Fresh cuts in funding drive local councils to the brink

Portsmouth City Council offices in Guildhall Square. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves
Portsmouth City Council offices in Guildhall Square. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves

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WE cannot cope with more major cuts in funding – that is the stark warning from councils across the region as the government continues to reduce its support.

In total, Portsmouth and surrounding borough councils will see a £7.9m drop in their finances from £223.3m to £215.4m for the next financial year, which starts in April.

JPNS HAVANT COUNCIL OFFICES PLAZA REP: JT''CAPTION: The new public atrium area at the Plaza.''The first glimpse of Havant's Plaza - the new council offices.''The main public area of the Plaza, the atrium, has already been handed back to Havant Borough Council by the contractor, Morgan Sindall, and the building site hoardings have been removed. However a short period of testing systems and installing items like IT and information screens, needs to be undertaken before we open our doors to residents. Staff are also currently moving into the building.''PICTURE: From: James Pusey [mailto:James.Pusey@havant.gov.uk] ENGPPP00120110728091048

JPNS HAVANT COUNCIL OFFICES PLAZA REP: JT''CAPTION: The new public atrium area at the Plaza.''The first glimpse of Havant's Plaza - the new council offices.''The main public area of the Plaza, the atrium, has already been handed back to Havant Borough Council by the contractor, Morgan Sindall, and the building site hoardings have been removed. However a short period of testing systems and installing items like IT and information screens, needs to be undertaken before we open our doors to residents. Staff are also currently moving into the building.''PICTURE: From: James Pusey [mailto:James.Pusey@havant.gov.uk] ENGPPP00120110728091048

The city will see the amount of cash it gets from the government and other sources reduced by 3.3 per cent.

Proportionally Gosport is being hit hardest out of the boroughs with a six per cent drop to £10.5m.

Despite this, Hampshire County Council has seen a rise in funding, from £842m this year to £862m in 2015, which will be used for local services such as waste disposal and road management.

But civic leaders say enough is enough and cuts have got to be controlled to stop public services grinding to a halt.

13/01/14  MO''Ellie Savidge holds the petition that has been signed by thousands of supporters who are against plans to close the Patey Day Centre in Cosham. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (14107-3) ENGPPP00320140113163701

13/01/14 MO''Ellie Savidge holds the petition that has been signed by thousands of supporters who are against plans to close the Patey Day Centre in Cosham. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (14107-3) ENGPPP00320140113163701

Councillor Donna Jones, Tory leader of Portsmouth City Council, warned cuts to public services were heading towards ‘unsustainable’ levels.

She said too much pressure is being put on local councils, and other parts of the public sector like the NHS are not being called on to join the overall effort to reduce the national debt.

Cllr Jones, who along with Fareham council leader, Cllr Sean Woodward, has sent a letter to George Osborne urging for change, said: ‘We have cut a lot of the fat off the bone at the city council and there’s not a lot left.

‘I am concerned about public services and in particular, services around health and social care.’

Portsmouth spent 34 per cent of its £210m overall budget on adult social care this year and Cllr Jones said: ‘This is an unsustainable amount of money to spend when we are going to see a reduction in grants over the next three years.’

In Portsmouth, £63m has already been cut from the overall budget in the last four years – and a further £13.1m worth of cuts have been approved starting from April next year.

Vulnerable residents have been hit hardest, with millions of pounds having been taken out of social care and children’s services to help balance the books.

Tracey Jones, transport schedule operator for Portsmouth’s Dial-a-Ride, which is having its £117,000 council subsidy being pulled, said it was an extremely worrying time.

‘The council definitely cannot cope with more cuts in funding,’ she said. ‘It’s ridiculous.

‘When we reach retirement age there won’t be anything left for us.’

Peter Chegwyn, the Lib Dem opposition leader at Gosport Borough Council, warned authorities were being ‘cut to the bone’.

‘It seems local government is having to bear the brunt of the cuts to reduce the national debt,’ he said.

‘Local services have been cut to the bone and I think other cuts will put an end to things like nursery care and services for the elderly.’

Cllr Woodward has already warned Fareham, like many other councils, will face ‘devastating changes’ as a result of cash constraints.

County bus services have been cut by £1.5m – ending early starts for older people, cutting Sunday services and altering routes.

And this summer, Hampshire County Council agreed to £7.6m worth of cutbacks affecting the elderly.

As previously reported in The News, handyman services for sheltered housing and frail pensioners living in their own home are to be phased out in a cost-cutting plan.

The elderly are also being affected by cuts to free alarms, which signal if they have fallen over and cannot get up.

Cllr Woodward, who is also the county’s executive member for transport, said the cuts are ‘concerning’ but councils need to be prepared to ride out the storm.

‘It’s concerning, but we need to be prepared – the country was bust,’ he said.

‘There was an enormous deficit, a trillion pounds needed to be repaid and we all need to do our best.’

Havant Borough Council is contemplating making savings next year to ensure it spends within its means.

No decisions have yet to be made but details will be thrashed out in the first quarter of next year.

Cllr John Ferrett, Portsmouth’s Labour group leader, said the only option was to raise cash through council tax to protect public services.

‘There is recognition on all sides of the political spectrum that it cannot go on like this,’ he said.

‘The council leader has written to the government along with other council leaders saying there needs to be a change in direction.

‘We support that, but we would say the council has got to start raising money, and we believe it’s got to try and increase the council tax to try and save some of the services we are losing.’

How much the council’s will get next year

Local authority Spending power 2014/5 Spending power 2015/6 % change

Portsmouth City

Spending power 2014/5: £185.3m

Spending power 2015/6: £179.2m

% change: -3.3

Hampshire County

Spending power 2014/5: £842m

Spending power 2015/6: £862m

% change: +2.4

Fareham Borough

Spending power 2014/5: £11.4m

Spending power 2015/6: £11m

% change: -3

Gosport Borough

Spending power 2014/5: £11.2m

Spending power 2015/6: £10.5m

% change: -6

Havant Borough

Spending power 2014/5: £15.4m

Spending power 2015/6: £14.7m

% change: -4.7

East Hampshire District

Spending power 2014/5: £12.3m

Spending power 2015/6: £12.5m

% change: +1.7

Winchester City

Spending power 2014/5: £13.4m

Spending power 2015/6: £13.5m

% change: +1

Chichester District

Spending power 2014/5: £13.9m

Spending power 2015/6: £13.8m

% change: -0.6

Southampton City

Spending power 2014/5: £212.5m

Spending power 2015/6: £206m

% change: -3.1

Spending power

EACH council’s spending power - its ability to spend money on services - is determined on how much money it gets from council tax, business rates and the government.

The latest figures revealing how much councils are to get next year are based on the assumption taxes will be frozen and government tax relief grants will be used.

But the government has not revealed of much of each figure is its revenue support grant to councils, though it makes up for the bulk of public spending. The amount of money councils will get is to be confirmed in February.

Preparation for the axe

IN THE space of six years one council has seen almost a 50 per cent drop in the amount of money it gets from central government.

In 2009-10, Fareham Borough Council got £6.2m.

Although there was a slight increase of £31,023 – 0.5 per cent – in 2010-11, the following year saw a major drop.

In 2011-12, the council got £4.6m, a 26 per cent drop.

In 2012-13, the council had to tackle a 13.2 per cent cut as its government grant was £4m.

There was a slight increase in 2013-14, as the council saw a 2.3 per cent increase to £4,090,980.

But this year the grant was reduced by £381,679 – 9.3 per cent – to £3.7m.

Councillor Sean Woodward, leader of the council, said: ‘In the life of this current parliament the budget will have reduced by 50 per cent.

‘We have effectively seen ourannual salary halved.

‘But because we have planned we have not seen a service reduction.’

Public day centres ‘decimated’ by cutbacks

CUTS in government funding have resulted in numerous public services being scaled back in Portsmouth.

The council is next year having to provide cheaper care for the elderly and vulnerable, cut grants to community centres and decide whether to increase parking charges or axe parking zones, among other things.

Up to 100 council workers are to lose their jobs.

Last year saw the previous Lib Dem administration approve £10m worth of cuts – part of which included axing 12 of the city’s 25 public toilets, though three have been brought back into use by the now Tory-led council.

Library opening times were reduced and travel tokens were taken away from the disabled.

The future of The Patey Day Centre, in Cosham, was put at risk, though it’s hoped the service will be operated from Paulsgrove Community Centre. Patey centre campaigner Ellie Savidge said: ‘The government’s austerity measures have decimated public services such as day centres.’

Borough seeks to make efficiency savings

A DRIVE is on in east Hampshire to generate cash in order to ensure public services are protected.

The district council has been looking at new ways of generating money, and has bought up The Metro Inn Hotel and adjoining Starbucks coffee shop, off the A3, near Liphook.

The move has been done so it can achieve high returns on property.

Havant Borough Council has merged some of its services with the district authority, such as parking, to cut down on costs.

A top layer of management is also shared across both councils.

Councillor Mike Cheshire, leader of Havant Borough Council, said: ‘What we are doing is reviewing the way we are working and looking at every way possible to make our budget costs meet.

‘We have a whole range of options open to us – that may involve outsourcing, getting other providers in, gaining more partnerships, or it could mean using information technology more to make sure we are more efficient.’

‘We should be protecting our services’

MORE than 50 members of staff at Gosport Borough Council have been made redundant since the government started making spending cuts in 2010.

Sixty-four people have been cut from the council’s payroll.

This has led to a reduction in the number of staff working at the authority from 380 to 305.

The number of senior managers has gone from 10 to four.

The savings achieved by the cuts since April 2013 total £515,950, according to information sent following a request by The News in February.

Peter Chegwyn, the Lib Dem opposition leader at Gosport Borough Council, said he wants front-line services protected from further cuts and money to be saved by reducing bureaucratic officer posts at the top of the authority.

‘Easy savings have already been made,’ he said.

‘We should be looking to protect front-line services.

‘The chief executive of the council has been given an £8,000 pay rise this year.

‘How can that be justified?

‘We should cut the bureaucrats’ pay and positions.’

To read The News’ view on this click here.