Council votes to accept £15m cuts to budget

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson
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A LAST-DITCH effort by protesters could not derail plans to cut almost 200 jobs at Portsmouth City Council.

Nearly 100 campaigners took to Guildhall Square yesterday lunchtime to attempt to convince councillors to vote against the 2011-12 budget, which will slash £15m from the authority’s spending, and see 184 jobs axed.

They warned cuts to services could see alcoholism, homelessness and even suicide rates rocket in the city.

But despite their attempt, the Lib Dem plans were voted through yesterday evening.

Neither the council’s Tory or Labour opposition groups offered an alternative budget, or any amendments.

Council leader, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said: ‘This hasn’t been pleasant. The effects will be felt across the city. But central government has reduced our funding and we must make cuts and savings.’

As The News reported last week, the biggest cuts include £3,210,800 from children’s services, rising to £4,198,800 next year, and £2,599,500 from the education budget, rising to £3,091,100 next year.

But despite the cuts, Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘We have not looked for wholesale closures. We’re not closing libraries, we are protecting all youth clubs, adventure playgrounds, museums and public loos.’

Tory group leader Councillor Steve Wemyss said: ‘This council has overspent every year. If we were in charge, we would have put in place spending cuts earlier, so these massive cuts wouldn’t be needed.’

But he said his group would not present an alternative budget, ‘to avoid giving the Lib Dem group a get-out-of-jail-free card’, saying they would criticise Tory ideas, then ‘steal’ them.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘I will use anyone’s good ideas. I want what’s best for the city and I’m not playing shameful, schoolboy politics by hiding my plans from the people. This is the only budget available, because you haven’t presented an alternative.’

But an alternative budget was presented to councillors by the union representatives, members of the public and Portsmouth Against Cuts Together (Pact), who had demonstrated outside the Guildhall.

The group said the council should use cash reserves to postpone cuts, then campaign for more government money.

Pact member Ben Norman said: ‘Councillors were elected to stand up for the city. We want them to stand with us and protect services.’

But Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘We’re using £4m of our reserves but can’t keep spending them. Confrontation with the government would leave the city with enormous debts. It would be irresponsible.’