It’s that time again. For (at least) the sixth year in a row, council tax is going up and services are going down.Advertisement
The government have stopped funding councils from general taxation – and it won’t matter how much we protest the fact that local government is the most efficient part of the public sector; that we have saved billions of pounds while maintaining most of our services; that won’t stop lots of people pointing the finger at councillors and claiming that local government is still bloated and wasteful.
And it’s never been easier on social media to have your say. The best/worst accusation is that us ‘Clowncillors’ (the anonymous keyboard warriors love that one) ‘all p*ss in the pot’, we’re all the same, it doesn’t matter who you vote for…we are overpaid, arrogant, ignorant, incompetent and corrupt.
I can only speak for Preston, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Preston City Council (under Labour control since the cuts started) has used every trick in the book (and some that aren’t in the book) to balance the books without destroying Preston…and so far, we’ve done it. We are operating with £20million pounds a year less and have saved six important assets (that are vital to Preston’s infrastructure and residents wellbeing) from closure; one bus station, one entertainment complex, one market, one museum and two leisure centres.
Read more: Cost of dying and council tax going up in Preston
I’m not saying we are entirely responsible for the outcomes because we are not, but our action, our meticulous pursuit of exploring all possibilities without capitulating to the worst case scenario (as requested by some members of our opposition) has led to these outcomes.
True enough, we had to threaten the demolition of the bus station and Guild Hall to provoke radical solutions, but the budget situation called for no less. Behind these tactics was a stack of work on scenario planning, lobbying and number-crunching. We knew what we wanted, we just had to push our luck to get it.
Even on the leisure centres, we were in the right place at the right time to capture a worker-owned charity who wanted a foothold in the north-west; but we actively sought the best solution that would give these facilities a brighter future beyond the inevitable death throes of their municipal stewardship.
We can claim credit for re-inventing Preston Market and hatching a plan to save the Harris from becoming ‘by appointment only.’ It would have been so easy to divest rather than invest in these assets given the funding issues; but protecting access to the best, affordable, local, healthy food and inspirational art and culture are worth the effort and the financial risks.
I can give you chapter and verse in ‘council-speak’ about how we have maximised efficiency savings, increased income generation, implemented smarter working and reduced overheads but most people will only see that council tax is going up again.
Read more: A 10-point plan for Preston
The fact is, is that the above actions have also protected funding for parks, advice services, city centre CCTV, events funding, homelessness support, empty homes and housing initiatives; plus support for regeneration schemes like Winckley Square and Moor Park, the radical Community Wealth Building scheme (which has won EU funding), Guild Money Credit Union and the Inner East Preston Big Local £1million pounds project to name a few…
Wakefield Council have just closed their sports centre and swimming pool; two theatres have closed in north Devon; Darlington’s Victorian Covered market is facing the axe; one in five regional museums have gone. Just imagine Preston now if our equivalent facilities had all gone the same way.
Read more: How the city council claim they are starting a financial revolution
Our ‘Fairness Agenda’ and local wealth building policies are combating some of the worst effects of Austerity. While we are clearly bucking the trend, we know that there are still people suffering. Homelessness and the use of food banks continue to rise. That is why things like a small council tax rise, the introduction of fees for green waste and the end of subsidies for the cemetery and the crematorium are vital to protect services for those that fall foul of an increasingly limited and cruel health and welfare system.
We are helping keep Preston’s head above water while swimming hard for more prosperous shores. In the grand scheme of things, when it comes to political scapegoating, give your local councillors a break…we’re the good guys.
This is a guest post from councillor Martyn Rawlinson, cabinet member for finance and resources on Preston City Council and councillor for the Fishwick ward
What do you think about the council tax rise and how Preston is faring? Let us know your views in the comments below