Off The Fence: Penny Mordaunt

COMMENT: University has to prove it offers value for money

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Last week one of my colleagues with a Birmingham interest canvassed views on who was the greatest ‘son of Birmingham’.

Without fail, all colleagues, irrespective of political hue, chose the Liberal Joseph Chamberlain.

On enquiring why, all cited not Chamberlain’s career at Westminster, but rather what he had achieved for his city through local government: his sweeping education reforms, slum clearance and for having left the town, as he put it himself, ‘parked, paved, assisted, marketed, gas and watered and improved’.

He is an example of what local government can achieve when it is well run, collaborative and visionary.

In contrast, the reverse could be said for the past decade of Portsmouth’s local governance.

Through unprofessional behaviour we have lost opportunities and good people who wanted to work with the city.

Local ambition has been stifled, local businesses have not been supported, community groups and the public have been bullied and harassed.

Worse still, the basic principles and protocols designed to protect the public have been flouted.

In the wake of the apology by Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock over his behaviour to a constituent and soul-searching by the Liberal Democrats, I doubt that the public much care whether he is disciplined or expelled from that party.

What they will care about is that they have a city council fit for purpose; that in the future procedures are in place to safeguard vulnerable people in its care; that practices are all above board and subject to proper scrutiny and that the good of the city and its institutions is put before anyone’s political career.

Over the past decade some great things have happened here through the grit and determination of some amazing people.

Now we must work to ensure Portsmouth has the governance it deserves.

This must start with an investigation into the sorry events outlined above and a clear plan of action to restore public confidence.

We have the chance of a fresh start in Portsmouth for the council, and its councillors have the chance to be hailed as ‘sons and daughters’ of the city.

All parties must pull together and come to terms with what has happened and grasp the opportunities open to our great city.