Published on Monday, 5th December 2016

 

The council budget for 2017/8 has been published and will be put before the council on 13th December; it will then be adopted, albeit potentially in amended form.

 

This will be the seventh year in which grants from government have been sharply reduced. In Portsmouth the Revenue Support Grant, which was once the mainstay of local government finance, has fallen from £91.2 m in 2011/12 to £22.3m in 2017/8. There have been numerous changes to funding arrangements and responsibilities over the years and those two numbers cannot be compared directly, but the essential point that there is now far less money still stands.

 

The good news though is that the City Council is coping really well. This year’s savings programme, while not without pain, does not include the sort of stark service reductions we have seen in the recent past. Additional commercial income, greater efficiency and cost sharing with other authorities have gone a long way to close the £9m gap, leaving most frontline services in tact. No major facilities are closing and in many areas the service delivered should improve. My own portfolio of social care is a case in point. We have done a lot of work to improve processes and waiting times should reduce sharply as a result.

 

Generating millions in commercial income is not the norm in local government and there are numerous examples of councils on the edge as a result, Lancashire being a particular example. Despite reducing its museums budget to just £100,000 and closing over 20 libraries, it is burning through its reserves at such a rate that it is prophesying bankruptcy in two years time (or four even if it can transform itself into the lowest spending council in the country). Meanwhile just down the road in Southampton, the council there is looking at moving to fortnightly bin collections. I am sure they are not doing that lightly, but eventually there are no further options.

 

Here in Portsmouth, the administration’s commercialisation strategy is bearing fruit. Additional property deals will generate £1m, sharing management with Gosport £500,000, changes in debt management £1.3m and by commissioning some public health services jointly with Hampshire and by using the third sector more, £500,000. This has got a long way left to run and further benefits from thinking commercially are in the pipeline for 2018/9.

 

Tags: budget