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Budget speech by Portsmouth City Council Leader

Author: Portsmouth City Council Published: 14th February 2012 15:26

Today's budget speech by Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Leader of Portsmouth City Council, follows:

"The budget is produced to try to achieve three key things:

"To protect local people's incomes by freezing council tax for an unprecedented third year.  However difficult it is for the council, we have to recognise that for many families, their budgets are stretched, and by freezing council tax for a third year, we are helping them.  I am disappointed that the government grant to help with this freeze is for one year only.  It has added £1.7 million to the savings we have to find next year.  I have a meeting at the Treasury tomorrow and I will be lobbying to extend this grant.

"The second thing we will do is to invest in jobs and homes in the city.  The capital programme is centred on the regeneration of the derelict land at Tipner.  We have been successful in bidding for £20million of government investment in the new motorway junction at Tipner.  At the council, we will invest £7.5million of council money to make this project happen.  This will open the land up for up to 1,000 extra homes, up to 1,500 extra jobs and to a park-and-ride scheme to relieve pressure on the city centre.

"Finally, this budget is aimed at protecting the most vulnerable in society and to protect the services that people value most here in the city.  Of the £8million of savings that we are looking at within the budget, £7million of these have been found by looking at how the council operates internally and looking at how to reduce these costs.  I would like to record my thanks to David Williams, the chief executive; the directors; heads of service and all councillors and members of staff who have worked over the last 18 months on how to re-engineer the council. Many councils across the country are having to look for major cuts in services but here in Portsmouth we have done our best to protect frontline services. So my thanks to the senior officers of the council for working up these proposals that protect front-line services. Now we have to implement them.

"The context in which we are working is the removal of more government grant to Portsmouth City Council as well as to all other councils. The loss of 28% of government grant over four years is a huge reduction, and front loading of these cuts by the secretary of state has made things worse. The government is also moving the goal posts in three crucial areas, all of which look as if they will have a negative effect upon the city. We all know the financial climate that we all have to work in. The lack of reality from the people against all cuts and all financial sense is bizarre. Last year they came and suggested that we made no cuts because there would be a Labour government this year that would give us all the money we need. Thank goodness we didn't listen to them then, and we should not listen to them now. If the UK is to avoid the fate of Greece and Ireland then we have to live within our means. But cuts are not new. They were imposed by the last government as well as the current one.

"There are, though, three areas where the government has made things worse.

"The first is to tell local government that the government had assumed a 2% pay award as part of their grant calculation - but had forgotten to tell anyone in local government - but now that there is a 1% pay ceiling they want to remove yet more money from local government. This means a loss for Portsmouth City Council of £850,000 next year.

"Secondly the 10% cut in council tax benefit has been so badly thought out that even with the concessions the Local Government Association has been so far able to get out of government, either people on low incomes in Portsmouth will see a reduction in their benefits or the council will have to find about £700,000 to protect them. I am hopeful that further concessions will be produced by the government on this but so far the Department for Work and Pensions seem deaf to reason.

"Finally, the academies tax. This removed £500,000 from Portsmouth's budget. This council led the judicial review of this decision along with councils of all political colours. The government proposals were not based on how many schools had converted. The judicial review has been very successful but still the Department for Education are resisting external independent specialists to show what the real extra costs of academies is. My thanks to the LGA for co-ordinating this judicial review, which should see some money returned to us here in Portsmouth.

"So to the budget. I'd like to take this chance to thank each and every member of the cabinet and their team of officers for the work they have done this year.

"This budget is not a risk-free budget. It proposes £8 million of savings this coming year and £19 million more over the next two years. It is also suggesting losing 250 jobs over the next three years. Senior management has taken its share of cuts. Last year we removed one director and two heads of service. This year we are proposing to lose an extra two heads of service. The advice from the chief executive is that with the levels of savings to be implemented it is unwise to cut senior management this year by more than the two heads of service we have proposed. Next year we will be able to do more, but his advice is that cuts larger than those proposed in the budget risk the council being unable to implement the savings plans in this budget. I intend to listen to this advice.

"This budget proposes making extra money available to children's services, This is the only area of the council that is to receive extra funding and all other council services have had to make extra cuts to put money into this service. But we do this with our eyes open. Cllr Rob Wood, strategic director Julian Wooster and the team have worked hard to reduce the number of children in care, and to buck the trend nationally on this. This is good for the city, but also good for local children. The increase in local foster families has again helped the council's finances and produced better local solutions for local children who need care and support.

"I am pleased to announce that at my suggestion this council has been asked to present what we have been doing so well in children's social care to the LGA national conference so that others can learn from our success.

"This budget also invests nearly £3.7 million in local schools. £1 million of this is to build additional space for the increasing number of local children who suffer from autism and need our support to be able to get through school successfully.

"Finally in this area I am pleased to announce an investment of £25,000 in our local youth clubs. This will mean that Hillside, Hilsea Youth Club, Buckland Youth Activity Centre, Portsea, and the Brook Club will be open longer in the evening, weekends or holidays to make sure local youngsters have something constructive to do.

"The port continues to thrive. The decision we made some time ago to invest in a new terminal and in MMD has been good for jobs in the city and for the finances of the council. This budget proposes investing in additional facilities at the port. My continued thanks to Cllr Mike Hancock, strategic director Kathy Wadsworth, port manager Martin Putman and all the team. The regeneration strategy is seeing £1 billion invested in the city over the next few years. The work with business leaders in the city is growing apace. The investment in the opening up and regeneration of the derelict land at Tipner will see up to 1,500 extra jobs created here in Portsmouth. This has to be the council's top priority. Portsmouth is open for business.

"Inevitably the council's backroom services are taking the brunt of savings within the budget. My thanks to Cllr Hugh Mason and strategic director Michael Lawther along with their teams. To make a 10% cut in just one year is hard, but we have asked these services to do this for several years to protect our front-line services and they have answered the challenge. But to do this work we have to invest in technology, and the capital budget does this through investment in IT.

"Housing have worked well with others this year. It has been wonderful to see council houses built and handed over to local families this year, and more being built. Who would have thought that a non-Labour government would see a renaissance of council housing? Tomorrow I am meeting ministers at the Treasury to see if we can find a way to kick-starting even more council-house building here in Portsmouth. My thanks to Cllr Steve Wylie and strategic director Margaret Geary. And all the team for the way they took on the play service last year. This year it is good to see that the tenants tax introduced under the last government has been abolished and the £2 million that was removed from local tenant's rents here in Portsmouth will now no longer go to the Treasury, but be used in Portsmouth for the benefit of local tenants.

"Adult social care is an area of ever-increasing demand. In the last few years we have seen a real change led by Cllr Leo Madden and Margaret Geary. This year is no different. The investment we have made in this budget in changing the way social care is provided will see massive investment in Cosham. My thanks to them and all the team for the way in which we are continuing to serve the needs of local people. The budget sees a planned £2 million underspend from this year rolled over to next year to allow the changes in the service we need. I am also really pleased that the NHS have thought again about their decision on vascular surgery.

"In Environment we have seen the successful introduction of the new waste collection contract. Portsmouth continues to be the only local council that bothers to collect people's rubbish each and every week. The Lib Dems here in Portsmouth have protected this whilst Conservatives in other councils have cut this. We have done this through the work of Cllr Eleanor Scott, Kathy Wadsworth and all the team and my thanks to them. Rubbish collections every week and at £1 million a year less than last year, great news.
 
"Community Safety is facing a big challenge. The move to a police commissioner will see much of our budget for prevention of domestic violence and looking after drink and drunk misuers move away. I hope that the influence of Lynne Stagg and all the team will mean that services here are protected.

"Transport, under the leadership of Cllr Jason Fazackarley and Kathy Wadsworth, will see much of their resources moved to deliver on their big road schemes. I'm pleased that Portsmouth has the most satisfied local users of transport anywhere in the country. This is a real testament to the work they have done.

"Finally to Cllr Lee Hunt's area of culture and leisure. The Dickens bicentenary has been a huge success. More and more seems to be done with less and less. I cannot speak more highly of the great success of the new Southsea Library. This has encouraged many more people in the library and help give support for the shopping in Southsea.

"I am happy to be able to announce that the council intends to make additional investments in libraries in the north of the city. In Paulsgrove the intention is to move the library (subject to survey) to a shop location on Allaway Avenue so that more people use the library. In Drayton we aim to open a library this year. This is something for which local people have campaigned for 30 years and we will deliver it. This will have to have volunteers to help run it and again will have a shop front location. Finally, in Cosham, we will be looking for a location to move the library onto the High Street. I have looked for a location and nothing is currently suitable but when an opportunity arises (as it did in Southsea) we will look to move this important facility.

"This budget also has some flexibility built into it. There will be pressures on funding but I have great sympathy for groups like those in the News today and there may be flexibility to look at this again.

"So this is a budget that treats the council as a business. It builds on the responsible way this Lib Dem administration and the council officers have run the budget over the last few years. In each year the council has spent less than expected - this year by over £8 million. This has meant we can invest in changing services and protecting local people. I had hoped that this budget could have been produced by all political groups working together, and my thanks to the new Conservative leader for some informal proposals discussed last night and this morning. Maybe next year (as there are no elections) we can really work closely together for a budget that all can agree.

"This budget protects local people from council tax rises. It invests in jobs in the city. It protects the most vulnerable people here in Portsmouth and the services people most value. That's what you get from a Lib Dem run council, no wonder people keep voting for us year after year. I commend this budget to you all."

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