Last-ditch plea to stop budget cut to counselling hotline

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A COUNSELLING service for young people has appealed directly to city leaders to try to safeguard its future.

The Off The Record (OTR) service helps those aged between 11 and 25.

Its chairman, John Simmonds, has written to every Portsmouth councillor after a decision was taken to stop its funding and to raise the rent on its office in Fratton Road in 2014.

In the letter, Mr Simmonds says: ‘The need in Portsmouth for our services is increasing, not diminishing.

‘We currently receive more than 3,000 contacts locally each year, and at a present rate of 54 per week.

‘Many contacts receive counselling; others received support and advice through a helpline, email, drop-in service, group work or crisis support.’

Mr Simmonds said the charity was given council funding of £30,000 in 2001.

Since that time it has dropped to £3,000 while the service’s Hampshire organisation receives £35,000 from Hampshire County Council, and £7,000 from Havant Borough Council, as it is based in the town.

Mr Simmonds said: ‘Many councillors have expressed verbal support for Off The Record – but sadly this has not been borne out in practice as funding dwindles while need increases.

‘We are fully aware of dilemmas facing local authorities and cuts in public spending; indeed we see Off The Record as playing a valuable role in mitigating the fallout from such cuts.’

Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, said the charity had his sympathy.

But he said the council’s hand was being forced by budget cuts imposed by the government.

He said: ‘It’s been very, very difficult to make these decisions.

‘We’re having a look at everything we’re doing, including offering buildings for nothing, to ensure we’re getting an income.

‘The government has cut the amount of money we get by a third over four years, and that means that very difficult decisions have to be made – decisions we don’t want to be making.’

He added: ‘I think there are other routes for Off The Record to find money, and I think the work it does is very valuable, but I think it’s something the health service and public health should be funding.’