Louth Town Councillors have voted against taking on amenity grass cutting this year - despite the county council threatening to stop funding the service after March 2017.
Last Tuesday (January 3), the town council’s governance and finance committee voted against a proposal to take on the service - at an estimated annual cost of around £20,000 - when considering their budget precept for the 2017/18 financial year.
You’re right to be concerned and worried and afraid, because there may well be other things that (the county council) will try to push down.County Councillor John Hough (Labour)
Funding for the county council’s amenity grass cutting service is likely to be reduced to zero from March 31, reportedly saving £600,000 per year across the whole county. The final decision will be made by a meeting of Lincolnshire County Council’s ‘Full Council’ next month.
The county council will continue to provide safety grass cutting on verges adjacent to road carriageways and visibility areas such as junctions and bends. Last summer this service was reduced from three times a year to twice a year, resulting in reported savings of around £250,000 across the county.
The town council’s decision not to increase its budget precept to cover amenity grass cutting costs followed a proposal from Coun Andrew Leonard, who suggested that the county council would backpedal rather than risk a ‘PR disaster’ by withdrawing the service and allowing the standard of the town’s appearance to be reduced - particularly in a county council election year.
Coun Leonard said: “It’s a bit like when everybody jumped up and down about the street lights, and then the district council considerably back-pedalled on where they were going to be originally.”
He continued: “It’s just not going to happen!
“So, far better that we wait for another monetary year, and by that time we will have followed all the processes that we’ve talked about, and then we can negotiate with them and say okay, we’ll consider it.
“We will be in a much stronger position, and we can see how everybody else pans out as well.”
Earlier in the meeting, Coun Leonard said the town council should not be ‘bullied into a corner’, and suggested that the town council would be more likely to end up having to take on the amenity grass cutting if it were to make allowances for the service in its budget precept.
Prior to the vote on the issue, town councillors heard from Lincolnshire County Councillor John Hough (Labour), who said that the risk of further services being relinquished by the county and district councils was indeed a ‘real issue’.
Coun Hough said: “You’re right to be concerned and worried and afraid, because there may well be other things that (the county council) will try to push down.”
He added: “It has got 4,000 employees; it ought to be able to provide the services at a reasonable cost and to be able to pay for those.”
• Labour proposal is rejected by town council
A proposal from Councillor Ros Jackson to defer the issue of whether or not to budget for potential amenity grass cutting costs was defeated by her fellow town councillors.
Although a majority of councillors ultimately supported Coun Leonard’s proposal not to allow for amenity grass cutting in the town council’s budget precept, Coun Jackson’s alternative proposal would have involved deferring the matter until the next town council meeting on January 17 - so that county councillor John Hough could provide additional information.
In a late plea, Coun Jackson said: “I don’t think we can sit on this for a year and just let the town fall into disrepair.
“I’m not willing to gamble with the livelihoods of everybody in Louth who depend on tourist income.”
She later added: “I’m not fond of austerity, and I think that we should at least wait a fortnight before we make a decision on this, when we’ve got a bit more information.”
Coun Jill Makinson-Sanders retorted that it would not be fair to expect residents to pay more tax to cover the potential grass cutting costs.
Coun Jackson’s proposal was supported by four other councillors, including Coun Laura Stephenson, who remarked ‘excuse me while I cut off my nose to spite my face’ when Coun Jackson’s proposal was rejected.
Speaking on social media after the meeting, Coun Jackson told residents that town council’s decision ‘runs the very real risk that there will be no cutting next year, to the town’s detriment’.
She added that the true blame lies with the Tory government for its ‘damaging austerity’, and the resulting ‘counter-productive effects’ that it had caused.