Cllr Martin Hill is the Leader of Lincolnshire County Council.
Providing essential services cost-effectively whilst demand increases, is a constant challenge for all councils – and at Lincolnshire County Council we are certainly no exception.
Despite having one of the lowest council taxes in the country in our class and one of the lowest allocations of government support (what happened to Fair Funding?), since 2010 we have challenged ourselves to deliver over £300 million of savings whilst protecting vital front-line services.
An easy option would have been just to allocate the required saving across the whole Council. But we decided to take a more proactive approach. By protecting safeguarding services, highways maintenance, and fire protection, other areas would have to take a bigger responsibility.
Biting the bullet and finding savings in good time, rather than delaying the inevitable, gave us valuable headroom to make the required impact.
At the same time, we agreed to maintain a large building programme for roads and schools which would benefit the future prosperity of Lincolnshire.
We prioritised genuine efficiency savings such as reducing senior management by 40 per cent and cutting central posts like policy, communications, and admin support. In total, we have many fewer staff, but our services are rated good or better across the board.
Our library service was restructured to retain 15 core libraries, supported by 30 voluntary-led hubs which continue to go from strength to strength, saving £2 million annually.
Youth services were reorganised, saving £2 million annually, but were evolved into a structure more relevant for our young people. No children’s centres have closed.
A decision was made to turn off some of our residential streetlights between midnight and 6am, saving both carbon emissions and £2.5m annually.
We have worked hard to reduce the number of expensive out of county looked after children’s placements by bringing them back to Lincolnshire. We also have to manage the increased demand, particularly from older people and young adults needing care for longer and with more complex requirements. Whilst it is encouraging that most of us live longer and relatively healthier lives, the resulting needs must be paid for somehow.
Post-pandemic, with office-based staff working in a hybrid-way, we are reducing our property portfolio by 40 per cent.
Many smaller but sensible savings have been made using technology and innovation – for example, winter road salting and home-to-school transport.
We are rolling out a countywide paper and card collection service with the district councils which is successfully reducing waste and contamination – which is again reducing costs. We also have a shared Lincolnshire Legal Service with all councils and are piloting a single public health partnership with North and Northeast Lincolnshire councils. We are hoping for a similar arrangement for the Coroners service.
Greater use of partnerships has also saved money but, more importantly, delivered ease and convenience for the public.
We have successfully challenged our contractors to match our efficiencies – and greater use of technology and innovation have played an important role in healthcare, construction, roads maintenance, and winter gritting.
So, in conclusion, we have removed budgets which were not considered part of our core offer and have taken a rigorous view on the appropriate level of providing services elsewhere.
It has been a difficult but rewarding experience to achieve this, but we are reaching the limit of what can further be delivered.
Inflation and the basic cost of living is rising fast. Government ministers constantly praise local government for being at the forefront of finding the required savings to repair the national budget and indeed our record is much better than our national colleagues.
So, whilst local government continues to deliver good front-line services both with constrained finances and rapidly increasing demand, even with a better than expected budget settlement this year, I predict the path ahead will continue to be very challenging.