Top councillor quits over kids’ budget cuts

Cllr John Ireland
Cllr John Ireland

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ONE of Portsmouth’s most senior councillors is to quit his post – because he is fed up with having to make cuts.

Cllr John Ireland told The News he would stand down from his post as cabinet member for children’s services at the annual council meeting on May 17.

His comments came after council leaders approved almost £2m cuts in services for youngsters up to the age of five.

Lib Dem Cllr Ireland said: ‘I’m giving up the cabinet job because I didn’t come into politics to be cutting services to people. These cuts go against my principles and that, together with a change in my employment circumstances, means I am no longer able or willing to be the lead member for children’s services.

‘I’m very sad about all the cuts we have been forced to make, and I deeply regret the loss of any services for children – but the reality is that we can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

‘When you receive £2m less then you have to make hard choices.’

The council has been forced to make cuts after the government reduced its ‘early intervention’ grant from £10.7m to just £9m for this year.

Among services hit are Little Steps Gym, which received £21,600 last year but this year will be given nothing, and children’s dance group Boogie Mites, which was given £11,500 last year.

Connors Toy Library, which loans out toys to youngsters across the city, had its funding cut to £58,000 – £4,000 higher than expected. But it is still well below the £84,700 it received last year.

Cllr Ireland, who says he will continue to represent his central Southsea constituents, said the toy library service would continue to operate from nine children’s centres but those families who could afford to would be charged for the service.

He added: ‘We made a huge effort with Connors Toy Library because we recognised the value play and toys has to our city, particularly to the most disadvantaged families.’

Karen Drayton, manager of Connors, said it would be making eight out of 11 employees redundant and services would be reduced.

She added: ‘We are very pleased to hear the toy library service in Portsmouth will continue and we give our thanks to Cllr Ireland for his support during this difficult time.

‘We will continue to support our most vulnerable and hard to reach families with a reduced level of provision and some families will have to wait longer for support.’

Lib Dem council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘John has done an extremely good job. With his input we’ve made a series of decisions about how we spend money in Portsmouth which is much better than other councils.

‘All cuts are made with great heaviness of heart and sadness – this won’t change for the next few years.

‘What we have to continue to do each and every year however is to make sure that in Portsmouth we protect services for the most vulnerable people.’