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Preston Council budget: Grim warning sounded as referendum may be called on council tax rise

Posted on - 8th January, 2016 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - News, Politics, Preston Council
Back entrance to the Town Hall in Preston Pic: Tony Worrall

Back entrance to the Town Hall in Preston Pic: Tony Worrall

“By 2020 there could be nothing left”

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This is the stark warning from Preston City Council’s finance chief.

Councillor Martyn Rawlinson says ‘all options’ are on the table to find £4 million savings the council must find after the latest round of government cutbacks.

District councils, such as Preston, are some of the hardest hit in the latest Whitehall settlements.

“We are now having to look at income generation and charges,” says Cllr Rawlinson.

“Whatever way you look at it the money just isn’t there. In 2010 we had £20m a year coming from central government, but since then it has decreased each year and by 2020 we’ll have next to nothing coming in.

“So we have to look for ways to further reduce costs and it is likely to mean higher charges for some of our services.”

Want your bins emptied?

The first signal of this is a brown bin tax, with Preston residents facing a £30-a-year charge on their green waste collections from July this year – if council plans are approved.

Cllr Rawlinson said: “The message from Osborne and co seems to be clear, spend your reserves.

“We can do that but then there will be nothing left. It’s not a prudent way to manage the finances.”

The city council says it has already been striving to make major savings, with £3.6m due to be cutback from 2014 to 2017. This has come at a loss of around 80 full-time jobs at the council, but more could be on the way.

A sombre Cllr Rawlinson said: “We can’t rule anything out.

“There are likely to be losses, yes. I can’t say how many but for each £1m that’s about thirty to thirty-five jobs. So you do the maths.”

Put it to a vote…

One option open to the city council is to call a referendum on raising council tax by more than 1.99 per cent.

Cllr Rawlinson said: “This is an option. I can’t say whether we would or wouldn’t go to a referendum.”

He says the city council has been trying to convince fellow Lancashire councils to share more services, particularly back-office functions such as payroll and HR.

He said: “We have a successful revenue collection, such as collection council tax, service shared with Lancaster.

“This has saved around half-a-million. We can probably find savings if we teamed up with other councils but it’s not got very far.

“There’s talk of ‘being taken over by Preston’ or perhaps they haven’t been hit as hard as us. But with these figures and these settlements we have to get back together and see what we can do. Carrying on just isn’t an option.”

Even the Town Hall?

Selling off council buildings is an option that may need to be explored, and even the Town Hall may not be safe.

“It’s not something we’ve discussed for a long time, but I can’t say we’ve ruled it out,” said Cllr Rawlinson.

“All our buildings must be looked at to see if there’s savings we can make.”

He said the Preston Markets scheme was safe, the funding for this was ring-fenced and the council was committed to continuing with demolishing the building and creating a refurbished covered market alongside a cinema and restaurant complex.

A consultation has been launched for residents to give their views on the city council’s budget.

Cllr Rawlinson said: “I’d ask everyone to read the information that’s out there. We have hard and difficult choices to make. It’s not a position we want to be in, but it’s where we find ourselves.”

What do you make of the council’s financial position? What should Cllr Rawlinson do? Let us know your views in the comments below

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