Thursday, 9 June 2016

Lancashire County Council's Property consultation reaches quarter-way mark

A screenshot of Lancashire County Council's interactive map identifying planned cuts to local services - as well as those that are continuing
Lancashire County Council is encouraging more residents to have their say on its property review, with around 1,000 responses already received since the launch of a public consultation on 18th May.

However, while the consultation on building use continues, virtual-lancaster has learnt the County Council has already begun the process of re-interviewing Council staff for their roles, such as library staff, even though no final decision has yet been made on the future of any library. It appears that the County Council are, for example, trying to reduce the number of higher-salaried staff ahead of any decision making made as a result of public response to their cost-cutting plans - the service reductions that in turn are the result of government spending cuts.

The property consultation, which runs for 12 and half weeks, is seeking people's views on plans to change the way frontline services are delivered and save millions of pounds by reducing the number of buildings the council owns and rents.

Under the plans, services would be brought together to form a network of multi-functional buildings known as Neighbourhood Centres, which would provide a base for a range of different services in one place.

Meanwhile many buildings would no longer be used to deliver Lancashire County Council services and the number of places at which some services are available would reduce.

County Councillor David Borrow, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council with responsibility for finance, said: "Through the property strategy we aim to ensure that we have the right buildings to provide good access to good services, with a significantly reduced budget.

"We've looked at a wide range of factors to try and make sure services are in the right place. We understand the strong attachment people have to local services and buildings and I'd encourage as many people as possible to respond to this consultation."

Most responses so far have been received via the county council website, which also features an interactive map highlighting the proposed changes.

Hard copies of the full consultation document, along with shorter versions which detail the proposed changes for each local district, have also been made available to pick up in children's centres and libraries.

Meanwhile anyone who has completed a response using the localised version is being invited to make any additional comments they may have after a production error was found in the original printed document.

County Councillor Borrow added: "The easiest way to take part is to use the website if you're able to. The interactive map is particularly helpful in understanding where services are provided now and where they're proposed to be in future.

"We've made hard copies of the consultation document available as well and unfortunately one of the consultation questions was omitted in error from the localised versions. This has been quickly rectified so few people will have completed one of these, but we'd like everyone who has done so to be aware of it and to feel free to complete the extra question if they have anything else to add to the comments they've already made. They can do this by getting an updated questionnaire in the same place they picked up the form, or provide an additional response online if they prefer."

Members of the public, community groups and organisations are also being urged to come forward if they have an interest in taking on responsibility for buildings included in the proposals.

County Councillor Borrow explains: "We want to fully consider proposals from groups that may want to take on full responsibility for any council-owned building which we've identified as no longer being needed, in order to use it for the benefit of the local community. I'd encourage any group in that position to read the consultation documents and contact us at the earliest opportunity."

Lancashire County Council needs to save £200m by 2020/21 as a result of ongoing government cuts to its budget and rising demand for services. The proposals for buildings respond to savings agreed by Full Council in February 2016, with fewer buildings being needed to deliver reduced services.

The consultation is due to end on Sunday 14th August. The County Council will take a final decision later in the year.

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