Tories and Labour join forces to call-in move to axe Portsmouth energy firm

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A POLITICAL storm is brewing after furious councillors united to call-in a decision to scrap a multi-million pound city energy deal.

An unprecedented alliance has formed between Tory and Labour councillors in Portsmouth, who have put political differences aside in a bid to undermine the city's Lib Dem authority.

It comes after the Lib Dems thwarted a Tory masterplan to set up a council-owned energy firm in Portsmouth, opting to axe the proposals before they could get off the ground.

The Lib Dems weren’t convinced the finances behind the Victory Energy plan would stack up and felt it would be too much of a risk to the city coffers, which would have to loan £12m to get the firm up and running.

However, the Tories and Labour denied this, claiming the Lib Dems had ‘misunderstood’ the figures and scrapped a scheme – that could bring millions of pounds back into city – based on ‘fundamentally flawed and inaccurate’ information.

Top Tory councillors Donna Jones, Luke Stubbs and Simon Bosher were joined by Labour’s George Fielding and Judith Smyth in signing the call-in notice.

Councillor George Fielding

Councillor George Fielding

Former council boss, Councillor Donna Jones said: ‘The Liberal Democrats are a complete and utter shambles.

‘They have made some incredibly short-sighted decisions that will cost the city millions.

‘This latest decision just proves their complete ineptitude to run the city council.’

Financial forecasts said Victory Energy had the potential of generating a £2m income for the council once it became profitable.

Councillor Judith Smyth

Councillor Judith Smyth

Labour Councillor George Fielding said the plan could have tackled fuel poverty in the city, offering residents an alternative to the big six energy firms.

‘This has the potential to deliver millions of pounds for Portsmouth’s public services and support those people most in need,’ he said. ‘So this decision by the Liberal Democrats is quite short-sighted, with millions going to be wasted as a result.’

Concerns were shrugged off by the Lib Dems, who stressed the decision was made in the interests of protecting the public purse.

Cllr Ben Dowling, city’s planning and regeneration boss, said the party had been fully briefed on Victory Energy and had a ‘rounded view’ of the finances.

He added: ‘We’re confident that we had all the figures we needed to make the decision.

‘We made it based on the risk management of public finances.

‘The key thing we were worried about was the volume of public money that would need to have been put at potential risk.’

He added the party was ‘happy’ for the call-in to take place.

A scrutiny management committee, made of cross-party councillors, will meet on September 21 to look at the call-in.

If they feel there is a case to answer, then a full review will be undertaken which could see the original decision being overruled.