Campaigners condemn '˜attack on poor' as Portsmouth £9m savings plan unveiled

SUPPORT for sexual health, alcohol and drug misuse work, trade unions, community centres as well as cultural bodies in Portsmouth is to be cut back.

Thursday, 24th November 2016, 6:05 am
Updated Tuesday, 29th November 2016, 10:41 am
The Civic Offices in the Guildhall Square

It comes as Portsmouth City Council today reveals a controversial action plan to cut £9m from its budget.

The Tory administration has unveiled where it wants millions to be clawed back next year as the government continues to rein in funding it provides.

But critics say it is once again the vulnerable and working people who are being made to suffer.

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Planned cuts to public health – which could be £602,000 worse off – would result in sexual health promotion being axed, fewer people receiving ‘face-to-face’ support and more being told to go online for help. And people with substance and drink addictions would get less help – which council officers warn could pile more pressure on ‘social care, the NHS, police and criminal justice system’.

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Lib Dem leader, said: ‘All of the group leaders have had a briefing from the police. The big issue the police have is the rise in violent crime, and particularly problems associated with drugs in the city. They’re really worried about hard drugs.

‘Therefore, if we are cutting the amount of money available to get people off drugs, that seems to me like it doesn’t fit in at all with the police’s priority to tackle the dangers in our communities caused by people on hard drugs.’

Leaders insist only 10 per cent of the proposed 2017/2018 budget is ‘real terms’ cost-cutting – as £300,000 will be generated in rent on commercial property the council has bought – while £500,000 is to be made year on year thanks to a restructure of the terms of the lease on Wightlink’s ferry base.

And £1.3m less from the reserves would be used to pay off debt costs.

But council tax is set to once again rise by 3.99 per cent – and tax support for the most vulnerable will be trimmed by £500,000 next year.

Those in a band B property – the most common tax bracket in Portsmouth – would see their bills rise by 73p a week.

Further savings would see all of the cash that unions get to help workers with employment issues taken away – to the tune of £75,000.

Anti-cuts campaigner and Portsmouth Unison branch chairman Jon Woods said: ‘This is an attack on the poor. After years and years of cuts, we are seeing a devastation of the welfare state.’

On the trade union cuts, he said: ‘What the council is failing to focus on, is getting rid of secondments, releasing trade union representatives from their day jobs in order to represent members, will result in more costs. Stewards doing their existing jobs would have to take time out of their normal work to help with industrial matters.’

A review of workforce numbers is on the cards, and community centres in Buckland, Fratton and Paulsgrove would get less cash.

Guildhall operator Portsmouth Cultural Trust could get £60,000 less as part of a £343,600 culture, leisure and sport savings plan, although £230,000 of this includes bringing the contract for maintaining parks in-house.

Around a third of £330,000 to be cut in transport would be made by revamping the way pensioner bus passes are issued to minimise the potential for fraudulent travel. The budget plan is to go before the full council on December 13.

Council leader, Cllr Donna Jones, said: ‘No-one wants to make cuts, but in today’s tough financial climate, we’re faced with extremely difficult decisions.

‘However, I’m really pleased that we have been able to minimise the impact on services people rely on, by focusing on bringing new money into the council.

‘Two years ago, we promised we would become an entrepreneurial council, and now we’re delivering that. Half of this year’s budget savings have been achieved by generating new income and re-structuring debt, and this approach will continue under our administration.’