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Lancashire CC to close services at more than 100 sites

Council services, including library and children’s centres, will no longer operate at more than 100 buildings in Lancashire as the council seeks to meet a severe funding shortfall.

Papers from the council cabinet meeting show that it will have to extract £40.7m from its reserves this year to meet its funding shortfall. It also plans to increase council tax by 3.99% in each of the next four financial years, including the 2% social care precept. Despite these measures, the deficit is due to hit £147.9m by 2020-21.

The cabinet approved the new property strategy, including extensive closures, yesterday, following a 12-week consultation which received nearly 8,000 responses.

Cllr David Borrow, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council and portfolio holder for finance, said: “Most importantly, the plans agreed by cabinet today mean people will still have good access to good services whilst allowing the council to deliver some of the huge savings we need to make.

“We don't want to be in a position where we have to make changes to services which we know people value a great deal, and these proposals have been very difficult for councillors to consider.

“However the county council is in a very severe financial position due to the ongoing cuts in central government funding combined with rising demand for our services, and the only way we can maintain the services that people rely on is to deliver them in a different way.”

Under the scheme, the council’s library services will be cut from 73 static libraries to 37 neighbourhood centres and seven satellite services. The neighbourhood centres will deliver library services alongside other areas such as welfare, youth offending services, and the Wellbeing, Prevention and Early Help (WPEH) service.

A number of children’s centres which previously delivered WPEH services will also close. In total, more than 100 buildings will no longer operate council services. Services at some buildings will close by the end of this month.

However, the council said it had received 43 business cases from other organisations to take over the services.

A recent investigation by the BBC found that 343 council-run libraries closed in the past six years, whilst 232 were transferred to other groups.

Last year, PSE found that funding for children’s centres was cut by a third in five years.

The proposals will save the council an estimated £7.5m in running costs and raise £8-11m from the sale of vacated premises. Overall, the council is planning to cut its library budget by £6.1m in 2016-18 and its WPEH budget by £8.4m.

Nigel Evans, the Conservative MP for Ribble Valley, called for the council to be broken up over the cuts.

“They are simply savaging services in rural areas like my constituency,” he said. “They are butchering key places in the Ribble Valley like Whalley Library and Spring Wood Children’s Centre.  This is the last thing the village needs after the flooding.

“The county council has proved itself unfit to run services and should be abolished. I shall be lobbying government ministers to close it down as it has so many vital services paid for by council tax payers.”

Proposals to establish a Lancashire Combined Authority were recently criticised by local Conservative councillors because of the cost.

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