Portsmouth Labour fears council budget consultation runs risk of becoming '˜a gimmick'

PUBLIC interest in the way Portsmouth City Council should spend its money has fallen.

Wednesday, 2nd November 2016, 6:05 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 4:08 pm
Cllr Stephen Morgan

Initial results from the authority’s consultation into next year’s budget – which proposes another round of spending cuts – shows just 1,281 people had their say.

That’s around half the number of participants who spoke up in 2015 about the future of services.

Critics fear the exercise runs the risk of being a ‘gimmick’ if it’s not being promoted properly.

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Councillor Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth Labour group leader, said: ‘The shape of the city’s finances and how money is allocated to protect and provide essential public services is one of the biggest challenges this council faces.

‘I am concerned by the response rate this year.

‘There is a real need for better and wide-ranging engagement with the public to inform and improve future decisions. Otherwise consultation runs the risk of becoming just a gimmick.’

The council has already revealed it needs to slash £24m from its budget between 2017 and 2020.

Residents were asked whether they would agree to another two per cent hike in their council tax bills, if the authority should call on more charities to provide services, work with the NHS to improve healthcare – and if it should share more services with neighbouring councils to save cash.

Putting on more events, installing solar panels on people’s homes, running a switching service to help residents find cheaper gas and electricity suppliers, selling ‘support services’ to academy-run schools and businesses and building new homes and commercial properties were all seen as potential ways the council could bolster its finances.

The authority’s overall budget has shrunk by £86m over the past six years as the government reins in its cash contributions to local councils.

Councillor Luke Stubbs, Tory deputy council leader, said: ‘We had 1,281 responses to our budget consultation, so thank you to everyone who got involved and had their say.

‘Residents’ views really do make a difference and will be taken into account when we make our decisions about the 2017-18 budget savings at the next full council meeting on December 13.’

It comes despite the warning from Tory environment boss Cllr Rob New that the council was ‘struggling to put together its budget.’