£3.6m cuts to services as Preston takes a ‘hammering’

'Yet again, Preston is one of the hardest hit councils in the country'
'Yet again, Preston is one of the hardest hit councils in the country'
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Plans to slash more than £3.6m from Preston Council’s budget over the next three years have been unveiled by town hall bosses.

Street cleaning, parks, pest control and police community support officers are set to be cut back in the next year and up to 80 council jobs are at risk, with cuts expected across almost every council service in the following years.

Affected: Guild Hall

Affected: Guild Hall

Council tax is also expected to be increased by about two per cent as council bosses work to balance the books, and Preston Guild Hall’s future remains under threat.

Council leader Peter Rankin said the authority had been “hammered”.

He said: “Yet again, Preston is one of the hardest hit councils in the country for the amount cut from its Government grant.

“After already losing 26 per cent of our budget, we now have to find a further £3.6m by 2017/18.

Affected: PCSOs

Affected: PCSOs

“We have done everything we can to protect services.

“We’ve cut back-office services and made the council much more efficient, but the scale of the cuts we’re facing means that all council services are going to be affected one way or another.”

He added: “It’s not our fault - local government has been really hammered and I think northern authorities have been hammered more than most.

“There are other Lancashire authorities who are among the worst hit by the withdrawal of government grants.

“None of us are in this to what we are having to do - it’s heartbreaking.”

He said the council already shared services with Lancaster City Council, and were looking to share more.

In the next year, service reductions include cuts to the number of home visits for the revenues and benefits service, and to the opening hours of the Contact Centre and the One Stop Shop.

There will be a reduction in pest control, a reduction in street cleaning and car parks at Riversway will no longer be secured at night.

There will also be a proposal to withdraw funding for the five PCSOs currently funded by the council.

Fees and charges will increase, and savings will be made across all council departments.

Coun Rankin said: “People will start to notice a difference.

“Not so much this coming year, but from next year, and they are going to notice their services are not as good as they used to be.

“I hope they won’t blame us, but we are constantly trying to get across the message about this huge decrease in government funding.”

Cuts in future years will include a management restructure.

Proposals will be considered to reduce the level of litter picking and sweeping in the city, and to end food waste collection in inner Preston, with food waste to be put into grey bins.

Parks will also be examined in an attempt to reduce the current budget of £1.8m.

Over the next three years, the council is also looking at losing up to 80 job roles.

Coun Martyn Rawlinson, cabinet member for resources, said cuts would have to be made “across every single service”.

He said that while compulsory redundancies were avoided as much as possible, they may be inevitable.

He said: “We’re recommending putting up council tax as well, but only by inflation.”

The council is still searching for a solution to the future of the Guild Hall in order to make savings.

Coun Rawlinson said: “There are a handful of interested parties that have got quite different ideas that we need to work through and see if any of them are viable for the long-term future.

“Some of them may mean us retaining the building and that’s problematic because it is an expensive building.

“What we are working on at the moment is keeping it open, but reducing our subsidy to a manageable level within our budget.”
He added: “We’ve got a decision to make within the next 12 months and the options we are exploring are to keep it open.

“There’s no other decision on the cards but who knows in the current financial climate it is really difficult to promise anything.

“So closure can’t be totally ruled out.”

The proposals are now subject to consultation, and the final budget will be proposed at the council meeting on February 27.