Cash-strapped Lancashire families set to feel the squeeze

Coun Martyn Rawlinson
Coun Martyn Rawlinson
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Another blow has been dealt to cash-strapped families in Preston as council bosses signed off their latest budget proposals.

Householders, who are already feeling the squeeze as the cost of living soars, are now set to face another council tax increase, as well as new costs to some local authority services.

Cabinet members rubber stamped their savings plans yesterday evening, before they are debated by full council later this month.

Council leader Peter Rankin told last night’s cabinet meeting how the council was working to “achieve Preston’s priorities”, and outlined the positive achievements.

He said: “We’ve got some very real challenges, but we are managing to achieve some remarkable things in the city.”

Preston Council chiefs have rubber stamped their budget proposals for the coming year - including an increase in council tax - as they too feel the pinch from swingeing government cuts.

Town Hall bosses are also set to increase fees and charges for certain services they offer, and experts say householders are struggling to make ends meet.

“As a Chinese student said to me once, the Great Wall of China was built brick by brick”, said business expert Robin Carey, of the University of Central Lancashire.

“People will be paying a little bit more at the petrol pump, a little bit more on their mortgage, a little bit more for their food, a little bit more for every single product.

“A little bit more to empty their bins, a little bit more on their council tax - it’s multiple increases on every single level and there’s very little we can do about it.”

Mr Carey said a creeping rise in inflation, along with Brexit and a reduced value of the pound, were responsible for increased living costs.

He said: “People have got used to nice things, holidays, eating out, great cars, upgrading their TV, but it’s been based on cheap credit and that era is coming to an end.”

He said the “substantially” reduced value of the pound meant imports were more expensive, as well as food and raw materials, and said: “They are going to be passed on directly to the consumer.”

Mr Carey said the price of fuel was also increasing, as a result of the devaluation of the pound.

He said: “Because of Brexit, the government has pumped huge amounts of money into the economy called quantitative easing.

“Because of that, there’s a lot less money for the government to spend so cuts have come about in other areas.”

Mr Carey said the “squeeze” would continue for some time, and said: “It will probably get worse as we get into the post-Brexit world.”

At a cabinet meeting yesterday evening, city leaders approved their latest budget proposals, which are now due to be debated by full council.

Among the proposals are a council tax increase of 1.99 per cent, management efficiency savings, and a review of council-owned property.

Families in Preston are already asked to pay for garden waste bin collections, and councillors are also looking at the possibility of parish councils funding maintenance of green spaces.

Coun Martyn Rawlinson, the council’s cabinet member for resources, said: “We are proposing the basic council tax rise that we are allowed to do, which is just under two per cent, which is quite a small amount on people’s bills.

“It’s about 10p a week on people’s council tax. But of course the county council will go up more than that, because they are allowed to raise it more because they’ve got social care responsibility.

“So people will be hit harder than that, we know that, but really councils don’t have a choice with what the government is doing to them, taking government grants away completely.”

He said the major funding cuts meant the council was operating with half the money it had six or seven years ago.

Coun Rawlinson said what the council had managed to protect was “amazing”, but said: “There seems to be no end to it.”

He said parish councils had the ability to help the council with the maintenance of certain green spaces, with a consultation agreed at last night’s meeting.

He said: “Any of those green spaces will face reduced maintenance, possibly even closure, unless those parish councils help us.”

He said the garden waste scheme had been a “massive success”, that had saved “so many jobs and services”.

He added: “We know there are people struggling out there and we help them as much as we can with council tax issues, but the council is now getting down to quite a limited selection of important services and we feel we need to protect it.”

Coun Rawlinson said he thought the council had got the best deal with services it had transferred, and said it “literally keeps people off the streets” with its advice services.

Council leader Coun Peter Rankin described to last night’s cabinet meeting how the council was working to “achieve Preston’s priorities”, and outlined the positive achievements in Preston.

He said: “We’ve got some very real challenges, but we are managing to achieve some remarkable things in the city.”

He said Preston Council was not the only authority facing the problems, and said: “I think we have a very positive story to tell, against the backdrop of declining services.

“Because, make no bones about it, it’s a case of managing declining services as best we can and the next few years aren’t going to be easy.”

Budget proposals include the possibility of setting up a trading company, asking parish councils for help, maximising income and streamlining assets. Coun Rawlinson said: “These cuts can’t go on forever or else everything is going to be gone.

“But in the meantime we will carry on trying to make Preston a fairer place, which is what we are doing.

“We are lifting Preston off the bottom of all the league tables, we are getting some amazing results compared with other areas.”

Cabinet voted to agree to ask full council to approve the budget proposals.