Tory boss rejects claim of ‘financial incompetence’

Portsmouth City Council's leader, Conservative Donna Jones
Portsmouth City Council's leader, Conservative Donna Jones
Chancellor Philip Hammond. Picture: Getty

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SPARKS flew in a political row over a £6m black hole in Portsmouth City Council’s budget.

The authority’s Tory cabinet had already had to come up with a plan to save £11m in the next financial year.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats on Portsmouth City Council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson

The leader of the Liberal Democrats on Portsmouth City Council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson

But last week it was revealed that the council had to find another £6m – meaning more cuts could be on the horizon.

The cabinet met yesterday to discuss how to rein in spiralling costs in the adult social care and children and education services.

The biggest areas of the £6m overspend were children and education which is £2,292,300 over budget and health and social care at £2,152,500 over target.

At the meeting, the Tory leadership came under sustained criticism from the Liberal Democrats.

The Lib Dem leader councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson accused the council of ‘financial incompetence’.

‘This is one of the most worrying reports I have ever seen here,’ he said.

‘We’re looking at an almost-£6m overspend projection for the council’s finances and that is extremely worrying.’

He told councillors when the Lib Dems had been in charge they had turned in an underspend in 10 of their 11 years.

He added this was the second time the Tory-led council had broken its budget.

‘The record appears to show that there is real financial incompetence in the administration,’ he claimed.

‘If the administration cannot run the finances properly and comes up with overspend after overspend, everyone in the city must be worried.’

However, Tory council boss councillor Donna Jones swept aside the criticism.

She argued the overspend was in fact a result of the Lib Dems’ budget plan, which was set before the Tories took control and is still in effect.

Responding, Cllr Jones said of the decade the Lib Dems were running the city, in eight of those years the children’s services spending was over its budget.

She said the previous Tory council had bequeathed the Lib Dems a comfortable float of cash.

However, in spite of this, the Lib Dems still managed a £1.5m shortfall in their 2013/14 budget, which included ‘unachieved savings’ of £200,000, she said.

‘Like always, the Conservatives are going to sweep in and sort out the mess left by others and we will be bringing the numbers down,’ she retorted.

Cllr Jones also rejected fears new cost-cutting measures could potentially close children’s centres in the city.

‘We have heard from Cllr Vernon-Jackson scare-mongering the children centres are going to be cut,’ she told the committee.

‘No. They. Are. Not. We believe in protecting children’s services; it’s our number one priority as an organisation.’

She added the council was focusing on ‘spending less money on bricks, mortar, business rates and the running of buildings’ and injecting more cash into people.

She added the council aimed to see at least five new children’s centres.

‘So we are not in fact reducing the offer – we are increasing it,’ she claimed.

The council still needs to save £11m.

Plans for this will be debated next week.