£876m budget will help create school places

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MORE than 11,000 school places will be created over the next three years as part of Hampshire County Council’s £876m budget.

The Conservative-led authority has revealed a budget which it claims is its biggest ever investment in the local economy and will be a boost for jobs and building plans.

But opposition Liberal Democrats say it masks ‘many and varied’ cuts.

Council leader Roy Perry said £281m will be put into new school places, £136m into improving and maintaining roads and bridges, and £13.75m into bringing superfast broadband speeds to 95 per cent of homes and businesses – while freezing its portion of the council tax and saving £240m.

He said the investment comes despite losing 51 per cent of the government grant since 2010.

‘Our ambitious programme of investment during this time of austerity, is a positive sign that Hampshire remains in a very strong position,’ said Cllr Perry.

‘We will continue to reshape our business to develop solutions that deliver lower cost, sustainable and good services and that meet residents’ needs while keeping council tax as low as possible.

‘At the same time, our capital programme investing in Hampshire’s infrastructure – like schools and roads – will create employment opportunities and business for local contractors.’

But Liberal Democrat Peter Chegwyn, who represents Gosport, called the budget ‘very bad news’ with cuts to adult and children’s services, libraries, transport and care for the elderly.

He added: ‘Many people will find the services they value and rely on are being cut to the bone or axed altogether.

‘The cuts are many and varied. The cuts to bus subsidies are £1.5m. It is 28 per cent for libraries, which are closing, and the mobile library service has virtually disappeared.

‘In my own area of culture, grants to outside bodies such as theatres and art galleries will be cut by 28 per cent in the next two years.

‘These are very dark times to be in local government.’

The cabinet will discuss the budget for 2015/16 on February 6 and make recommendations to the full council on February 19.