“Pay more but get less” budget given the go ahead by Portsmouth City Council

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Portsmouth City Council has approved its “pay more but get less” budget for 2024/25 amid fears towards “the future for local government in this country”.

The Liberal Democrat administration’s budget proposals received 31 votes in favour, seven opposed, and one abstention from the council chamber. The budget outlines £20m of spending and £2m of savings to offset inflationary costs and demand pressures in social care and temporary housing for the homeless – no services will be cut and are expected to operate normally. Council tax is set to increase by 4.99 per cent, with nearly three per cent allocated to general services and two per cent to adult social care. It’s expected the increase will cost the average Portsmouth home an extra £1.23 per week.

Councillor Steve Pitt, leader of the council, introduced the budget with “great trepidation as to the future holds for local government in this country”. “Councils of all political colours have been making a very strong case to government that without significant additional funding the very nature of local government as we know it is in peril,” he said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The current system is failing – locally Conservative-led Hampshire County Council is flagging £132m in deficit and our colleagues in Labour-led Southampton are having to turn off the street lights at night to try and balance the budget. The Local Government Association identified the need for an additional £4bn this coming year – to provide for the relentless increase in the need for demand-led services such as adult and children services and temporary accommodation.

The council has been looking for ways to save money as part of its budget processThe council has been looking for ways to save money as part of its budget process
The council has been looking for ways to save money as part of its budget process

“The government’s response was to provide £600m of which £500m was to be spread across councils which provide additional resources for social care, for Portsmouth this meant £1.8m in additional funding against a budget pressure of £14.5m. Only £7.9m of which is to be covered by additional grants and the two per cent precept on council tax bills.”

Councillor Pitt described the budget as structurally balanced, requiring a yearly saving of £1m for the next three years with a possible annual variance of £1.67m. Cllr Simon Bosher, leader of the Conservative group, expressed disappointment towards the tax rise, stating it’s “not what we would have done”. However, he accepted that due to the war in Ukraine and other pressures, the council faces “difficult times”.

Cllr Bosher took aim at a capital spend of £100,000 for tree planting when “the administration spent more on concreting over grass verges in Paulsgrove than it did on greening the city”. He then criticised the proposed Bransbury Park Leisure Centre as the project cost has increased from £16m to £22m, despite removing a sports hall from the project. He put forward an amendment, which was subsequently voted down, that earmarked £246,800 of spending for road safety measures and improvements to Cosham High Street.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Councillor Charlotte Gerada, the Labour group leader, said the budget can be summed up in five words: “Pay more but get less”. Cllr Gerada described the council tax increase as a means for the council to “keep its head above water” that puts residents at increased risk of homelessness, family breakdown and illness.

She expressed her heartbreak after speaking with struggling residents, including a single mother of three living in “squalid conditions” and an elderly widow who cannot afford central heating to ease her arthritis pain. “Responsibility for this sits squarely with this outdated Conservative government which insists on clinging on to power when what the public really wants is a general election now so they can vote with their feet and put the Conservatives where they belong, in the past. While wider global forces have contributed to economic challenges we face as a country, it was exacerbated by the fallout of the disastrous Truss mini-budget in 2022.”

The Labour group agreed with the administration to allocate £100,000 for road safety measures, £16,000 to extend the life of the stroke recovery service, and to double the number of deployable CCTV cameras.

Councillor Matthew Atkins proposed an amendment to allocate the funds intended for Bransbury Park Leisure Centre towards an investment start-up fund for the city centre north regeneration scheme, citing the former as a “vanity project”. He said: “In 20 years which would the city rather have, a new and vibrant Commercial Road area, or a costly and underused sports centre in Cllr Pitt’s electoral ward – that is if the administration ever even actually manages to build the pool. It was possible to avoid increasing council tax today, it is a political decision to increase the council’s budget while increasing the council tax by this administration.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Cllr George Madgwick, who leads the Portsmouth Independent Party group, said that the council is “stuck between a rock and a hard place” financially and that “nothing is going to be perfect”. He then cast aspersions towards the Conservative and Labour groups pitting against each other over national issues.

He said: “This is a local budget and a local council and I’ve just sat here and listened to a load of national politics and general election stuff – I understand that things on a national level have an impact on local budgets but we should be talking purely about local issues.”

The proposed council tax increase of 4.99 per cent – the maximum allowed without a referendum – will raise £4.8m for the council, two per cent of which will go towards adult social care.