Preston Council’s budget proposals have been passed, with both Conservative and Liberal Democrat amendments rejected.
The council will see its budget reduced by £5.5m (46%), a figure that Councillor Peter Rankin called an “astronomical” drop in funding. Key plans to save money include a council tax rise of 3.5%, an increase in city parking charges and many council staff redundancies.
Described as a “progressive budget”, despite severe cuts to the council’s workforce, Councillor Martyn Rawlinson (who has written about the budget on Blog Preston) said:
“Despite these threats we are investing in city centre regeneration, we’ve fully underwritten the cost of Preston Guild, with no cuts to street cleaning, community engagement or park cleaning.
“We will press on with the living wage, and work on tackling empty homes and empty shops.”
The issue of the living wage was hotly contested, with Preston’s Conservatives raising questions about the Labour group urging Preston’s businesses to pay their workers the “living wage” of £7.20 an hour.
Councillor Anthony Gornall said: “I’ve had quite a few emails from businesses saying that they are quite astounded by these plans.
“This organisation is lecturing the private sector as to what they should be paying their staff, I find it absolutely disgraceful.
“The public sector employs 6 million people in this country, while the private sector employs 24 million.
“Do you think asking them to bring forward a 20% increase to their minimum wage staff makes economic sense?
“It comes across as Big Brother.”
Labour Councillor John Brown, who initially proposed the idea, dismissed Gornall’s suggestions at “19th century capitalism”.
The Liberal Democrats also supported the idea of reducing the amount of Preston’s councillors from 57 to 40, citing their reasons as creating a more cost effective and responsible local government that devolved more power to the people of Preston, in line with the concept of the “big society”.
National issues were also discussed, including Conservative Party Chairman Eric Pickles’ comments on multiculturalism, and the workfare scheme which has provoked debate about the ethics of young people working for free.
The Council is also looking at saving money by sharing services with other councils, such as Revenue & Benefits services with Lancaster or Chorley/South Ribble.