A COUNCIL leader will hail a £20million budget underspend as major step towards filling the authority's cash gap on Thursday.

Lancashire's Tory boss Geoff Driver will tell its ruling Cabinet efficiency measures taken since his group took power back from Labour in May last year were having a positive effect.

He will claim the progress made will increase his chances of winning extra cash from government this autumn to balance Lancashire County Council's books in the long term.

Labour opposition leader Cllr Azhar Ali said: "The financial position is dire. Cllr Driver is in denial."

At the Cabinet meeting Interim Chief Executive and Director of Resources Angie Ridgwell will report: "The 2017/18 revenue position at the end of the year is net expenditure of £703.9million, which represents an underspend of £20.89m, 2.88 per cent of the revenue budget.

"It is important to note tthe revenue position includes significant levels of support from reserves.

"In 2017/18 the structural reserve funding totalled £58.89m, primarily covering the funding gap, and if this support had not been available then expenditure would have exceeded income by £37.99m. "

She will ask the meeting to approve the transfer of the £20.89m underspend to the authority's transitional reserve.

Burnley-born Cllr Driver said: "These figures are a good result.

"There is a lot more to be done but we are making real progress by increasing efficiency without cutting essential services.

"In just a year we have reduced the estimated cash gap by 2021 from the more than £200million left us by Labour to £144million.

"We need to keep this up but have been able to transfer more than £20million back into the transitional reserve for use in future.

"I intend to approach minister in the Autumn to ask for a fairer funding settlement for Lancashire.

"But I won't be going with 'a begging bowl' as Labour asked.

"I will go with evidence of savings and efficiencies already made by this administration which increases our chances of a better grant settlement."

Cllr Ali, who represents Nelson East, said: "The county council is cutting essential services and need a major cash injection from the government for social care. Doing a bit here and there is not enough."

Mrs Ridgwell said: " Whilst the revenue outturn for 2017/18 presented is positive in headline terms, the revenue budget was supported significantly by reserves to meet the structural funding gap.

"Adult social care remains a massive challenge.

"It is critical further proposals are developed to address the funding gap."

She added these must include maximising revenue from commercial activities and increasing government grant and council tax income.