Portsmouth City Council freezes tax but needs to save £8m

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PORTSMOUTH leaders are set to freeze their part of the council tax bill for a third year in a row.

Despite having to make savings of almost £8m over the coming financial year the city council has chosen not to increase pressure on squeezed residents.

Instead it hopes around £7m will be found through efficiency savings that can be carried out without affecting the services received by taxpayers.

Opposition Tories gave the budget, which will be voted on by councillors next Tuesday, a cautious welcome but said the council could go further in reducing waste and might struggle to keep council tax down in the future.

The local authority sets 85 per cent of the overall council tax bill for city residents, with the police deciding on 11 per cent and Hampshire Fire and Rescue controlling the remaining five per cent.

Head of finance at the council, Cllr Hugh Mason, said: ‘We decided if we could find cuts that would be long-term savings then that would be better than raising council tax.

‘A lot of people in this city, and it is not a rich city, are going through very difficult times and there is no need for us to add to their problems.

‘Some people have been predicting that there will be a huge rise further down the line, but I don’t agree that will be necessary.’

The council will have to make cuts and increase charges for some services to reach the targets it has been set by the government. These include raising the cost of applying for planning permission and increasing court fees.

Some voluntary organisations will be hit by rising rent charges and the council is looking to reduce the amount it spends on their contracts by £10,000.

There are also plans to lose 250 jobs over the next three years, although so far no compulsory redundancies have been announced.

Conservative finance spokeswoman Donna Jones said her group has concerns about the council’s choice of large spending projects.

She said: ‘They are planning to spend £13m on a new Market Way road without having a firm commitment from Centros about the Northern Quarter development, which is very worrying.’

She added that because the budget doesn’t mention the Pyramids Centre the pool could potentially close if more money isn’t made available later this year.

Meanwhile police finance committee members are urging Hampshire Police Authority to hike council tax for policing in our area by 3.25 per cent.

This would mean the average resident in a band D property will pay £4.75 more from April.