balanced one for the county council, the years ahead seem uncertain.
Hence the ongoing calls to help take care of the pounds.