Council tax raised again in Preston as budget set

Councillor Martyn Rawlinson

Councillor Martyn Rawlinson

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Council tax is to increase in Preston once again as councillors rubber stamped their budget proposals for the coming year.

After heated discussions in the Town Hall, the leading Labour group voted through their recommendations, despite the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats opting against the plans.

Among the controversial proposals to help balance the books was a plan for parish councils to contribute at least £50,000 a year, towards the maintenance of play areas and open spaces.

One Tory councillor slammed the suggestion as “rural apartheid”, but Labour’s cabinet member for resources Martyn Rawlinson said parished areas were represented entirely by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and said: “It’s now your turn to do something.”

Presenting the budget at Thursday’s meeting, Coun Rawlinson said the authority had lost yet more funding as £2.2m had been taken off it through the New Homes Bonus scheme, a government project, which could also have an impact on City Deal.

He said savings had been made through the transfer of council-run leisure centres to social enterprise Greenwich Leisure Limited, along with the transfer of staff and £100,000 held back for sports development.

He said a contingency list of services “too important to cut” had also been drawn up, which included events, empty homes officers and initiatives, CCTV and contributions to the Christmas lights in Preston.

Coun Rawlinson said parish council precepts were not capped by the government, and said: “Parishes could have better parks if they pulled their finger out and joined the fight against austerity.”

The city’s Conservative group said they agreed with many of the Labour proposals, but finance spokesman Coun Damien Moore suggested amendments including four-yearly elections, merging committees and “externalising” waste collection services.

But Coun Rawlinson said: “We have no intention of privatising the bin services”, and added: “We do not put a price on democracy.

“We can’t deliver it on the cheap and we are not prepared to do that either.”

Liberal Democrat councillor John Potter proposed four-yearly elections, protecting the parishes from the proposed new contributions, and re-thinking reductions to redundancy payments.

The Labour proposals were carried, by 28 votes to 19, including a 1.99 per cent rise in council tax.