Street lights across Hampshire could be turned off in a bid to save money
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The money-saving proposals include turning off some street lights at night, new parking charges and cutting back on day-to-day repairs such as dealing with potholes or drainage cleansing as the council looks to make massive savings. It is also looking to increasing the Council Tax and continuing to use its reserves to pay for services as it looks to make savings of £132 million to balance the budget by 2025/26.
The initiatives will impact all sectors with cuts, reductions to “bare minimum levels” – what councils are legally required to provide-, fee increases, and an in-depth change in how services are offered.
Options include new country parks membership alternative, increasing parking charges at Countryside sites, introducing new on-street parking charges in new locations and reviewing charges at existing locations, introducing new charges for parking at off-street and countryside locations, increasing ceremony fees, expanding moving traffic monitoring sites or keeping street lights off at night on some non-residential roads among others.
Changes could also include pausing the “Operation Resilience” programme, which involves dealing with potholes, replacing road markings, repairs to signs, and drainage cleansing, meaning that these activities and larger-scale structural maintenance, among others, would only be undertaken on safety grounds, or when major or widespread defects are identified. With this change, the Council estimates to save £7.5 million.
In addition, the County Council plans to reduce and change some services, especially those so-called non-statutory services. Proposals include the possible loss of School Crossing Patrols, the end of funding to community transport services, the potential financial reduction support for the cultural sector, reductions in road maintenance, or the review of outdated policies such as “winter service provision”.
According to the “Budget consultation information pack,” the proposed plans involve raising Council Tax by over 4.99%. It states that for every 1% increase in Council Tax, the County Council would receive an income of £7.8 million. However, it is important to note that a public referendum would be required before implementing this change.
The Leader of the Council, Rob Humby, said, “The challenges that we face are the same as other local authorities. High inflation, high demand for social care services, and more than a decade of underfunding from the central government. As a result, council budgets are close to breaking point.
“We have warned ministers that this is an unsustainable situation. This month, the Birmingham City Council issued a Section 114 notice. If reports are to be believed, plenty of other councils will be forced to consider doing the same in the next year or two.
“Hampshire is in a better financial position than most county councils. While our finances are stable until 2025/26, we need a central government to fundamentally change the way local services are funded or reduce what councils are legally required to deliver.”
Lib Dem Councillor Adrian Collect said, “The direction of travel that the County Council has been forced through not just during the thirteen years of austerity and the £640 million by which our budgets have already been reduced, it’s a very worrying direction that we’re going.
“They aren’t easy options for making the savings that are required of us, the £132 million that has been identified over the next two years plus we still have £71 million of previous savings that have got to be delivered, £200 million more to come out of our budget.
He added, “I hate the direction of travel, but I really think that the most important thing is lobbying the government to come up with the solution for the local government before it’s too late, because it’s already too late and it’s going to get worse over the next couple of years.”
“We will continue to lobby central government and highlight the concerts of local authorities going forward. In recent weeks, we have seen a few other councils having to declare financial difficulties, and I’m thankful we are not in that position because we have that forward financial planning.”
Hampshire County Council has identified that a total of £90.4 million could be generated through the proposals, of which £75 million is expected to be delivered by 2025/26, leaving an unmet budget gap of £57 million in 2025/26. The final decision will be taken at the full County Council on November 9.
The plans have no impact on the areas covered by Portsmouth City Council.