County warns of difficulties ahead

MP quizzes minister on Carillion fallout

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HAMPSHIRE County Council’s ruling cabinet is recommending that its portion of the council tax remains frozen, despite facing ‘unprecedented’ cuts.

A band D property will continue to pay £1,037.88 to the county for the year 2011/12.

But in order to close a £55m shortfall in government funding and keep the tax rate at zero, the council has been forced to make drastic cuts.

Among those cuts are the loss of 1,170 jobs.

But the county has pledged to make sure adult social services remain untouched.

And an extra £600,000 is planned for children’s social care to fund extra social workers.

Tory council leader, Councillor Ken Thornber, said: ‘There can be few people who don’t understand where we are and why the country is in the situation it is.

‘We have seen a former government that was in my view feckless in that it borrowed and spent as if there were no tomorrow.

‘They were supported by the banking profession who don’t give a damn about tomorrow either, but I am very much afraid that tomorrow is now today, and we face the consequences.’

He added his thanks to the staff, who will be leaving the council, including a quarter of the management: ‘That’s not to say we were over-staffed by 25 per cent, it means a quarter is going and three-quarters will have to do their work.

‘There are significant risks associated with the 2011/12 budget. They relate to scale of the savings being set,’ he said, adding: ‘These cuts are unprecedented.’

And chief executive Andrew Smith warned that the budget may need further alterations: ‘We have done these proposals far more quickly than we would like and some of these savings strategies may have to be fine-tuned over coming months.

‘There is work still to be done and there will be a huge impact again next year so we have to make sure there is no under-performance this year.’

The county will also take over providing free buses, providing them from 9am for disabled people and from 9.30pm for pensioners.

Many local authorities are aiming to keep council tax at the same level in order to benefit from promised government grants.

District authorities and the emergency services are also in the process of setting their portions of the tax.

The council tax will be set at a full county council meeting on February 24.