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County finances in the spotlight

A public meeting is to be held in Boston later this month for residents to quiz councillors about the county council finances.

Cllr Martin Hill, Lincolnshire County Council's Leader, and Cllr Marc Jones, executive councillor for finance, will answer questions about the authority's budget at the Princess Royal Sports Arena from 6pm until 8pm on Tuesday, January 26.

As well as looking at which services are compulsory and which are optional, the meeting will explain where savings have already been made and how the authority is funded.

Cllr Jones  said: "We feel it's really important to give people every opportunity to have their say on how public money is raised and spent in the county. It's also important that the full extent of our budget reduction and our compulsory expenditure is explained so that there is a clear picture of the options we have going forward.

"As well as the public meetings, people can also view our budget proposals online and give us their feedback. You can still take part in our survey to tell us where you think we should prioritise our spending which will help us make these difficult decisions."

The budget survey asking people their views on their budget priorities can be filled in online at www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/budget before this Friday, January 15.

In the latest edition of County News, delivered to homes just before Christmas, Cllr Hill described forthcoming cuts in finance from central Government as "the deepest we've ever faced". He said the council's annual spend would have to be cut by at least £130 million over the next four years, on top of the £129 million reduction made since 2011.

He said:  "Imagine if every council in England stopped filling in potholes, turned off every street light, and closed all parks, children's centres, libraries, museums and leisure centres. Even that would still not save enough to plug the financial black hole we're facing by 2020. Given the scale of the problem, councils have to decide what - if anything at all - we can provide beyond what we absolutely have to.

"At this council, having already reduced our budget by £129m over the last four years, we're faced with at least the same massive cut again. However, the savings will be very much harder to find this time, as we're already running a far more efficient council."

Cllr Jones said over the next 12 months the council's spending will have to be reduced by £40 million - more than is spent each year on two vital services - Fire and Rescue and the disposal of every single household's rubbish.

"So where are we going to find these savings? The stark truth is that the budgets for almost everything we do will have to be cut to some extent. Some nonessential services will have to be stopped altogether. We may also have to increase council tax much more than we'd like, simply to generate extra income."