Concerns raised over future of 'key' Hampshire County Council services amid £80m budget black hole
OPPOSITION county councillors fear a hike in council tax and increases in charges for services could be brought in to tackle an £80m black hole.
Hampshire County Council must make the savings by April 2023 with cabinet drawing up plans after more than 2,000 people responded to a budget consultation.
But senior Liberal Democrat councillors are concerned that years of budget cuts mean there are now no ‘easy decisions’ left to make, and every cut will directly impact Hampshire residents.
Councillor David Harrison, Lib Dem opposition spokesman for health and social care, said there is no clear solution.
‘I wish I had a magic wand that could solve all of this,’ he said.
‘But with 10 years of austerity the council has already cut all the low-hanging fruit - now every cutback will seriously impact key public services.
‘These are difficult political decisions ahead and there will be a societal cost no matter what is done.’
Fellow Lib Dems, Cllr Martin Tod and Cllr Adrian Collett, have echoed Cllr Harrison’s view. Cllr Collett wants to see more persistent government lobbying.
Cllr Tod fears the Tory administration will close or restrict recycling centres, cut school nurses and crossing patrols, and slash substance abuse services.
For Cllr Harrison, the concern is that any cuts will reverse any impact from the government's social care levy announcement last week.
He said: ‘Let's say you cut the highways budget. That means uneven pavements are left as they are, and an elderly person might trip and fall.
‘If they don't recover then that's added pressure on the social care sector, which makes the social care levy totally pointless. The solution has to be the government pumping more money into local authorities, but we're just not a priority for them.’
Once cabinet has decided upon its budget proposals, they will be brought to full council in November.
Council leader Cllr Keith Mans, said: ‘Our careful financial planning to date has meant the county council is in a better position than most and this has greatly assisted our ability to manage during Covid-19.
‘However, without a multi-year funding settlement from the government, we continue to face a budget shortfall of at least £80m over the next two years.
‘We must press ahead with our legal duty to ensure that we live within our means, and that we continue to serve Hampshire’s 1.4m residents to the best of our abilities.’