Portsmouth City Council in hot water over £739k property consultant bill

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CITY leaders have come under fire for spending close to £750,000 on consultants which critics say have helped to bankroll ‘vanity projects’ at taxpayers’ expense.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show Portsmouth City Council used £739,982.09 from a fund borrowed from the banks to pay firms which billed for their time helping the council buy property it could make money on.

All the emphasis is on the capital budget and ‘investment’ – including ‘vanity’ projects of dubious financial value, and miles from Portsmouth.

Alan Burnett, chairman of the Portsmouth Pensioners’ Association

Critics say the expenditure is unjustified at a time when the vulnerable are being hit by cuts. The Tory administration has defended the costs – paid out separately to the £51.8m it used to buy five properties outside Hampshire – saying it needed ‘to take the right expert advice when making significant investment decisions.’

Alan Burnett, chairman of the Portsmouth Pensioners’ Association, is concerned by the council’s priorities.

Mr Burnett said: ‘All the emphasis is on the capital budget and ‘investment’ – including ‘vanity’ projects of dubious financial value, and miles from Portsmouth.

‘In the meantime, adult social care in the city and nationally is in a parlous state due to inadequate investment and growing need.

‘All but those assessed as having critical and severe needs, have been pushed off the list and have to fend for themselves.’

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Lib Dem leader, said: ‘Couldn’t we have had that advice from within the council? Nearly £750,000 has been spent on external consultants, and that’s such a huge amount of money. It’s taxpayers’ money.

‘There’s going to be £2m worth of extra cuts in adult social care, and we will be talking over the next few weeks, about paying people looking after vulnerable clients the minimum wage.

‘It just says, we are prepared to spend money on very expensive lawyers in London, but what we are not prepared to do is spend money on people caring for the most vulnerable in society.’

Cllr Luke Stubbs, deputy council leader, said: ‘We made a commitment that we would go out and create new income for the city. That is why we are investing in property to create a profit which can be used to continue some services that would otherwise have had to go.’

THE FULL COSTS

HERE were the costs paid out to parties in Portsmouth City Council’s property deals;

* Crewkerne Waitrose - £200,648.67 (to Bilfinger GVA and Bond Dickinson LLP)

* Quedgeley West - £122,233.43 (to Bilfinger GVA, DTRE and Bond Dickinson LLP)

* Swindon Matalan - £130,363.99 (to Bilfinger GVA, Savills and Bond Dickinson LLP)

* Minworth DHL - £173,537.00 (to Bilfinger GVA, Lambert Smith Hampton and Bond Dickinson LLP)

* Eastleigh Mercedes - £113,199 (to Bilfinger GVA, Lambert Smith Hampton and Blake Morgan LLP)

Defending the deals, Tory councillor Luke Stubbs said: ‘To it put into perspective, the £2m profit the fund will generate is equivalent to the entire running cost of the library service plus the saving that could be generated from moving to fortnightly bin collections.’

He added: ‘The council must protect public funds and therefore needs to take the right expert advice when making significant investment decisions.’

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