Gerald Vernon Jackson proposes Lib Dem budget to full council


Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Leader of the Council, gave a speech today to full council, introducing his administration's proposed budget:

"Lord Mayor, and colleagues, it is my pleasure to move the council's revenue budget for 2020/21 and the forecasts for the financial years 2020/21 to 2023/24 and the capital budget for the financial years 2019/2020 to 2024/2025.

This is an ambitious budget, it is the greenest budget the city has ever produced and it is a prudent budget, building a long-term sustainable financial future for this city council.

 

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Leader of the Council, gave a speech today to full council, introducing his administration's proposed budget:

Lord Mayor, and colleagues, it is my pleasure to move the council's revenue budget for 2020/21 and the forecasts for the financial years 2020/21 to 2023/24 and the capital budget for the financial years 2019/2020 to 2024/2025.

This is an ambitious budget, it is the greenest budget the city has ever produced and it is a prudent budget, building a long-term sustainable financial future for this city council.

This budget builds on all the various areas of work the city council is involved in to try to make this council one of the greenest in the country. As a council we have committed to become carbon-neutral by 2030 and to address the climate emergency in a real way. This work will inevitably evolve over time but instead of waiting until everything is in place we have got a whole range of different initiatives in this budget which means this is our greenest-ever budget at the city council. Our priorities are the planet, the people and addressing some of the long-term issues that the council faces that others have not addressed.

Right at the start my thanks must go to Chris Ward, Julian Pike and all the members of the city council cabinet for the work they have put into creating this budget.

I know several people have said that this is an easy budget. I expect some people will say that in this budget we are avoiding cuts because the government has given this council extra money. Someone with a superficial financial knowledge might think that, but anyone with a firm grasp of financial realities will understand that whilst the government gives with one hand it takes with another.

I am pleased that at long last all parties in the UK have recognised the terrible state of both adult and children’s social care, and that the cuts to these services over recent years have been severe and impossible to deliver. I am pleased that at long last the government has recognised that councils need additional money for this. There is £1bn for the Social Care Fund but the costs that this needs to cover are over £4bn. And we are still waiting over 1,000 days for the Green Paper on Social Care that the Government promised to deliver in March 2017.

Within the budget papers colleagues will have seen that the government is producing £3m more for the city council for social care. But before we all start cheering let's look at the reality of the situation. The budget papers also show that the extra money needed to go into both children's and adult social care is £6m. The papers also show that the government is removing £1.5m from Portsmouth by winding up the business rates retention scheme, so in reality, the government is just giving us an extra £1.5m. Of this, £700,000 is from the inflation rise in business rates, so in reality, the government is giving us extra money to be able to fix the problem in social care but it is only £800,000 towards the £6m cost that we have to address. Some would say that this is just a sticking plaster to cover a gaping wound and the city council will be expected to find the rest of the money from our own resources. This means we start from a position of minus £5.2m which we have to find to balance the budget and put the required money into both children's and adult social care.

Linked to this is the need to tackle the long-term funding crisis in children's social services. Two years ago when the Lib Dems took over the city council again we found that children's social services budget we inherited was being exceeded by £7m a year. The budget was just wrong in this area as it did not realistically show the cost that the council had to fund the number of children in care. Last year we found an extra £4m to put into this service and this year an additional £3m. This means that we now have a responsible level of funding for the most vulnerable children living in this city. Probably no-one in the city will notice this, and this money could have been spent on things residents would notice and like. But we must do what is right for the most vulnerable. I am proud that as Lib Dems we are making the long-term correct financial decision to care for children who cannot live at home.

This helps to demonstrate why it is so important that this council, along with councils around the country, continue to keep up pressure on government to deliver that Green Paper on Social Care. We need to make sure that there is proper funding available for the services that are so important to the most vulnerable in our communities.

My Lord Mayor this is the greenest budget this council has ever seen.

The commitment to roll out food waste recycling across the whole city, that should see at least 10,000 tonnes of food waste a year taken out of the incinerator and recycled, is a key commitment for us. This September we will be rolling out the food waste recycling scheme in new areas of the city, in Wymering, in Cosham, in Landport and Buckland, in Southsea and Milton. And in September 2021 to the whole city, when the new waste contract is let. And let me be clear: I would welcome an in-house bid for that contract if it is competitive.

The anaerobic digester we will build will not only be available for Portsmouth to use, but to others. The Isle of Wight trucks its food waste to Basingstoke. Just think how much fuel we could save if it just went to a site closer by. In addition there is the waste from Havant, Fareham, Gosport, East Hampshire and Chichester. If we are to confront the climate emergency we cannot just think about Portsmouth - we have to think wider.

We are investing in wind turbines and electric vehicles at the port. We are looking at work so that ferries and cruise ships can just plug into the mains when berthed, so they do not run their engines. This will reduce air pollution at the port, to take us to the point where Portsmouth becomes the UK’s first carbon-neutral port.

It is important that we ensure that our port is able to continue to have the investment required to help it meet its carbon-neutral target. The port contributes millions of pounds into the council's coffers to support local services. By investing we also help them grow. Their objective is to triple the number of cruise calls, to 120 a year in three years' time, but that means investing in a new terminal extension, additional dredging and the possibility of a sky bridge. And you can see the way in which this is being welcomed. Saga cruises will be naming their new ship here in Portsmouth on 19 August, the first time a south coast port has had such an honour away from Dover and Southampton.

To further promote our green agenda, we are also investing in low-traffic neighbourhoods, a massive extension of the Park and Ride scheme, electric charging points for on-street charging of cars, in greening the city, in neighbourhood and street improvements, for secure cycle racks on terraced streets and in green walls. We will work with groups, business and communities across the city to deliver these things and look for further opportunities to do more. All of these things speak of an ambition to make Portsmouth one of the very greenest cities in the UK.

The issues with social care funding and the huge issue of climate emergency are just two of the many long-term issues this administration is tackling.

This budget is also ambitious because it is investing in Portsmouth.

The measures we are bringing forward will inject life, work and activity back to the city centre with the investment in co-working space at Cascades. They also see us invest in our cultural industries, which are the fastest-growing part of the economy for employment. Our loan to the Kings Theatre of £3m will see the entrance to the stalls reinvented, new catering space to generate income, new disabled access and new rehearsal space. As part of this new partnership with the Kings, the trust will ultimately take on a full repairing lease on the building, to save the city council from future costs.

Here in the Guildhall the money released will see a new foyer and box office and a refurbishment of the first floor to become a better conference facility. This will allow the Guildhall to access additional external funding to create new dining facilities on the edge of the building to again drive income and make the Guildhall financially viable in future years.

These projects have undergone and will continue to undergo detailed financial testing and will be reviewed closely to make sure that they achieve their targets. Having a culturally vibrant city means Portsmouth becomes more and more attractive as a location for companies to relocate.

My Lord Mayor, I have already talked about how this administration has worked to ensure that our social services have the funding they need within the constraints of government allocation. I want to now go into some detail about some of the measures that we have been able to support, to improve how services are delivered.

This prudent budget will see an extra £3m put into children's social care to address the rise in the number of children in care. This is a national issue and one that is crippling other councils. Here in Portsmouth we have planned for this and are taking the necessary steps. We have had consultants in from People Too to look at our children's services and we are accepting each and every one of their recommendations.

We are also being proactive. We would like more of the children we look after to be looked after by PCC foster carers and in this local area. Out-of-city placements can be hugely expensive, and miles from home. So we have identified £1m to invest in the homes of our foster carers to make them bigger or produce adaptations to make it possible for children with severe needs to be cared for. This should reduce our ongoing costs and be better for the children who need our care and support.

In adult social care we, as a Lib Dem administration, are addressing the £3m overspend by finding this money and building it into the base budget. Across the nation the NHS is in crisis because the government has chosen not to invest in social care. Here we will not do that. So the new models of care working we have done mean we are seeing plans for a 60-bed extra-care home for those with dementia being planned in Cosham.

I would now like to move on to education. All councils are struggling with how to cope with the increased pressure for places for children with special educational needs. The recent Ofsted inspection into special educational needs was one of the very best in the country. I’m pleased that the work has been recognised both nationally and locally as putting Portsmouth at the leading edge of this work. To build on that work there is the commitment to find £4m to build additional classroom spaces for children with special educational needs, and an additional £400,000 for home-to-school transport.

Another long-term issue this administration is tackling is giving people in the city homes they can afford and tackling the scourge of homelessness. I’m really pleased that there are so many initiatives working towards this.

When we were faced with the evidence that Horatia and Leamington Houses were built of sub-standard concrete there could only be one answer for us. After Grenfell Tower how could we ask our tenants to stay in buildings we knew had inherent risks? We therefore took the difficult but right decision to say these towers had to be vacated. I know others in this council had different views, but our first duty as a landlord is to make sure our residents are safe and this is what we have done. We have been absolutely clear that we will redevelop the site to re-provide the same number of social housing units that were in these two blocks.

Six years ago, when we left the administration and the Conservatives took over with votes from both Labour and UKIP councillors, we left a pipeline of council house building. I’m really pleased that the Conservative administration continued that and completed that project. My thanks to Cllr Steve Wemyss for his work in this area: a Conservative with a real understanding for social housing.

We are committed to building new council homes at rents Portsmouth people can afford. Indeed our 20 months in power have seen more council homes completed than in the entire four years of Conservative administration. However, we must do more and that is why I want to see the biggest programme of new council housing this city has seen for a generation. Some of these homes will be built but the nature of this city means that many will have to be bought. This year alone the council has bought back more council homes than in the previous three years put together. We are continuing our policy of making sure these homes are available for people on our waiting list and people at risk of homelessness.

We also have taken measures to deal with homelessness in all its forms.

That is why this budget puts forward £1.5m to help us get people facing homelessness out of B&B. We are also providing extra beds and longer opening hours at our facilities, and our Navigators scheme is seeing long-term homeless residents found permanent homes.

In addition:

  • Albion House in Somerstown is being built and will provide 23 flats to get families out of bed and breakfast.
  • We have plans to build 76 flats on the Shopmobility site on Arundel Street. Most of these flats will be for families on the housing waiting list.
  • We are looking to convert Hilsea Lodge into housing for homeless families to get them away from bed and breakfast, so parents can at least cook for their children and be able to access a washing machine.

Moving on, Community Safety has identified additional mobile CCTV cameras as a major step in crime prevention. Between this budget and the portfolio reserve we have identified over £120,000 to invest in these crime prevention cameras. We also have funding to keep the increased number of community wardens active in the city for another year.

Transport is the essential lifeblood of the city. We have an integrated transport policy and whilst the government seem to announce a new fund each day we cannot spend all our time just jumping from one government announcement to another. We have to have a long-term plan to address the city's transport problems. I am really hopeful that our huge bid into the Transforming Cities Fund will get a successful conclusion next month. Our investment in more ways to walk and cycle through the city are bearing fruit and the investment in a hugely increased Park and Ride must be welcomed by all.

Just investing in things residents can see will not make the city council work efficiently, but if there is to be money for front-line services then there needs to be money to make this happen.

The city council’s IT has been woefully neglected in recent years. In an era where protecting people's personal data is vital, not only for their safety but for the ongoing business of running the council, this need to invest in IT has to be addressed. We are having to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds supporting systems that are at the end of their lives. We have to do better.

So I make no apology for the investment of over £3m in updating our IT. Let's be clear, this will not solve our problem but it will mean that we can keep our many IT systems safe, secure, operational and able to embrace a digital future.

Likewise in the maintenance of the buildings the city council operates from and owns, we have decided to invest over £3m to stop the rot and make sure buildings are safe and secure.

We have continued the programme of investment in city-owned properties that has been part of the council’s strategy for many years. Whether that has been the ferry port, the tax office at KGV, or at Wightlink, this has brought revenue to the city. We have continued this and invested in properties to make the city council financially independent of government, but we have made the biggest investment in Lakeside, which continues to have very strong demand from tenants. For us, investing in Portsmouth is key and takes priority over buying a Waitrose in Somerset.

We have tried to make sure that this budget was constructed in an open and transparent manner. We have been out to consultation with the public and got the largest-ever response from them.

I wrote to all councillors to ask for their ideas and my thanks to Cllr Udy who has talked to me about the plans from her group. I think some of them are interesting and I have been able to take some of them on board. The unions have written to all of us to argue that the cut of £37,500 in their budget to employ staff means that they cannot perform their duties and that this actually costs the city council money. I am happy to make the commitment to find the money for two years to see if this is true and if this does make the council run better and cheaper. After two years we should know. This will be funded from the portfolio reserve.

I have also looked into the suggestion that additional support could be tailored towards supporting adults who are transitioning between genders, and we are very happy to support this. I understand that what we need to provide is a safe space and facilitators, and we will find the funding to make this happen.

I am also very conscious that the common feature in all of the families who are receiving help from the troubled families programme is domestic violence. I am therefore supportive of funding an extra post in this service and again we have found the money to do this for two years from portfolio reserves to allow us time to see how this can be funded in the future.

The Portsmouth People’s Progressive Party have found additional income from removing posts within HR. I am very happy to look at this, but I would like to do so in more detail than we currently have had time for during the last couple of days, so I don’t want to propose any changes today. I am very conscious of the £281,000 that HR now bring in by selling their services to other organisations, but I am happy to look at this to see if things can run better.

Although not part of the budget discussions, at the last council meeting colleagues raised the issue of the removal of the cap in day-care costs for adults with learning disabilities. We were told of a family who are paying over £500 on day-care costs per week. The administration said at the time that we would be happy to make a commitment to do this but this is conditional upon legal opinion confirming that the implementation of such a cap is not discriminatory in law and that clients with a protected characteristic will not be determined to have been treated unfairly. We think we can find funding from portfolio reserves to reintroduce a cap for all adults receiving day care of £250 a week, therefore halving the cost for the families mentioned at our last meeting. This will cost £16,000 a year.

This budget is set in a prudent way.

It recognises that the government plan to change funding for councils may well see funding moved from poorer areas like Portsmouth to richer areas like Fareham and Winchester.

It recognises that the city council needs to keep sensible reserves and maintains them at £20m.

It recognises that we may have had a £6.9m windfall from the triennial review of the pension scheme but that this may well be temporary, and that means we are budgeting to lose most of this in future years. My thanks to Cllr Cal Corkery for bringing us this money back, as our nominee on the pension scheme. We will now expect an extra £6.9m back from you every year to help stop cuts.

I am happy to report that the city’s director of finance has said of this budget: “The proposed budget for 2020/21 is financially balanced, robustly based and provides sufficient cover for anticipated and potential financial risks within the year. Furthermore, the overall financial health of the council currently remains sound, providing a good degree of resilience against an uncertain future.”

My Lord Mayor, I could leave this budget speech here. This is an ambitious, green, prudent and Liberal Democrat budget, but I think it is right that we remember where we could have been.

Last year we debated whether the city council should continue to pour money into Victory Energy. We as Lib Dems were uncertain of the business case for the company.

Since then 16 small energy companies have gone bust and the two big council-owned energy companies that most closely resembled the proposals for Victory Energy are in terrible trouble. While Bristol Energy has racked up losses of £38m and is expected to be closed down later this year, Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham is in no less bad a position. In October it was announced that they had failed to pay £9.5m owed for green initiatives because they didn’t have the money, and on a recent visit to Nottinghamshire I am told it is an open secret that Robin Hood Energy may well be closed down in the near future. The losses both Bristol City Council and Nottingham City Council have suffered will have to be paid for by the residents of the cities and we are all now clear that the Lib Dem decision to shut down Victory Energy has saved the city many millions. We just have to ask ourselves what this budget would have been like if we were having to fund huge losses from Victory Energy.

As Lib Dems we took the financially prudent decision to shut it down, and direct this money to this greenest-ever budget.

So today we could be in a very different situation. Instead of a budget with almost no cuts we could have been looking at many millions more in cuts. The question we have to ask to our Conservative and Labour colleagues is: where would the millions of additional cuts have fallen? What services would you have cut? Would it be the children of the city who would have suffered, or the elderly and infirm? Would you have stopped recycling or cut public transport?

Luckily the Lib Dems stepped in with some common sense and saved the city from this peril. This budget is ambitious, prudent and green and builds on our record of financial common sense. I commend this budget to the council."

 
 

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