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Opinion: Labour budget is built on non-commitment

Posted on - 26th January, 2012 - 8:20pm | Author - | Posted in - Opinion, Politics, Preston Council
preston covered market

Liberal Democrats claim that Labour is not commited to redeveloping the city centre and historic areas such as the covered market

Tax and spend, tax and spend, borrow your way out of trouble and don’t worry about tomorrow, that will be someone else’s problem.

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Yes, folks, Labour’s back in power in Preston. All over England, local authorities are tightening their belts and deciding it would be totally unacceptable in the present economic climate to increase Council Tax.

Not here in Preston, though, where Labour are slamming on an unbelievable 3.5% increase, despite the fact that most public sector employees face another year without salary increases. But then it’s so much easier to increase taxes than tackle the real issues.

That’s bad enough, but it gets worse. They claim there is £2m committed to Preston Guild. True, but where did it come from?

Not this year’s budget, but from a commitment made years ago, under the previous administration – and to a great extent produced from a one per cent increase in Council Tax which was set aside for the Guild Fund.

So what will happen to that one per cent after the 2012 Guild? There should be only two possibilities – either Council Tax reduces by one per cent in 2013 or, better still, we start putting it away into the 2032 Guild Fund. But Labour have come up with a third answer.

They are going to steal that one per cent off you, neither giving it you back, nor setting it aside for the next Guild, but using it to prop up their shaky finances.

Unforgiveable? Well, yes, but that’s not the end of it. In the consultation document which has just gone out, they say they have promised to work with the police to tackle serious crime prevention. How are they going to deliver on that promise?

Their answer is that they will continue to fund PCSOs to the tune of £55k. That is true, but it is not the whole truth. Last year, there were two separate amounts of funding for PCSOs, one of £55k, the other of £124k. By ending the latter, which has match funding implications, they are putting the jobs of eleven local PCSOs at risk. This will be a disaster for the fight against crime and anti-social behaviour in Preston.

Can it get worse? I’m afraid so. They boast they are putting £50k into a large affordable housing site, for one year only.

What they don’t tell you is that they will be getting an extra £147k a year from now on from the New Homes Bonus.

No question, that should all be going into new homes. But instead it will disappear into the bottomless pit of Labour’s unsustainable spending plans. Over the four years of the budget period, they should be putting some £600k into new homes for social rent, not a measly £50k.

And look at some of the other claims. £2.25 million committed to Preston markets? £325k initial investment into renewable energy schemes? Sounds good, but look at the small print.

Tucked away out of sight, on page 80 of the document with all the detail which is going to cabinet, it says “The above schemes will only go ahead where there is a business case which results in additional income being raised by the Council to fund the capital costs”.

What that means in simple language is, there is no commitment.

The money will only be spent if they can make a profit out of it, get more money back over say five years than they spent on it. And as that is next to impossible on the market, and highly unlikely on the energy efficiency schemes, I think we can conclude they are never going to happen. It’s not a budget, it’s just wishful thinking.

Liberal Democrat take on the council budget 2012-16

You can view the full budget documents on the council website

The Spin: £2m committed to Preston Guild
The Reality: From 2013 Labour will keep the 1% added to the Council Tax for Guild – instead of putting it into the Fund for the next Guild

The Spin: £2.25m committed to Preston Markets
The Reality: Only £250k is committed, for emergency repairs. The £2m is in the capital budget for 2015, but is pie-in-the-sky stuff – it won’t happen

The Spin: £325k initial investment in renewable energy schemes
The Reality: Just £25k is committed.  The other £300k is dependent upon the proposed scheme showing a good profit when the business case is presented

The Spin: £50k initial investment into large affordable housing site
The Reality: Labour intend to pocket the New Homes Bonus, forecast at £147k a year, and not spend it on housing

The Spin: Continuation of £55k funding of PCSOs The Reality: Labour are reducing the support for PCSOs by £124k, putting eleven PCSO jobs at risk

This is a guest post from Councillor Bill Shannon, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group and represents the Ingol ward.

What do you think of the budget? Is Labour spending or saving in the right areas? Are the Lib Dems right or have they missed the point? Have you spotted something unusual in the figures? Let us know in the comments below

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