Portsmouth Conservatives are not only hoping to gain two Parliamentary seats but also to gain control of the Council from the Lib Dems.
The Council Tax is £1,352 at Band D and is being frozen this year. However the timing of that freeze looks pretty cynical after the 4.9% increase last year. Looking at the pattern we see in 2008 a 5% rise, in 2007 it was 4%, in 2006 it was 5%, in 2005 it was 5%. How much credibility can we give to an administration which has for years had Council Tax rises among the highest in the country and then has a deathbed conversion? At the same time the Council's borrowing has been spiralling. Interest payments this year will be £18.3 m and the total debt is currently £190m and scheduled to rise to £250m by 2013 including PFI money.
This is the Council which initially refused to give a grant to Help the Heroes charity on the grounds: "The event could cause offence to ethnic minority groups living in the community who may also have experience of injury/violence due to the war." They certainly find plenty of money to spend on publicity – having more than doubled the budget over the past decade to £1.6 million. Portsmouth City Council leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, takes great pride on the amount of other peoples money he spends boating of his accomplishments."We spend £970,000 a year advertising in our local paper, so £970,000 of public support for a private newspaper in Portsmouth," he told a Commons Committee.
A project for a millennium walkway proved a fiasco – years behind schedule and £400,000 over budget.
They offer taxi drivers licence forms in braille. Recently it emerged that Portsmouth spends £14,580 on wining and dining councillors and their guests at the Mayor Making ceremony – far more than other councils. The Mayor is accompanied by a chauffeur and butler on town twinning visits to Caen. The Lib Dems claimed it was efficient as the butler multi tasked as a valet.
What are the prospect of change?
The Conservatives need to gain four seats on May 6 to take control. This can be achieved if they replicate gains made in the same wards as in 2008. We have a former Labour supporter standing for us in Paulsgrove Ward – which mainly consisting of a very large Council estate. This was one of the wards where we gained a seat last time.
In their alternative budget for 2010/11 the Conservatives proposed:
- A Council Tax freeze for two years.
- Introducing Statutory Sick Pay for the first three days of sickness absence as Portsmouth City Council has one of the worst sickness levels in the UK. This would save Portsmouth City Council £1.2m a year.
- 10% tax back for pensioner households rather than a gimmicky one off £50 cheque as the Lib Dems are doing.
- Introducing four year elections which will save £160,000 over four years.
- Reducing the size of the Cabinet by one position and reducing staff to look after the extra position. This extra role was created by the Lib Dems last year. This would save £60,000 a year.
- Selling off council assets that are under performing and serve no purpose to the community either socio-economic terms or otherwise. There is a landlords maintenance backlog at Portsmouth in excess of £50m.
- 5% pay cut in councillors allowances.
- Pay freeze for Council staff saving £1m a year.