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Cutbacks: 'No place to hide'

Boston Borough Council is set to be the seventh worst hit in the country over the next four years following the draft local government finance settlement 2016/17.

With reductions and the eventual withdrawal of all Revenue Support Grant (the main funding from Government) and the likelihood of a further £2 million savings to be found in the next five years - £700,000 to find in 2017/18 - there will need to be large-scale transformation of the council in the coming years.

The council has already made £2.4 million in savings since 2009, so the scale of the future savings challenges should not be underestimated.

Cllr Aaron Spencer, the council's portfolio holder for finance, said: "Let's be clear - there is no place to hide. The challenges that lie ahead are unprecedented. Tough decisions will have to be made about the services this council provides going forward. This council can no longer afford to fund all it once could. Residents will see a change to what this council does and how it provides its services. In order to ensure this council can continue to provide the services it is required to do so by law, whilst also supporting the district's most vulnerable residents and invest in the economy, it must continue to strive to be as efficient as possible in all its work, whilst ensuring it maximises the income it receives."

He said that the Local Government Association's initial assessment of the scale of the challenge facing councils included the comment that "Even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks, closed all children's centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres and turned off every street light they will not have saved enough money to plug the financial black hole they face by 2020". 

He added: "We will have some very hard decisions to make and I ask that residents bear in mind what the Government has tasked us with when we have to make those decisions. So far the council has been able to make the savings required of it. It has an ongoing transformation programme but, as time goes on and we become ever leaner, it becomes more and more difficult to sustain all that we have always done.

"The council will achieve a balanced budget for 2016/17. Most significantly we have reduced our senior management structure to what is arguably the smallest in the country and consulted with residents on the introduction of an annual fee for the successful garden waste service. 

"It will be necessary for the council to consult on enhancing and accelerating its Transformation Programme further as our projected spending plans for 2017/18 far outweigh the resources we have available." 

Council tax 2016/17 - less than two per cent increase recommended

The budget for 2016/17 proposes an increase in council tax of just below two per cent. This will give an average band D council tax increase of 6p per week, with 89 per cent of residents paying less than this. This will be considered first by the Cabinet when it meets on Wednesday, January 27 and by full council on Monday, February 29.

Cllr Spencer said: "This budget is designed to meet such challenges head-on and ensure that the best possible services are provided to the people of Boston."

Cllr Peter Bedford, leader of Boston Borough Council, said: "There will need to be large-scale transformation in the way the council currently operates in order to achieve this level of savings. 
"Boston has a good track record of delivering projects to make savings and improvements over recent years and we will have to work together with our partners to achieve what is necessary for the residents of the borough." 

The county council has also issued warnings about how future finances will determine levels of service provision with leader Cllr Martin Hill describing 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.

The county council's executive councillor for finance, Cllr Marc Jones said over the next 12 months the council's spending will have to be reduced by £40 million.

"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," he said.

A public meeting is being held at the Princess Royal Sports Arena from 6pm until 8pm on Tuesday, January 26, for residents to quiz county councillors about Lincolnshire County Council finances.