Portsmouth MPs fear crucial debate over city spending will be platform to attack ‘smear councillor’

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PORTSMOUTH’s two MPs have issued a warning to the city council ahead of a crucial debate over spending priorities as they fear it will be used to row over a Tory councillor’s attempts to ‘smear’ a constituent.

Under-fire Scott Harris has faced calls to quit after he wrote an email to colleagues suggesting ways be found to dish the dirt on Old Portsmouth resident Sameen Farouk after he pressed for answers over issues to the authority.

Portsmouth North and South MPs Penny Mordaunt and Flick Drummond say Cllr Harris’ comments about Mr Farouk were ‘unedifying’, but believe the incident is ‘not the only one of its kind’ doing the rounds in the council.

And they fear members will not stick to the important matters at hand at today’s full council debate - where key decisions are set to be made over the council’s revenue and capital spending programmes and whether a four per cent increase in council tax will be adopted.

A rally is also set to be staged prior to the meeting at Portsmouth Guildhall, which starts at 2pm, about cuts to a domestic abuse victims service.

Ms Mordaunt and Mrs Drummond’s joint statement says: ‘Tomorrow will see the most important council meeting of the year: the Budget meeting, which will set the finances and priorities for Portsmouth city council for the next 12 months and beyond.

It should be the forum for scrutiny and debate on the key issues affecting the people we all serve. We fear it will not be. To our dismay it looks destined to be a meeting focused on the actions of a councillor for which he has already unreservedly apologised.

‘Cllr Harris’s comments in a private e-mail were unedifying and alas this incident is not the only one of its kind currently doing the rounds, with councillors from a number of political parties being on the receiving end of similar tactics.

‘No one should have to suffer such abuse, whether it be from a fellow elected representative or members of the public.

We acknowledge that much has been gained in terms of councillors’ conduct in recent months following the Lingard inquiry, but the council cannot rest on its laurels.

‘We believe that the public are dismayed, and deserve better. We call on all members of the city council to stop this tit-for-tat behaviour, which is so divisive and unproductive, and get on with setting a budget which will deliver for the people of Portsmouth.’