Lancashire County Council's cabinet has announced the start of a consultation on its budget proposals for local services, which will deliver £216 million in savings by April 2018.
Following an informal consultation over recent months inviting views on a list of options developed by council officers, members of the cabinet have decided not to include plans for 100% cuts in spending on subsidised bus services (which continue to attract widespread and determined opposition from taxpayers) and subsidised denominational school transport.
As part of the consultation, the council is asking for views on a proposed 1.99% increase in council tax for the coming financial year to help protect local services.
In February 2014, Full Council agreed savings over the three financial years from 2015/16 to 2017/18 of £62.5m. A decrease in funding and an increase in costs mean that over the same period the council has to save an additional £176.8m, making a total of £239.3m.
David Borrow, Deputy Leader of the Council and portfolio holder for finance, explained: "We have to find unprecedented savings due to a combination of cuts imposed by central government and rising demand for essential services such as social care.
"This means that in addition to the £21.0m of savings for 2015/16 already identified in last year's budget, we have identified a further £79.8m of savings to be made this year, a total of £100.8m. Between 2010 and 2018 we will have made savings of £547 million, which requires radical action.
"We can make some savings by introducing more intelligent and efficient ways of working. However, it is also clear that we will have to deliver some services in a different way and stop providing some services altogether.
"We will do all we can to ensure that we protect the most vulnerable in the county and we are also committed to spending our resources fairly, according to need.
"As a Cabinet we are not supporting the option of removing bus subsidies or financial support for children travelling to denominational schools, having listened to feedback from the consultation we've carried out over recent months.
"We are now carrying out a further consultation before the full council meeting in February takes the final decision on the budget."
Speaking about the proposed council tax increase, Councillor Borrow said: "In view of the unprecedented financial challenge we face, this modest increase will bring in additional funds that will make a real difference to local services. Equivalent to just over 42p per week for a band D property, the increase would bring in an additional £7.5m which is the equivalent of protecting more than 180 children's social workers or repairing more than 300,000 potholes.
"We realise times are tough but hope that local council tax payers will understand why we are proposing this; if we don't do it the gap in the council's funding will become even bigger and service reductions more severe."
• Find out more at the Budget - Have Your Say page at www.lancashire.gov.uk and try the Budget Calculator
Subsidised bus services
It was agreed last year that all of the county council's subsidised bus services would be reviewed according to a new set of criteria, agreed following consultation last year. The new criteria help to set out the primary purpose of the subsidised bus service, around enabling access to employment, education, health and welfare services and so on. Whilst the 100% reduction to subsidised bus services is no longer being proposed that review will now continue.
Denominational school transport
The amount by which LCC subsidises transport for students who attend a Church of England or Roman Catholic faith school which is not their nearest school was originally reduced in 2011, when a parental contribution of £380 a year was introduced though this still left the county council bearing about 60% of the cost.
Last year it was agreed that the parental contribution would increase by 25%, with a year-on-year rise after that based on the retail price index plus 5%. That multiplier will remain in place which will reduce the burden on council tax payers.