Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Lancashire County Council's £50m "Spend, spend, spend" lacks thought

A golden inheritance from Labour in 2009 and improved financial investments has left Lancashire County Council with a surplus of £50m.

The Council have now decided to allocate (spend) this funding to various new schemes.The problem is this is a top down decision, there has been no wider consultation or  'green paper'. It appears rushed and leaves too many unanswered questions.
  1. Spending £15m on four existing projects to improve the county's transport infrastructure is reasonable. Improved transport invariable provides a good long term return.

    The County Council also intend to spend £10m on a new apprenticeships programme to help young people into work, supporting employers to take on apprentices and creating further professional apprenticeships within the county council.

    The Government claim their apprenticeship scheme's are working. Observers say there is a real danger that this just funds intended apprenticeships and creates few if any new ones. The County are intending to create County Council apprenticeships. All sorts of questions flow from this as to whether this is sustainable and to what purpose? It's a laudable aim, but will it work?

  2. County are also investing of £5m over five years to support the costs of young people travelling to education, employment and training.The Government ended the national programme (EMA) and said it was poor value, that there was dead weight (ridiculous). Why then are the County Council doing this? What ends at the end of the 5 years? One can only presume that is an important issue and the Government ought to re look at reintroducing a long term national scheme.

  3. There is a further £10m investment in a new programme of measures to promote economic development, encouraging businesses to grow and create jobs in Lancashire. How? Where? I have seen these schemes before and they promise a lot more than they deliver. They risk just overcrowding markets such as the supply of commercial or office premises.

    Surely it would be far better to target this money at NVQ Level 3 and 4 Training for people of all ages on low incomes. Improving business supply chains (talent in this case), improving infrastructure is important. I appreciate the County Council cannot affect tax rates.

  4. A further £6m is allocated for for the extension of the Youth Zone programme to provide young people with more activities and opportunities to access information and guidance.

    Great. Cuts to Youth services have been considerable with the County Council recently consolidating youth provision around much fewer, more centralised youth facilities. Infrastructure is only part of the challenge. The County Council would be far better placed if it targeted not specific high cost youth activities but worked in partnership with 'normal things' people do like youth sports, work experiences', a sponsored intern programme (and linking in to the youth employment programmes listed above). This £6m sounds like a sticking plaster.

  5. Then the County Council intend to spend £3m towards a new programme that will employ armed forces veterans in mentoring young people in Lancashire secondary schools.

  6. I recently wrote about my in principle support for some kind of academy school run by current or ex armed forces personnel offering a totally different positive learning environment. However the criticisms over those proposed suggestions hang over this suggestion. It fails to understand the problem. Children only spend so long in school. The remainder is often spent with poor parents or with dysfunctional peer groups which undermines any positive influences.Who are these ex armed forces? What teacher training/skills/ability do they have? Who will supervise them? Are they in a position to make things better or will they make things worse? What authority / discipline will they have?

    This is a nice sounding policy. Send in the army! Discipline in schools! Does anyone really believe that that is what will happen? Would this money not be better spent supporting the national citizens service targeting those over 16 not currently entitled or target groups of 16 years old's who are entitled?

  7. And finally the County Council is to spend £1m further refurbishing libraries. Isn't it about time business facilities, conference facilities were put in libraries. Isn't it about time rather than refurbish old buildings funds were put into capturing local history, building up electronic archives that would otherwise have moved from loft to landfill or gathering dust on some shelf. 
In the end it is irresistible. Councillors with money unallocated feel a need to spend rather than save. Spend rather than wait and consider what is best.

What is clear is that the current Conservative Council has not asked other councillors what they think. A green paper as in Parliament would have been a better way forward. What is also clear is that the current crop of Conservative Councillors are not exempt from the 'Viv Nicholson syndrome', "Spend Spend Spend!"


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05 January 2012
£50m investment to create lasting legacy for Lancashire

LANCASHIRE County Council has announced a massive £50m investment in local initiatives - after making rapid progress on reducing its management costs and receiving a huge windfall from its efforts to protect council funds from the global financial crisis.

The council's cabinet is proposing to make the one-off investment in a series of 'legacy' projects that will benefit local people for years to come, with a strong emphasis on improving opportunities for young people and promoting economic growth.

The proposals include:
• A new £10m apprenticeships programme to help young people into work, supporting employers to take on apprentices and creating further professional apprenticeships within the county council.
• An investment of £5m over five years to support the costs of young people travelling to education, employment and training. Representatives of the Lancashire Youth Council will be invited to work with council officers to draw up the details of the scheme.
• £10m investment in a new programme of measures to promote economic development, encouraging businesses to grow and create jobs in Lancashire.
• £6m for the extension of the Youth Zone programme to provide young people with more activities and opportunities to access information and guidance.
• £3m towards a new programme that will employ armed forces veterans in mentoring young people in Lancashire secondary schools.
• £1m for refurbishing local libraries.

The remaining £15m will support four existing projects to improve the county's transport infrastructure including the Pennine Reach public transport initiative, Rawtenstall Bus Station, the Blackpool to Fleetwood Tramway and a scheme to alleviate traffic congestion in Broughton.

Council leader Geoff Driver said: "At a time when we have to reduce our year-on-year spending, we're delighted to be able to announce this massive new investment and determined that it will leave a very positive, lasting legacy.

"Young people are at the heart of our proposals because they are the future. We want them to stay and prosper in Lancashire when they leave education and we recognise the difficult economic climate is making that particularly hard to do at the present time.

"As well as helping them into employment, these proposals will give more young people across the county access to activities, information and guidance through the expansion of our Youth Zone programme.

"We also plan to direct some of this investment into providing the right infrastructure and other conditions that make Lancashire a good place to do business, so that employers want to relocate or expand their operations here and create jobs for local people.

"Together with our plans to improve libraries and invest in local transport schemes, this is a package of investment that will make a visible difference to the county over the next five years and beyond."

£10m of the £50m investment comes from the council delivering reductions in its management and administration costs ahead of target.
The remaining £40m of the one-off cash boost is a result of the council's efforts to ensure its funds are held as securely as possible. It invested in gilts, a type of secure bond issued by the UK government, before other organisations began to look for alternatives to higher risk accounts that have suffered because of the economic crisis in the Eurozone.

Phil Halsall, chief executive, explains: "We're the biggest council in the North of England and at any one time we have a large amount of money in the bank and other investments, which we draw on to pay the bills throughout the year.

"Two years ago we decided to bring added expertise into the organisation to help us manage those funds so they are as secure as possible, while delivering good rates of interest.

"We shifted a lot of the council's funds into gilts and these offer such security that, in the turbulent economic climate, they have since become very popular with other organisations looking for safer investments.

"That has enabled the council to sell on its gilts and generate this huge one-off windfall, which can now be pumped back into local services in Lancashire.

"Meanwhile we've moved the money we previously had invested in gilts into other investments that are equally secure."

CC Driver added: "It's a unique situation in the council's history and the result of excellent financial management during an unprecedented economic climate.

"In late 2009 the cabinet approved some changes to enable the council to manage its funds more wisely, which has made this exceptional windfall possible.

"As this is a one-off windfall it cannot account for the long-term savings we have to make, although the fact it comes at such a challenging time obviously makes the availability of these funds particularly welcome."

The news comes during the first year of a three year plan that will see the county council reduce its annual budget by nearly £180m.