Hampshire County Council 'cannot go on forever' as government funding dries up

GOVERNMENT support is desperately needed to save struggling council finances in the years ahead.

Wednesday, 19th January 2022, 12:30 pm

Next month, Hampshire County Council's cabinet will meet to discuss a budget that proposes to cut £80m by April 2023.

Current plans include £22.6m being slashed from children's services and £3.3m from culture and communities.

An additional £10.2m is set to be cut from transport and environment, including an £800,000 cut to community transport services.

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Hampshire County Council leader Cllr Keith Mans, middle, at a cabinet meeting in Winchester. Picture: David George

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Liberal Democrat councillors fear these cuts, which will be debated by the leading Conservatives before it reaches full council, are another nail in the coffin of public services.

County council leader, Cllr Keith Mans, insists the authority is in a much better financial state than many acknowledge – but said the current system won't last forever.

He said: 'At the moment we're in a good financial position, largely because we've got ahead of issues. We have saved £640m over the past 10 years and that means each year we've looked at new ways of carrying out our duties while still providing a decent service for people in Hampshire.

'We are capable of dealing with the pressure but this cannot go on forever. The government is continually asking us to do more with less, and sooner or later the reserves will dry up.

'The long-term viability of this council is at risk.'

In the past four years, Slough, Northamptonshire and Croydon councils have declared Section 114 notices – effectively going bankrupt.

But Cllr Mans says Hampshire is a long way away from that stage, and pinned the bankruptcies on poor financial investments.

'A number of the councils that have declared these notices are normally a lot smaller authorities,’ he added.

'What's affected many councils is their borrowing of money to invest directly into retail properties, because of the changes that have taken place in retail with the rise of online shopping.

'We have an efficient and well-run council that is capable of dealing with problems as they come along. Our investments aren't exactly adventurous but this is public money – you have to be careful with it.'

The Liberal Democrats say they understand the difficult situation the council leader has been put in – but add more must be done to pressure Hampshire's Conservative MPs.

The party's spokesman for economy, transport and environment, Cllr Martin Tod, said: 'Despite the planned hike in national insurance charges and a big hike in council tax – all of which will hit Hampshire residents hard and were meant to cover the crisis in social care funding – the hole in Hampshire's finances is set to grow again.

'Services are going to be cut. Our roads will continue to fall apart.

'The toxic combination of the Tories in Westminster and Tories in Hampshire will fail local residents for yet another year. They're asking for loads more money and we're all going to get less for it.'

Cllr Tod added that he saw promises made by prime minister Boris Johnson about social care funding as 'nonsense'.

Fellow Liberal Democrat and spokesman for health and adult social care, Cllr David Harrison, described the situation as the worst he has seen in 25 years of politics.

He said: 'I can't remember a time when it was this bad.

'The main issue I see is that over the past decade, everything that can be cut has been - now the only things left are the essential services.

'We desperately need the government to show better support for local authorities; that's the only way we can get out of this situation.'

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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