Portsmouth counselling charity ‘set to close’ after funding cut

VITAL SERVICE Off the Record counsellor Debbie Smith speaks to a young person
VITAL SERVICE Off the Record counsellor Debbie Smith speaks to a young person
Chancellor Philip Hammond holding his red ministerial box outside 11 Downing Street, London, before heading to the House of Commons to deliver his Budget

City Labour MP slams budget for ‘failing Portsmouth’

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A COUNSELLING service operating in Portsmouth and Havant is now expected to close after councillors today voted against giving it any more money.

Off The Record was told yesterday it would not be given an extra £10,000 by Portsmouth City Council towards helping to secure its future, since it should be getting income from other sources.

The move was voted through at a full meeting of the council.

And Paula Riches, vice chairwoman of the charity, which operates in Portsmouth and Havant, says that will all but mean the board having to announce its closure when it meets tomorrow at 6pm.

It comes after the charity was told it would be getting £10,000 from the council and the Portsmouth Clinical Commissioning Group, as reported earlier in the week, to go towards running costs until April.

Mrs Riches said: ‘It’s devastating. We can’t carry on – how do you carry on with just £10,000? We’ve got two part-time members of staff who are covering 50 hours of work a week.

‘We don’t have anyone who has the ability to do bids for money and we are looking for people to help us.’

Mrs Riches said £10,000 on its own was not enough, since annual costs are around £178,000, and the group has nothing else.

The extra £10,000 would have given the charity time to try and find an organisation to merge with.

Mrs Riches also said she had tried bidding for pots of money, but to no avail.

She claimed that she wrote four times to the office of Hampshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Simon Hayes, to see if he could help, but was ignored.

She said she also tried setting up a meeting with him which never happened.

Councillor Hugh Mason, deputy council leader, said the charity had bid for some of a £200,000 pot set aside for the voluntary sector, but its application was poor.

‘Off The Record’s application did not meet the basic requirements of that,’ he said.

Council leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘I hope there is a long-term future for this organisation, but we need to work with it to ensure it is not reliant on investment from the city council.’

The charity was told last year it wouldn’t be getting any more money from the council, but following pressure from campaigners, it was awarded £7,000, before getting more agreed from April.

Mr Hayes was unavailable for comment.

SUPPORTER PLEDGES TO LEND GOOD CAUSE HELPING HAND

A LONG-TIME supporter of Off The Record says she will do whatever she can to help it apply for funding.

Leigh Park Councillor Faith Ponsonby ran the Bupa Great South Run in aid of the counselling service last year, raising £400.

She said: ‘It’s getting tougher and tougher, I’m afraid.

‘But I hope Off The Record will survive and I will do whatever I can to let them know of whatever funds are available and help them apply.

‘The impact on youngsters if this closes is going to be deeply felt.’

In 2013, the charity dealt with 2,500 clients just in Portsmouth alone, with 645 of them having social problems.

Of those 645, 237 had issues with drugs and alcohol, 93 related to petty crime, 131 had addictions and 284 needed advice on debt.