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Opinion: Austerity all over bar the uncertainty?

Posted on - 26th June, 2017 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - News, Opinion, Politics, Preston Council
Is there a brighter financial sky over the Town Hall now? Pic: Tony Worrall
Is there a brighter financial sky over the Town Hall now? Pic: Tony Worrall

On the 8th of June at 10pm when the polls closed and the exit poll predicted that the Conservative government majority had gone, ‘Austerity’ ended.

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Even if the Tories manage to hang on to power for any length of time, there is little chance that their radical cuts programme can continue in a hung parliament…

…and just when Preston Council’s end of year finance report suggests we have got used to the constant turmoil and reorganisation of local government, it’s all over bar the uncertainty.

If the election wasn’t the end of Austerity then the Grenfell Tower disaster was…seven years of public sector cuts saw three fire stations closed in the vicinity of the building and the local council’s ability to respond decimated. It’s just tragic that it took such a disaster to highlight the dangers of bleeding public sector budgets dry.

Preston Council has survived savage funding cuts by finding creative solutions to its expensive (but essential) non-statutory services like the bus station, leisure centres and the Guild Hall; while also leading on local government transformation like income generation, asset management, smarter working and sharing services.

After another year of belt-tightening, Preston Council’s finances look almost manageable, even with an outstanding one million pounds deficit (which simply highlights just how bad it has been since 2010). I have no expectation that funding will start flowing back into council coffers. We are still tied into a four year efficiency plan with the remains of this government. I can only a hope that further cuts will not materialise and that some specific services may receive a boost. Local government however, will be at the bottom of a very long list of priorities, just as it was top of the list for funding reductions during Austerity.

Read more: CCTV system in Preston to be outsourced to Blackburn

Local authorities, along with many other public services have been teetering on the edge of a precipice for some time now, and while the general election result may have thrown them a lifeline, their futures are still hanging by a thread. Our collective vow of poverty now looks set to be replaced by a curtain of uncertainty after a Queen’s speech of little substance other than Brexit.

Councils were expecting some of the massive funding cuts to be offset by a new business rates system but this may now fail to materialise. Brexit itself of course, is another uncertainty with Preston’s local businesses and public institutions relying on its trade, manpower and research funding.

Crises in social care, housing and health, alongside economic anomalies like rising inflation, low wages and corporate welfare, show no sign of abating. Instead we have a government ignoring the public institutions that could reverse these trends in favour of delivering a Brexit that promises little but an empty sense of independence and patriotism.

This is a guest post from the cabinet member for finance and resources at Preston City Council, councillor Martyn Rawlinson. He also represents the Fishwick ward.

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