Preston leaders may need to find £2.6m in savings

HARD TIMES: Preston Town Hall

HARD TIMES: Preston Town Hall

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Town Hall bosses may have to find more than £2.6m in savings if fears of a financial “black hole” come true in three years time.

Leaders met this week to rubber stamp budget proposals, including a rise of almost two per cent in council tax, which will go before councillors later this month.

But bosses are now warning of a “fiscal cliff” in 2018/19, with savings of £2.66m needed just to stay afloat.

At Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, cabinet member for resources Martyn Rawlinson said the council tax rise was there “to protect what we’ve got left”.

He said: “It’s there to protect the capacity of this council to continue to do what it’s doing, to deliver these projects and all these services we are providing.”
Coun Rawlinson highlighted projects including City Deal, the lottery bids for Winckley Square and Moor Park, the development of the events programme and the sports development project.

He said: “Doing all this at this time when we’ve got so little money really convinces me that the council tax rise is value for money.

“Then you look at the forecast and it’s all under threat again.

“Despite increasing amounts of work to deal with the savings we’ve had to make in 2011 and 2014, we’ve balanced the budget against all the odds for the next three years, then we’ve got another problem appearing and we’ve got to think about that.

“One of the big reasons that’s appearing again is because the county council have got cuts.

“It’s really baffling what we can do about it but we’ve got a bit of time and we’ve dealt with it before, but we really do need to protect what we are doing because it’s all good stuff.”

The council’s community and business services director Bernard Hayes told the meeting: “There is a pretty turbulent future if nothing changes, but things are changing all the time and it may be that by the time we get to that, it may all have changed completely.

“But, make no mistake, if we get to that position it will be harder to save than the last few times, and what I’m pleased about is that cabinet is already looking at that position and looking at what-ifs.

“In the tradition we have set out, we are planning well in advance for these eventualities.”

Council leader Coun Peter Rankin said: “Mr Pickles is basically saying to local authorities that we’ve got reserves that we should be spending to support the budget - well we are.

“We are helping to balance the budget through the use of reserves, but like any household that is saving and going through hard times, we have to look to the future and eke those savings out as we go through the next few years.

“But there’s a fiscal cliff looming for us, as for many authorities.”