Portsmouth City Council asks RNLI for huge increase in rent by mistake

Councillor Luke Stubbs

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HORRIFIED volunteers at Portsmouth’s lifeboat station were told their rent was increasing by almost 100 times because of a council blunder.

The leader of the city council was forced to step in and overrule his officers after an employee ‘acted without authority’ and informed RNLI headquarters of a huge rise in the levy.

Portsmouth lifeboat station operations manager Barry Taylor was told the charity would have to go from making monthly payments of £175 to the city council to paying £17,000 a month.

He immediately emailed the leader of Portsmouth City Council Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson to say the increase was ‘totally unacceptable’ and asked for an explanation.

This led to the increase being suspended and council procedures being changed to prevent any such mistakes in future.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘I woke up and saw the email and by 7am I had vetoed the proposal.

‘As far as I know, this was a council officer who did this without checking with me or any other councillors.

‘It was an incredibly bad piece of work and I have said that to the senior management at the council.

‘It is absolutely not the sort of thing we should be doing.’

He said that the recalculation had come about because of a move by the council to charge charitable organisations commercial rents wherever they can afford them.

‘What I have said to Mr Taylor is we are looking to get proper commercial rents,’ he said.

‘But we don’t always do that if there is a good reason not to.

‘They are asking to have a non-commercial rent, effectively a council subsidy, so we will have to have a look at their books.

‘I have invited them in to discuss it properly.’

But Tory opposition spokesman for culture, leisure and sport Jim Fleming said the council should have spoken to the RNLI already.

‘They should have spoken to the charity before they sent this letter out,’ he said.

‘We wouldn’t do this to vulnerable residents and we shouldn’t do it to charities.

‘Especially as it was such an enormous proposed rise.

‘The amount of worry they had when this letter arrived must have been huge.’