Council leader claims all services are ‘value for money’ in 2008 review

All council services passed a 'value for money' review

All council services passed a 'value for money' review

At the Preston City Council Central Area Forum the leader of the Council Ken Hudson claimed that in a Value for Money exercise conducted by local councillors they found that all council services were giving value for money.

The Council has achieved efficiency savings of over £850,000 and by all accounts it looks to have been a successful year for the Council.

Cllr Hudson outlined the priorities for the Council in 2008 were:

  • To have Preston recognised as the North West’s third city
  • To have a brighter future for Preston’s people
  • To have a clean, green, environment
  • To have a safer city
  • To connect with communities
  • To have a sharper, smarter and well run council

I’ll take you through what Cllr Hudson picked out as the highlights in each of the priorities:

3rd city

The Council has confirmed Marks & Spencers and a large cinema chain for the Tithebarne development. There has been external investment in Avenham and Miller Park and also investment in the Harris Museum. There has been recognition from central government for some of the Council’s projects.

Brighter futures

A scheme over the summer of 2008 saw 77,000 young people involved in sports development. 1547 homes have been raised to the ‘decent homes standard’ and there is now better provision for homeless people to keep them off the streets.

Clean/green environment

The city is now recycling and composting 30 per cent of its waste and has maintained green flag standards for most of its parks.

Safe city

Violence and vehicle crime is down for the second year running and crime is reduced overall by 50 per cent.

Connecting with communities

The Citizenzone scheme has been launched, allowing the Council to go out and make council services accessible to all in the community via the Citizenzone bus. The Council website has been relaunched and there have been a large number of consultations with the public on special projects including the Winckley Square redevelopment.

Have your say in our poll below on whether you agree that all council services are ‘Value for Money’.


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Row over concessionary fares likely to push City Council overbudget

concessionary travel will be at the centre of local authority budgets for 2009/2010

Concessionary travel will be at the centre of local authority budgets for 2009/2010

At the Preston City Council Central Area Forum a presentation was made about Preston City Council’s finances for the year ahead and the year that is nearly passed.

The forecast for the 2009/2010 budget shows that the Council could be nearly £1.5 million over budget due to the changes to the concessionary fares travel scheme. The government has launched a central initiative to get council’s to pay for concessionary fares (cheap travel for pensioners and those with disabilities) and changed the way they are paid for.

Councillor Eric Fazackerly outlined the changes in his speech:

As Preston is a major transport hub, we are likely to pay twice for a concessionary fare as people pass through our bus station. For example, if someone is travelling from the Ribble Valley to Southport via Preston they will pay for four journeys.

The journey from Ribble Valley to Preston will be paid for by Ribble Valley. The journey from Preston to Southport will be paid for by Preston. The journey from Southport to Preston will be paid for by Southport. The journey from Preston to Ribble Valley will be paid for by Preston. Preston City Council is paying half of the concessionary fare cost, while the two other local authorities are paying a quarter each.

The Council is having urgent meetings with relevant local authorities and also with government ministers to put their case – as areas such as Preston that are major travel interchanges will be the ones who take the brunt of the concessionary fare changes.

In 2008/2009 so far the Council has budgeted to spend £101 million. It generates £70.7 million from sales, fees and charges. This leaves a budget to find of £30.3 million. The breakdown of this is £9.7 million comes from council tax, £19 million from a central government grant and £1.6 million is found from council reserves (money put away from better years).

If the concessionary fares charges were to add £1.5 million to the council’s budget for 2009/2010 this can either be paid for by increasing council tax or digging deeper into council reserves. The council reserves currently sit at around £2.6 million and they are told by central government to always keep around £1.1 million in reserve.

The other option is for the council to make ‘efficiency savings’ or cost cutting. In 2008/2009 the Council has made over £850,000 worth of efficiency savings, just over £100,000 ahead of the government’s target of £752,000. It’s not likely the Council would be able to make further efficiency savings to pay for the shortfall in concessionary travel.

What do you think? How should the council pay for this? Is central government being unfair? Should concessionary fares be increased?

Central Area Forum report: Flag Market redevelopment

preston's flag market is set for redevelppment

preston's flag market is set for redevelopment

On Thursday 29th January 2009 the Central Area Forum of Preston City Council met to allow the public a chance to see all the designs for Preston’s historic Flag Market in detail.

Scale models of the six designs had been produced, along with boards showing the designs and explaining the rationale behind them. There was also a scale model of the current Flag Market layout.

The Central Area Forum covers the St George’s, University, Town Centre, Moor Park, Riversway and Tulketh wards.

The presentation on the Flag Market redevelopment was made by Mike Brogan, Assistant Director (City Projects). He was the man who made the recommendations to the City Centre Committee and produced the report about the Flag Market redevelopment.

Brogan outlined the reason for the proposed redevelopment. The Flag Market is supposed to be the historic centre of Preston but due to the development of the city in the 1960s it has lost its place as the ‘centre’ due to the movement of people away from the Flag Market and towards Friargate/Fishergate instead.

He showed the assembled public and councillors through the six designs, their positives and negatives and gave a lot of background about how a redeveloped Flag Market would sit alongside the Tithebarne redevelopment.

The key development will be the levelling of the slope on the current Flag Market. This slope causes problems for running events on the space and brings extra costs to the Council and those wishing to host events as they have to find ways to level off things like ice rinks/ferris wheels/fountains etc.

Brogan is also keen to see the removal of the trees and street clutter leading from Friargate up to the Flag Market as this restricts the view of the Harris Museum. This is an excellent idea as the Harris is an impressive building and easily Preston’s best looking building and at the moment it’s hidden when you walk up from Friargate.

the moving fountain on preston's flag market was a popular choice of event with the public

the moving fountain on preston's flag market was a popular choice of event with the public

There was also some outline of the sort of events that would take place with the public consultation revealing that the movable fountain in the summer of 2006 was the most memorable and successful use of the space in the public’s mind. This was an excellent use of the space, it was fun, free and excellent for everyone all ages – plus much needed in the sweltering heat!

The obelisk that currently stands at the Cheapside/Harris end of the Flag Market would be moved back to its intended position at the head of Friargate as you approach the Flag Market. Brogan showed how the obelisk had moved three/four times already (and had even been in someone’s garden for 100 years before being recovered by the Council!) and that historic records showed its original place was where the winning design planned to move it to.

There were some questions from the public. One lady asked about why there weren’t more steps included in the plans, and why we should need to worry about steps – as in her day people just walked up and down them without any bother. Brogan explained that due to DDA compliance the space had to be accessible to those with disabilities and also in today’s litigous climate the chances of someone slipping/tripping and suing the council was high.

Another member of the public asked whether the wall in front of the Harris Museum could be removed and a better entrance created into the Harris. Brogan explained that due to the Harris being a listed building there was a very limited amount of work that could be done, but that the winning Flag Market design allowed for incorporation of creating a new entrance into the Harris building.

The next steps in the plans – as the Council wants to get them completed before 2012 – is to negotiate further with the developers and suggest tweaks to the winning design, particularly the electronic banners that a lot of people seem unkeen on, including councillors. There is potential funding available for the redevelopment from the North West Regional Development Agency (NWDA) and the Council needs to move quickly to secure the funding.

Find out more about the Central Area Forum

Freedom of Information request successful – Flagmarket redevelopment report open to public

Put in a Freedom of Information request to Preston City Council on Tuesday evening and they moved swiftly, releasing the report given to the Council’s City Centre Committee at the meeting on Thursday 24th January 2009.

The report, by Mike Brogan, Assistant Director (City Projects), outlines the consultation process and how the recommendation of Scheme 001 was decided upon.

It was a thorough report, detailing the consultation with the public, recommendations from English Heritage, DISC (local disability group). Interestingly, Brogan chooses to discount the online poll/consultation taken with the Lancashire Evening Post as the designs were not presented accurately. He says:

“Given the inadequacy of the presentation of the schemes in the LEP, it is considered inappropriate to take the results of the LEP vote into consideration.”

You can read the council’s response to my request and also read the full copy of the report. I’ve replied to their response by asking when the minutes of the City Centre Committee’s discussion will be published.

Preston City Council website – some thoughts

new preston city council website homepage

new preston city council website homepage

Preston City Council relaunches its website, www.preston.gov.uk, in December. It was a relatively low key launch, they just kind of switched off the old site (which was, frankly, terrible) and put the new one up.

It’s had a month or so to bed down and on first impressions they’ve done a good job. The design is clearer, sharper and it isn’t cluttered like the old site.

There is good use of imagery of Preston, actually showing the place of, and I like the little ‘nuggets’ of info that pop up on every page about the people, places and strange facts of Preston. Good stuff, I never knew there was that much to know! Check them out in the facts, faces and places section.

There’s a big win on the navigation. It’s been slimmed down to just what you’ll actually need on the left and then everything else is contained within their A-Z (in a prominent place on the frontpage) or use the search function. A massive problem with the old site was the over-complicated and downright useless search function. This one will actually find what you’re looking for.

The news and events sections are a welcome addition, especially as it gives chance to add some detail to stuff that just gets lost in a press release to the local media or drowned in council publications. The events box is a great way to show off what’s happening around the city and to help out local business’ and people.

Some improvements we’d like to see:

There’s two improvements I’d like to see. More multimedia could be used throughout the site, to really get under the skin and give a good impression of the city, or illustrate a point/news story/information piece. Hopefully this is in the pipeline. If they do this, then make sure that content is embedded either in a player via youtube or in a good in-house player. Not like the old site where you had to download the video to your computer.

The second is to improve the blogging function. They’ve given sideburned council leader Ken Hudson a blog, but it’s not really a blog, you can’t comment and he doesn’t link to anything. That’s not a blog, it’s an old fashioned newspaper leader. Open up a comments section under each post (moderate them if you need to stop the political infighting) and ensure that ol’ Ken is linking to what he’s referring to. Although Mr Hudson gets huge brownie points for the live web chat he did the other day with the Lancashire Evening Post – a massive win for web 2.0 local councils and local media.

Overall the council’s new website is a HUGE step in the right direction, web 2.0 seems to be coming to Preston City Council.

We asked, you twittered:

@prestonblog send a message out via twitter to see what preston people thought about the new city council website:

@GreyknightV6 said: great design, useless content. Example being, recycling: No info about recycling centres?!?!? Crazy!

@comosa said: Far too cluttered for me, links and info spread around everywhere makes it hard to navigate easily, but better than old one

What do you think of the council’s website? What else would you like to see on it? Did you prefer the old site? Let us know in the comments box below!