Budget 2018: Portsmouth City Council leader says funds don’t make up for harsh years of austerity

Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson
Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson

THE leader of Portsmouth City Council has slammed yesterday’s Budget announcements, believing it is 'not enough' to reverse the harsh years of austerity.

Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged money to services such as the NHS, schools and local authorities as well as changes to the new benefits system.

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson said the funds do not make up for cuts made over the years and he hoped the new benefit system, Universal Credit, would be scrapped.

But Mr Hammond announced an extra £1.5bn over five years for its implementation and for work allowances under Universal Credit to increase by £1,000 per year.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: 'I don't think this is enough to be able to meet the real difficulties faced by people on Universal Credit in Portsmouth. The council is having to do a lot of work with people to make sure they get their applications right.

'I've been talking to a lot of people with mental health difficulties and for them the online application system is too hard and they have to give up. I wonder if they have deliberately made it more difficult to deter people from applying.'

Mr Hammond also announced an extra £20.5bn for the NHS over the next five years, an extra £2bn a year for mental health services and £700m for councils for care of the elderly and those with disabilities.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson added: 'The reality is that funding for services in Portsmouth has been going down. Giving out little bits of money like this is not hugely useful.'

It was also revealed that a one-off £400m payment to schools would be provided to help with extras such as equipment. This would work out as £10,000 for every primary school and £50,000 per secondary school.

But the council's head of education, Cllr Suzy Horton, was also not convinced that this was enough.

She said: 'Anything is better than nothing.

'But it in no way returns the balance of everything that has been taken away from schools since austerity began. There have been so many cuts and redundancies as a result.'

At the end of August this year 85.7 per cent of schools and academies in Portsmouth were recorded as having either a good or outstanding rating, less than one per cent lower than the average UK school. This was up almost 20 per cent since Ofsted results in 2013.

Cllr Horton added: 'We are pleased with the Ofsted results. They are a testament to the hard work and dedication of teachers in the city in spite of all the cuts they have faced.'