Anger over emergency budget plans for Preston

Fulwood Leisure Centre
Fulwood Leisure Centre
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There were heated scenes among city leaders as councillors in Preston debated plans for more swingeing cuts to the authority’s budget.

Leisure centres, council-owned buildings and the mayoralty are all in the firing line in proposals by the Labour group, drafted to try to tackle major cuts in government funding.

But the suggestions were met with criticism from opposition parties, and major fears were raised about the possible “diluting” of the mayor’s role.

Coun Martyn Rawlinson, Preston Council’s cabinet member for resources, said the authority was hoping for an alternative provider for West View and Fulwood leisure centres.

He said: “We want a partner that will protect and enhance those services.

“If we can’t do it we’ll think again, but we did it with the bus station and the Guild Hall.

“We’ve also proposed the possibility of setting up a trading company which a lot of councils are doing to maximise the income of our statutory services, but it’s not a quick fix, it can take two to three years to set up.

“We’ll re-size the council to match it’s function.

“And we continue to carry risks outside our control of business rates and the New Homes Bonus.”

The proposals were criticised by the Conservatives, who suggested the privatisation of waste collection.

But Coun Rawlinson said: “What they are basically telling us is they would privatise this council, cut back on services, raise council tax, while protecting the Mayor.”

Conservative councillor Damien Moore, shadow portfolio holder for resources, criticised the proposals as “too little too late”.

He suggested the privatisation of waste collection, all-out elections instead of votes every year, and a reduction in the cabinet budget. He added: “At a time when the mayor could be a key figurehead in marketing and promoting our city you are seeking to diminish it.”

Earlier in the meeting, former Mayor of Preston Coun Bobby Cartwright raised fears that the position of the civic head of the community was being “destroyed”.

She said: “My real concern is, if we dilute it too much, we do have another Guild coming up and it would be really nice to think the mayoralty is as it has been and was in the previous Guild - something that we can be proud of.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Jason Jeffrey accused the Labour administration of “dithering, delaying and dodging”, while Coun Pauline Brown described the emergency budget as “no detail and wishful thinking”.

Coun Jeffrey said: “There are no options left now, the council is facing an unprecedented financial crisis as a result of your dithering and delaying.”

Labour councillor Matthew Brown said the number of people using the council’s contact centre had increased dramatically in recent years.

He said the council was working to keep people warm in their homes, to encourage businesses to pay the living wage, and said the city now had 16 job clubs helping people into work.

He said: “The debate is totally narrow-minded and we need to decide what our priorities are - is it about us parading ourselves as some kind of self-important elite, or is it about protecting people?”

Council leader Peter Rankin said Preston Council couldn’t bring in as much council tax as southern authorities, because of the large number of terraced properties in council tax bands A and B.

He said: “None of us want to be in the situation where we are making these cuts.”