Cash boost for county's social care and business rate coffers, but districts feeling the pinch

Lancashire as a whole is the biggest beneficiary from o one-off boost to social care
Lancashire as a whole is the biggest beneficiary from o one-off boost to social care
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Lancashire is to receive the joint largest share of a nationwide grant to ease pressure on social care services.

The county council area will be handed almost £15m from a one-off funding pot announced in October’s budget, while Blackpool and Blackburn Councils get £2.4m and £2.1m respectively.

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A third of the cash - which had already been allocated - is reserved to help reduce the strain on the NHS over winter. The remainder can be used across adult and children’s services.

Meanwhile, the county has been told that it can keep more of the business rates which it raises in the area.

The region has been given the go-ahead to take part in a pilot scheme which will see Lancashire authorities retain 75 percent of the income generated from businesses and pool the proceeds across the majority of councils.

It is estimated that the arrangement will give the region an extra £10.5m to spend next year across all local authorities except Lancaster City Council, which chose not to take part because of the risk that successful business rate appeals could actually leave it worse off.

Ken Hind, leader of Ribble Valley Borough Council, which spearheaded the bid, said the government had recognised the “size and diversity” of Lancashire by trialling the scheme in the region.

“It shows what 15 councils can do when they work together in a short period of time - we had just three weeks to draw up the bid and get permission from over 500 councillors in the county,” Cllr Hind said.

The announcements were made as local authorities also learned much money they will have to spend in the next financial year.

The government has published its draft finance settlement which will be confirmed early next year following a formal consultation.

Lancashire County Council will see its spending power - a combination of government grants and money received from council tax - increase by 3.3 per cent during 2019/20 compared to the previous 12 months. County Hall will have £788m to spend next year, 7.6 percent more than four years ago - almost exactly the rate of inflation over the same period.

Leader of the Conservative authority, Geoff Driver, said: "The local government finance settlement looks broadly similar to the position that we have been forecasting as part of our medium term financial strategy, which forecasts a financial deficit of £46m by 2022/23.

"Our priority continues to be ensuring that we protect the most vulnerable people in Lancashire, by making the best use of the money available to us.

The county council was one of the few authorities in the country not to sign-up to four-year settlement in 2015/16. That arrangement gave councils an indication of their budgets over the course of the current spending review period, which comes to an end this year.

But East Lancashire's districts will all see falls in their budgets next year - as they have done over the past four years. Pendle Council's total spending power will drop by two percent to £12m and has fallen by almost 15 percent - more than any other part of Lancashire - since 2015/16.

In Burnley, next year's budget will be down just 0.5 percent to £14m - but in the past four years, the money which the council has available to it has dropped by 11.5 percent.

In spite of the increases for some Lancashire authorities since the middle of the decade, a National Audit Office report earlier this year found that government funding for councils across the country has been cut by half since the start of austerity in 2010.

The government is due to publish the findings next year of its fair funding review of how money is allocated to councils and another comprehensive spending review will be carried out. Plans to put social care services on a sustainable footing will also be addressed in a so-called 'green paper' on the subject.