A report from John Ferrett, Leader of the Portsmouth Labour Councillors Group.
On 9th February there was a full council meeting which formed the second part of the council’s budget setting process, with decisions required on the capital budget and council tax.
Spending limits had been set at the council’s December 2015 meeting, but there was another opportunity to amend lines in the budget, providing the overall savings target remained the same. The Labour Group proposed an amendment calling for a reduction in councillor allowances by 20% and a reduction in cabinet positions. The amendment also proposed minimal cuts to council staffing. The money saved (£170k) would then be used to mitigate the cuts to Sure Start. Unfortunately, the amendment was not carried.
The Labour Group took the decision to abstain on any amendments put forward by other Groups, unless there were compelling grounds to support. A Liberal Democrat motion was not deemed to be worthy of support and the Labour Group abstained.
The council’s capital budget of £11million was supported by the Labour Group. Almost half of the budget was set aside to provide secondary school places with the remainder earmarked for essential infrastructure works. The Labour Group also supported a proposal to double the size of the council’s property acquisition fund, by agreeing to increase prudential borrowing for this purpose from £30 million to £60 million.
The Group also supported the council’s proposal to increase council tax by 3.99%. This figure can be split into two parts. 1.99% is the maximum ordinary council tax can be increased without holding a referendum. However, councils are also able to raise the tax by a further 2% if they have statutory responsibility for social care, which Portsmouth does. Unfortunately, this additional 2% is insufficient to meet the additional costs imposed on the council by the introduction of the national living wage, let alone deal with the full-blown crisis that is ongoing in social care. Nevertheless, the Labour Group believed that an increase in council tax was necessary in order to protect a tax-base that had been seriously eroded following five years of opportunistic council tax freezes by both Lib Dem and Tory administrations in the city.