City council to cut its budget by £8m this year

Budget 14/02/12 (MP)''Members of UNISON and related groups protest to councillors at the start of a council budget meeting at Portsmouth Guildhall. (left to right front), Josh Cowlin (10), mum Kitty McGrath, Hawwa Webber and Charlie Buckland [07712439]'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (120528-6)
Budget 14/02/12 (MP)''Members of UNISON and related groups protest to councillors at the start of a council budget meeting at Portsmouth Guildhall. (left to right front), Josh Cowlin (10), mum Kitty McGrath, Hawwa Webber and Charlie Buckland [07712439]'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (120528-6)
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THERE were noisy protests outside Portsmouth Guildhall as the city council agreed to slash £8m from next year’s budget.

Campaigners chanted the slogans ‘no ifs, no buts, say no to council cuts’ and ‘they say cut back, we say fight back’ ahead of the council’s annual budget meeting.

The Liberal Democrat-controlled authority pushed through new measures to make £8m of savings in the next 12 months. It comes after it made £15m of cuts in last year’s budget – sparking protests from trade unions.

The council also outlined plans to cut a further £27m by 2016, which may lead to hundreds of job losses.

The authority said the savings are required due to the government’s austerity measures to deal with Britain’s £1trillion of debt.

But protest group Portsmouth Against Cuts Together (Pact) said the city council should not be making any cuts at all.

In a deputation to city councillors, Pact spokesman Ben Norman said: ‘Portsmouth is being made to pay for a crisis caused by the financial sector. Austerity is a failed strategy. It’s a failed ideology and by continuing with it you are failing your communities.’

But council leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson argued the savings were necessary to cope with the global financial crisis.

He said: ‘We all know the financial climate that we have to work in. The lack of reality from some people against all cuts is in my view bizarre.

‘If the UK is to avoid the fate of Greece and Ireland then we have to live within our means.’

Cllr Vernon-Jackson claimed the cuts will not impact on front-line services and confirmed that council tax will be frozen for the third year running.

He said: ‘This budget is aimed at protecting the most vulnerable in society and to protect the services that people value most here in the city. Of the £8m savings we are looking for within the budget, £7m of these have been found by looking at how the city council operates internally and looking at how to reduce these costs.’

The Conservative Party group on Portsmouth City Council proposed a new parking initiative called ‘Tory Tuesday’ yesterday.

Opposition councillors said all of the city council’s parking spaces should be free every Tuesday to encourage people to come to Portsmouth in a bid to boost local trade.

Tory leader Cllr Simon Bosher said: ‘Tory Tuesday will help breathe life into all aspects of our city.’

The scheme, which formed part of the Tory group’s alternative budget, would cost taxpayers £198,300 this year. Meanwhile, the Tories proposed the council could save £167,300 by not paying staff for the first three days they are off sick from work.

The amendments were not voted through and drew criticism from city council leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson who accused the Conservative group of ‘gimmicks’.