THE city council could face a bill of millions of pounds to pay for cladding improvements after a government U-turn over who would pay for the work.
About £10.9 million is needed to remove and upgrade cladding to Horatia House and Leamington House in Somers Town in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
In June the city council’s leader Donna Jones said the council would be ‘getting the full cost recovered’ for the work, but the government has now said it ‘expects’ the authority to fund the measure.
Negotiations are ongoing between the two sides to decide how the project will be paid for.
Cllr Jones said: ‘Portsmouth City Council is in ongoing negotiations with the Department for Local Communities and Government around the issue of removal of cladding.
‘We have been given specific instructions about the cladding removal and all of it will be removed by February. These buildings are extremely safe. The council has worked quickly and would like to give their thanks to contractors and council staff.’
She added that in the event the government would not provide any or all of the funding for the work, the council would make up the funding itself rather than pass on the bill to council tenants.
In June the Local Government Association chairman Gary Porter claimed, in a letter to council leaders, that communities secretary Sajid Javid had told him in a private conversation that councils would be fully reimbursed for the work done.
Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats on the council, said the government were ‘backing out’ of an earlier commitment to fund the work.
He said: ‘We are very worried that the Conservative government promised all the councils that they would fully fund the work needed to make tower blocks safer, and it looks like they will not do that. They expect tenants and taxpayers to pick up the bill.’
‘The government made the commitment and they are now backing out of their word.’
Asked if Cllr Jones was wrong to claim the government would provide full funding, he added: ‘I think she was completely justified in saying what she said because that was what the government had said.
‘She thought they would keep their word and she will be as disappointed as anybody.’
A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said it was ‘in discussions’ with Portsmouth City Council about funding.
She added: ‘We have been clear that building owners are responsible for ensuring their buildings are safe for residents and we expect them to fund fire safety measures.
‘Councils should contact DCLG to discuss their position if they have any concerns about funding fire safety works.
‘Ministers have been clear we will consider financial flexibilities for councils who need to undertake essential fire safety work to make a building safe.’
A total of 71 people were killed in the Grenfell fire in June.
Inquests for the victims have since been opened and adjourned.