Imagine a constantly stormy sea, where you are tossed around a lifeboat like a rag doll, at the whim of forces beyond your control and then, just briefly, the storm breaks and the clouds part; all around remains darkly ominous but there is just enough time to take a breath and take stock before you’re existence once more becomes the gift of a higher power.Advertisement
That break in the storm, that brief respite, is Preston Council’s financial outturn report for 2015/16. The storm, which is the government’s ‘Austerity’ policy, is six years old and at the end of two major savings programs we get the briefest of moments to look back, before embarking on another epic journey.
Dramatic? Yes, but that’s what it feels like.
It also feels like this is the last stretch, because there can’t possibly be another tornado on the horizon? Come 2020, there could be very little left to salvage from the wreckage.
And yet, while the forecast remains gloomy, it’s remarkable what few services have gone overboard since 2010. The Bus Station and Guild Hall have found brighter futures, arts and culture were taught to swim before they sank and the markets quarter has plans of Ark-like proportions. Much of this is good stewardship, some of it good luck.
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But where does that leave the good ship Preston going forward?
Careful financial management means that Preston does have enough in hand to plug a few leaks – it’s the water coming in over the sides that is the problem.
More services will have to be re-invented (or re-imagined in the case of the Harris) if they are to survive the forecast. Continued underspending of budgets proves our belt-tightening culture is now second nature – but remembering to breathe is becoming an issue, as displayed by the backfilling in the planning department. Constant streamlining and digitisation is a foregone conclusion.
For a socialist, the prospect of deliberately pursuing increased income generation is like selling your soul in return for saving everyone from damnation except your own mother – but it’s for a good cause.
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Every action has an equal and opposite reaction (forgive the metaphorical switch from the laws of nature to the laws of physics). Austerity is a complete and utter denial that capitalist practices were to blame for the Credit Crunch and the belief that only more capitalism can fix it. Preston Labour’s Fairness Agenda is a leading light in the movement to stop the flow of upward capital and trap it in working communities, through policies like the Living Wage, Guild Money credit union and Community Wealth Building; with the latter policy now gaining national credence, EU funding and international recognition.
The most incredible irony is that the cuts agenda is now threatening New Homes Bonus, a government created funding stream which is paying for their own flagship growth policy, City Deal. Austerity is eating itself. The only question is which will collapse in on itself first, Austerity or the public sector?
Whatever happens, storm conditions are likely to prevail for at least another four years, the duration of Preston Council’s financial forecast. Autumn will see an ‘Emergency Budget’ to deal with the bombshell of the phasing out of government grant. The Fairness Agenda will build a stronger boat for the future, but there are likely to be more sacrifices before better weather arrives.
Councillor Martyn Rawlinson is the cabinet member for resources and finance at Preston City Council, he also represents the Fishwick ward. He writes ahead of the council’s financial outturn report being discussed by cabinet on Wednesday 22 June.