Local authorities across Portsmouth region facing tough decisions amid budget cuts

COUNCILS across the region are facing a long-term battle with fledgling finances.

Friday, 9th July 2021, 4:55 am

Figures from local authorities across Hampshire, compiled by The News and the BBC Shared Data Unit, show that they are being hit by a twofold blow of falling income and increased costs.

Funding from central government is continuing to decrease, and the Covid-19 pandemic has forced councils to dig deep to keep vital services alive.

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Portsmouth City Council leader, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson. Picture: Habibur Rahman

The worst affected authority was Hampshire County Council which has a predicted shortfall of £80m by 2023/24.

While investing heavily into services during the coronavirus pandemic, the council is also making the full saving of £80m in the 2021/22 budget, although this will come at the cost of services like public health, which is due to be slashed by £6.8m.

In Portsmouth, savings of £1m have been planned for 2021/22.

But city council leader, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, says Portsmouth is in a better position than most councils.

He said: ‘Most of the money for local authorities comes from the government – not council tax as some people believe – and although the government is changing the way funds are distributed, the trend of getting less and less money each year looks set to continue.

‘Last year we underspent by £3m and that went straight into the savings pot, which puts us in a significantly more comfortable position than other councils.

‘Now more than ever, councils have to make good financial decisions to get through tough times. For us, the best decision was to not go ahead with the Victory Energy project – I think that saved us around £30m of trouble.’

Fareham and Havant are in similar financial positions, with predicted shortfalls of £1.7m and £1.5m respectively.

Gosport Borough Council’s estimated shortfall is much smaller, predicted to be £666,000 by 2023/24.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: ‘The government has allocated more than £12bn directly to councils since the start of the pandemic, with more than £6bn of this unringfenced, recognising that council are best placed to deal with local issues.

‘In the coming months, we will take stock of the demands faced by councils and the resources available to meet them and will decide on the timetable for future funding reform.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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