Tough times to come with more cuts

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PEOPLE are being warned to brace themselves for service cuts and job losses as local councils struggle to cope with a 10 per cent reduction in their budgets.

Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, warned that ‘huge nasty cuts’ may have to be made – with every sector from social services to libraries to museums potentially in the firing line.

It comes as the Chancellor George Osborne announced his second Comprehensive Spending Review yesterday.

The speech outlined a cut to local government grants of 10 per cent in 2015-2016.

Although the final sums are not known, it could mean Portsmouth City Council having to find an extra £6m to £8m worth of savings.

It has already committed to saving £43m over the next four years.

Leaders in Fareham, Gosport and Havant also warned of tough times ahead.

Councillor Vernon-Jackson said: ‘In the last four years, we have lost a third of our government funding.

‘Now it’s another 10 per cent on top of that. It means huge nasty cuts we have to make.’

He said job losses were likely and that the council would have to look at ‘anything and everything’ to save money and no sector could be excluded, even traditionally protected areas such as social services.

‘It’s impossible to protect them from everything,’ he said.

‘We have protected them for so many years. They have grown and grown.

‘Now we can’t protect them any longer. There’s not the flexibility to do that any more.’

He said it was too early to say whether it could mean further cuts to Sure Start centres and public toilets – popular services that the council has already had to make more than £1m of savings on this year.

‘I don’t what will happen,’ he said.

‘But we need to look at everything.

‘There will be fewer people available to do the job, so there will be fewer services available. My worry will be the council being able to continue to provide services that we have to provide by law such as social services.’

Mr Osborne committed to freezing council tax for a further two years.

The city council increased council tax this year by two per cent, but Cllr Vernon-Jackson said the council would have to look carefully at the scheme offered by the government because it could ultimately mean the council having to find even more savings.

Havant’s leader Cllr Tony Briggs said his council was determined to continue to freeze council tax – as it has done for the last four years.

But he said cuts may have to be made to some of the ‘fluffier’ council services, such as mowing grass verges.

The council is also looking into football and cricket pitches becoming self-managing.

He said: ‘We will ensure that these cuts do not where possible impact on the quality and level of services to our residents. We may have to take a decision to stop funding what I call “gold-plated” or “fluffy” services.’

But he said he wanted to continue to support community centres.

The authority has already lost 14 per cent of its workforce, but Cllr Briggs said it was too early to say if more jobs would go.

Fareham’s leader Cllr Sean Woodward said: ‘We have heard today that we have a reduction of the best part of £1m, so it’s exactly what we were expecting. It is what we have been planning for and it is why we have been building up reserves so that we would be able to maintain our council tax. I am hoping to be able to keep it down again next year.’

He said the council would probably have to dip into its reserves for the first time.

Gosport’s leader Cllr Mark Hook said: ‘You can only find efficiencies over a period of time before you start looking at the level of services you’re providing.

‘We need to look at what other things we provide, which are in addition to the statutory requirements of the council.

‘That doesn’t help the local economy, you have to make a decision as to where you would put your resources. People want to see a vibrant High Street and we’re doing a lot of work in the High Street but that’s not a statutory duty.’