THE former leader of Portsmouth City Council has come under fire after he was photographed at a debate on budget cuts playing a game of solitaire on his mobile phone.
Lib Dem councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson was pictured playing the game during the key meeting at Portsmouth Guildhall, where £9m worth of savings in next year’s budget – including big cuts in public health and social care – were approved.
I queue at the post office and I play solitaire. We as councillors have been encouraged to use our phones during meetings, that’s what we have been told we should be doing.Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Portsmouth Lib Dem leader
Senior Tory cabinet member, Cllr Linda Symes, snapped the Lib Dem chief not paying attention – and circulated it to colleagues condemning his actions.
Cllr Symes said: ‘When you are debating a budget to save the poorest in society, playing Solitaire instead of listening to the debate is of paramount importance.’
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said it was ‘entirely possible’ he was playing solitaire, but insisted his phone wasn’t out when members of the public made deputations and other key speeches were made about the cuts – which he strongly opposed. When asked if he was playing solitaire, Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘It’s entirely possible. I queue at the post office and I play solitaire. We as councillors have been encouraged to use our phones during meetings, that’s what we have been told we should be doing.
‘When members of the public are there and speaking, it’s essential that nobody uses their phone, and we concentrate on what they have got to say.
‘I certainly wouldn’t have my phone out during any deputation.
‘But during all the speeches made in the meeting, we knew what they vote was going to be. We knew what would happen when we walked into the meeting.
‘It was as it would be five hours later – what was said didn’t change anything.’
But Tory council leader, Cllr Donna Jones, said Cllr Vernon-Jackson had shown ‘complete contempt’ for the public.
Cllr Jones said: ‘Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, in Portsmouth, being caught playing solitaire on his phone demonstrates clearly his contempt for the most important meeting of the year, the annual budget meeting.
‘With the Lib Dems, what you have is a culture of “do as I say, not as I do”.
‘The most recent example of this is with a petition to save the Off The Record service, yet it was the Lib Dems that cut Portsmouth City Council’s funding back in 2013. So it was them that dealt the charity the killer blow that ended their funding stream.’
Cllr Jones added: ‘It shows completely contempt for the council and public in Portsmouth.’
Cllr Vernon-Jackson has released a video on Facebook condemning the council for not supporting OTR, which closed its Fratton branch two days before Christmas after running out of cash.
He said: ‘The council has spent £50m buying properties in Yorkshire and Shropshire, around the country, yet it can’t find £20,000 to keep a youth counselling service here going.’