Tories ‘gobsmacked’ as Lib Dems and Labour join forces in city budget meeting
The deal, which was only finalised hours before the start of Tuesday’s meeting, will see a new family support worker employed, grants for voluntary groups – including Portsmouth Pride – and funding for two benefits advisors kept.
Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said the agreement showed ‘a willingness to work together’ with other political groups in a council in no overall control.
‘We offered every group on this council a chance to work with us to put together a budget that works for the people of this city,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately the Conservatives didn’t take up that offer but what we have reached is a good budget.’
Labour had hoped to secure £1.6m to roll-out the living wage to all council-contracted carers in the city.
Group deputy leader Cal Corkery said they had played a ‘fundamental’ role in the pandemic and deserved the pay increase, accusing the Lib Dems of not prioritising the issue.
‘The Living Wage would represent an increase of over £1,200-a-year for the lowest paid social care workers in Portsmouth, at a time when we are enduring a cost of living crisis.’
But Cllr Vernon-Jackson said this would have put the future of plans for a new fire station and health centre in Cosham at risk. He said he ‘hoped’ to secure funding for it next year.
A budget amendment was also put forward by the Conservatives in a bid to keep funding for two school crossing patrol positions, to fund two new community safety wardens, grants for voluntary organisations.
It also would have scrapped controversial plans to charge a 10 per cent commission on the sale of mobile homes at Henderson Road and Cliffdale Gardens.
The tax was first introduced by the council in 2007 before being scrapped two years later in the face of widespread public pressure and 116 affected people repaid.
Former Conservative group leader Matt Atkins described the charge as ‘absolutely egregious’.
‘They want to charge the owners of homes there – the people who have fought the hardest for their little slice of England – 10 per cent of the value of their home,’ he said. ‘That is absolutely disgraceful.
‘You are taking money from the least well-off in the city to use it for your vanity schemes.’
The joint Labour-Lib Dem budget amendment was proposed half way through the meeting, a move which prompted consternation from the Conservatives.
‘I’m gobsmacked that they have done this,’ Conservative leader Simon Bosher said. ‘They have created absolute anarchy by playing fast and loose with the standing orders.’
However, the council’s solicitor said amendments did not need to be proposed at the start of the debate.
The joint amendment was passed with the support of all Lib Dem, Labour, Progressive Portsmouth People and independent councillors.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Vernon-Jackson said the agreed budget was ‘ambitious’, ‘strategic’ and followed a ‘financially-prudent model’.
‘Most of the budget was agreed cross-party,’ he said. ‘The debate was about the details of the last two per cent, which are still important but showed we are willing to work together for the benefit of the residents of this city.’