Council tax set to rise in Portsmouth to help plug funding black hole

CUTS Portsmouth City council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson, inset, says council tax will rise
CUTS Portsmouth City council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson, inset, says council tax will rise
HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in Portsmouth            Picture: PA

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COUNCIL tax will go up and services cut in Portsmouth as the city council tries to raise extra cash.

Ratepayers in the city will face a 1.95 per cent rise next year, along with a raft of cuts affecting libraries and even the main fireworks display.

ONLY THE FIRST STEPS Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson

ONLY THE FIRST STEPS Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson

A report put to the council’s cabinet today will propose an increase of 34p a week for the average household.

It warns that without this increase, services will be compromised.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of the council, said because of government funding cuts, the authority has to choose between a council tax rise and scaling itself back.

He told The News: ‘There was a council tax rise last year.

‘I don’t want to increase it but most of the funding comes from the government grants and it reduced our grants by 40 per cent.

‘We still have to look after kids in care and people that need our help – the disabled, and the elderly and social services. We can’t just abandon these people.

‘The government cuts are enormous. This rise is something that we need very much in addition to help protect services.’

Also proposed is the abolition of the 10 per cent council tax discount for second homes.

‘If people can afford to have a second home, I think they can accord to pay council tax,’ said Cllr Vernon-Jackson.

The council leader said he thinks the rise will be approved.

Councillor John Ferrett, leader of Labour on the council, said: ‘In terms of the tax rise, we believe that the council has little option but to do that.

‘In order not to have to make bigger cuts on services, a relatively small rise in the council tax is better than seeing services disappear.’

The 1.95 per cent rise comes in just below the government’s suggested maximum rise.

Eric Pickles MP, secretary of state for communities and local government, has said any authority wanting to raise the rates by two per cent or more has to hold a referendum.

DISPLAY HEADING FOR THE BONFIRE

LAST week’s King George V bonfire could be the final display for at least the next three years as the axe falls on non-essential local government spending.

The annual free event is listed as one area where savings could be made by the council that is being looked at today.

More than £17,500 could be saved over three years if the bonfire is scrapped.

Smaller firework displays and increased income from stalls are being proposed as a way to keep the display and raise money.

Commenting on the loss of the bonfire, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘We will have fireworks but not the bonfire unless we can find a private sponsor.

‘In total, 321 children are in care in Portsmouth. A child in care costs £2,000 a week to look after. We can’t not look after these children.

‘The government has cut our finances so much we have to look at other things to cut.

‘What is a higher priority than looking after children – having a bonfire?’

According to the report, the cut will remove the policing and construction of costs of the bonfire.

LIBRARY OPENING TIMES TO BE CUT AND JOBS AXED

LIBRARIES in the city could see their opening times reduced as part of Portsmouth City Council’s bid to save cash.

If the report put forward to councillors today is accepted, Southsea Library will close on Sundays.

The number of librarians across the city would also be cut by five full-time workers, or 183 working hours a week.

The report says this would be through natural wastage as much as possible – saving £95,000 each year.

Late-night openings at Cosham, North End and Southsea libraries would also be removed one night a week. The report states: ‘Visitor numbers during these times are low, especially in Cosham.

‘There are separate posts for late-night opening. These would be deleted and staff contracts would need to be renegotiated to reflect the reduction in hours.

‘It’s anticipated that this proposal could be implemented without the need for redundancies.’

Admission prices to the D-Day Museum will also rise by 10 per cent and there will be more retail space if councillors approve the report.

Other arts and cultural organisations could also be affected.