Council criticised over £1.3m bill for property investment schemes

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CITY leaders insist Portsmouth is still getting a good deal after new figures revealed the authority has forked out more than £1.3m on property consultants.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show Portsmouth City Council spent £1,353,963.49 to pay for firms which billed for their time helping the authority buy property it could make money on.

It comes just weeks after a similar request unveiled the council had spent just shy of £750,000 on fees to buy properties outside the city.

Council boss Donna Jones says this level of spending is ‘unavoidable’ when hiring professional firms but insists Portsmouth is still getting a good deal – raking in more than £6m a year, every year, because of the investment.

However, the authority’s former chief, councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, has hit back, saying the council should look to invest in the city – not properties hundreds of miles away.

Cllr Vernon-Jackon, Portsmouth’s Liberal Democrat leader, said: ‘This is money the city council and local residents will never get back.

‘If the council wants to invest in property they should be looking to do some of it in Portsmouth to create local jobs.

‘Instead they are spending Portsmouth taxpayers’ money in Somerset, Birmingham and Swindon.’

Hitting back, Cllr Jones said the multimillion-pound investment in commercial properties was already helping to offset major cuts, protecting public services like libraries, museums, school crossing patrols and weekly rubbish collection.

‘We are leading the way nationally in terms of income generation,’ said Cllr Jones.

‘Ninety per cent of this year’s budget savings have been achieved by generating new income and restructuring debt.

‘A major element of the council’s income generation drive is its property investment strategy which brings in £6.6m gross per year from the rent collected from our portfolio of commercial assets.

‘This is money that can be used to fund services within Portsmouth.’

The money to pay for these fees comes from borrowed cash by the council.

Cllr Jones added if a ‘suitable’ investment came up in Portsmouth, the council would consider it – as long as it met council’s risk criteria.