Council tax could rise as Tories plan £11m cuts in Portsmouth

Portsmouth City Council's Civic Offices in Guildhall Square
Portsmouth City Council's Civic Offices in Guildhall Square

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COUNCIL tax bills could rise by two per cent in Portsmouth to stop public services from being cut back further.

And up to 200 council jobs across all departments are at risk as the Tory-run administration today unveils its plan to claw back £11m in savings.

The budget funding pressures we are facing is because of the austerity measures this country is facing, which is starting to cut into the bone.

Councillor Aiden Gray, Portsmouth deputy Labour group leader

Community centres could see grants for activities and repairs reined in and a unit that supports victims of hate crime could be abolished.

Fewer people would receive support for substance and alcohol misuse and some sexual health activities could be scaled back and axed as part of £2.6m of proposed savings in the health and social care service.

Other departments facing the squeeze include resources – staff responsible for HR, legal and IT duties – which could see a £3.5m reduction.

Almost a quarter of the traffic budget – £800,000 – could be tackled by cutting subsidies to bus companies and negotiating a better price for routes they operate.

But the council says its proposals have taken into account the views of around 2,500 residents who took part in a survey asking where savings should be found next year. Tory council leader Donna Jones warned most of the ‘fat on the bone’ had already been taken away.

She said: ‘The council budget controls in excess of £720m worth of spending, and it’s a lengthy and complicated process. The number one key aspiration for us is educational attainment and that’s why we sought to protect the children and education service.’

She added: ‘No-one wants to make cuts to services, but in today’s very tough financial climate, we’re faced with extremely difficult decisions.

‘Although we have been working hard to make the council more efficient and bring in more income, including £3.5m for the naming rights of the Emirates Spinnaker Tower, cuts are unavoidable.’

Up to £155,000 could be taken from work tackling domestic abuse, despite a recent commitment given to help more victims, and funding for public health campaigns would go down by 50 per cent – a saving of £50,000 from the health budget. Schools could also be asked to pay more to provide free meals.

Cllr Hugh Mason, former Lib Dem deputy council leader, fears many in the city will be left ‘unprotected’ by the cuts.

He said: ‘I recognise the city council needs to save money and the decisions are difficult.

‘But taking it away from the hate crime unit, and from the domestic violence unit, given that the police are themselves are under considerable strain, is a false economy.’

Meanwhile, all community centres, toilets and swimming pools will be kept open and swimming sessions for under 12s won’t be axed.

An extra £480,000 would be made each year if the council’s plans to buy properties and take rent succeed – and the authority wants to make more cash from cultural events around the city.

But deputy Labour leader Aiden Gray warned the council faces an ‘exponential crisis’ – and the government is to blame.

Cllr Gray said: ‘This is a concern. The budget funding pressures we are facing are because of the austerity measures this country is facing, which is starting to cut into the bone. We have had to cut and cut for so many years.’

In the survey, 63 per cent of residents backed reducing funding for community centres and more than 91 per cent backed cutting or stopping support for quit-smoking services.

But Cllr John Ferrett, Labour leader, said: ‘I am concerned about the way some of these cuts have been delivered.

‘They have been based on the basis of a survey which seems to have been skewed to get all the right answers.’

The budget proposals will be discussed at a meeting of the full council on December 8 and the rate of council tax will be set in February next year.