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PORTSMOUTH’S reputation must be cleaned up.

That was the message that came out of a heated local elections debate chaired by The News at 1000 Lakeside last night.

Labour's John Ferrett speaking during the debate.''Picture: Sarah Standing (141317-4633) PPP-140515-194701001

Labour's John Ferrett speaking during the debate.''Picture: Sarah Standing (141317-4633) PPP-140515-194701001

Political leaders voiced their concerns about there being a lack of transparency at the council and said it was time for the public to have more of a say in decision-making.

Reference was made to private informal cabinet meetings and discussions between the council and the prospective new owners of South Parade Pier being behind closed doors.

Ukip proposed that the council’s cabinet structure should be replaced and scrapped with a committee including local people – and that idea was backed by the leaders of the Lib Dems and Tories.

Many voters agreed the ongoing saga over Mike Hancock’s conduct is tarnishing people’s perceptions of the city.

The Fratton councillor and Portsmouth South MP is being sued at the High Court over claims he sexually assaulted a female constituent.

Cllr John Ferrett, leader of the Labour group, spoke at the meeting along with the leaders of the Lib Dems, Tories, Ukip and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (Tusc).

‘We have had an appalling couple of years and we need a fresh start in this city,’ cllr Ferrett said.

Other issues raised included the need to drive up educational standards and improve apprenticeship opportunities.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘Things haven’t been right with education in this city for generations.

‘Our educational standards are not good.’

While there was talk of politicians needing to agree more on matters, Tusc felt the main parties already did in their stance on austerity and cuts.

Concerns were raised during the political debate about the differences between the north and south of the city.

Paulsgrove resident Patricia Russell MBE said the area where she lived had been overlooked.

‘Paulsgrove doesn’t seem to be part of the city,’ she said. ‘I have asked if we could have a swimming pool there for the general public and nothing has happened.’

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘There is investment going into all areas of the city.’

He did however criticise the government for not as yet releasing funds to enable the redevelopment of Paulsgrove’s King Richard School.

Meanwhile, cllr Donna Jones said if she were to become council leader, she would make the city more entrepreneurial and reopen public toilets by getting private companies to help support them.