Recycling row highlights the argument for councils merger
EARLIER this week, the new Tory administration at Lancashire county council revealed how it planned to deal with what is nothing short of a financial crisis at the authority.
The previous Labour bosses at County Hall were criticised time and again for the savings which they had tried to push through by those who are now in charge at the authority.
But there’s no escaping the dire state of the county council’s finances, the huge problem it faces. The gap of more than £150m a year will exist in 2021/2022 even after the £55m of savings the Tories have identified.
There is some good news. As we know, libraries are re-opening, and an extra £1m has been found to support bus services, plus more money for road repairs.
Yet there can be little doubt that unless something significant gives in the way LCC is funded, we will all feel the impact through diminished services in years to come. One of the proposals which has been on the table for a while, and which will be acted upon now, is the removal of grants handed to district councils to support recycling.
Rossendale gets around £500,000 a year to support these recycling collections from LCC. The authority’s budget is around £9m a year. On top of the budget reductions Rossendale is also facing from government, this is a huge cut. LCC’s logic for scrapping the grant is based on nothing more than that it doesn’t have to pay them if it doesn’t want to.
Tory deputy leader Albert Atkinson at County Hall told the media last week that: “Many things have changed over the last 14 years, not least of which that district councils now have a statutory duty to provide recycling collections.
“On this basis, and with significant pressure on the county council’s finances, we simply cannot continue to subsidise services that other councils are already duty-bound to provide.”
In two sentences, he sums up the problem with having two levels of council – district and county – serving Lancashire. What LCC is basically doing is passing on the burden of costsaving to smaller authorities.
In Bury, for example, this couldn’t happen, because Bury runs all services for its people. If it felt it could no longer support recycling, it would have to front up to people itself about it.
Indeed, many unitary councils have put in plans for reduced bin collections, and maybe that is a future we have to get ready for.
But in just playing the ‘we don’t have to therefore we won’t’ card, the Tories at County Hall are doing more than just saving cash, they are ignoring the consequences of their actions.
New rules at the local tips – run by LCC – have already made it more expensive for people to dump certain types of waste, prompting fears more people will fly tip. It’s not a giant leap to assume that problem will get worse if our waste services take another hit in funding.
But LCC’s decision has also upset many councillors at district councils across Lancashire. With the savings needed in years to come, we require good will and co-operation between LCC and district councils, not the shoving of cuts back and forth.
Once again, I find myself thinking what we really need is for LCC to be scrapped and borough councils to merge to form Bury-sized authorities which can respond more effectively to the local needs of local people.
The Scribbler’s views do not necessarily represent those of the Free Press. Let us know your views by emailing freepressnews@ menmedia.co.uk.
●● Lancashire county council is proposing to remove grants given to district councils to support recycling