£50m. boost for ‘legacy’ projects across Lancashire

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A MASSIVE £50m. investment in local initiatives has been announced by Lancashire County Council.

The welcome news comes after the authority made rapid progress on reducing its management costs and received 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 to benefit local people for years to come, with a strong emphasis on improving opportunities for young people and promoting economic growth.

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 Lancashire Youth Council will be invited to work with council officers to draw up the details of the scheme.

A £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 it will leave a very positive, lasting legacy.

“Young people are at the heart of our proposals as 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 present.

“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 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.”

A fifth 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, the council’s chief executive, explained: “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.”

Coun. Driver added: “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.