At their meeting on Monday 16 October, Hampshire County Council’s Cabinet will weigh up a wide range of options for closing the £140million budget gap the Authority faces by April 2019.
County Council Leader, Councillor Roy Perry explained: “We have been reporting for some time now, the extent of the financial challenge that we continue to face. With our revenue support grant from Government soon coming to an end, together with rising inflation and significant increases in the numbers of elderly people, younger adults and children needing care – the pressures are mounting. Members of the public, for good reasons, tend not to see the children in the care of the County Council, or those on the ‘at risk register’, but there is no doubt in my mind that they must be our highest priority to protect.
“We are limited on the level by which we can increase council tax, and changes to the law would be needed to enable us to introduce or increase charges for some services – even though residents have indicated they would prefer to make contributions for some discretionary services rather than lose them.
“The financial outlook remains extremely challenging. It’s going to be very difficult indeed to achieve a further £140 million of savings, on top of the £340 million of spending reductions we have had to make since our funding from central Government began to reduce in 2008. I understand the pressure the Government faces in preventing the national debt spiralling out of control but the pressure on local Government is huge. It is not just the NHS feeling the pinch.
“Over the summer, we sought residents’ views on how to close the funding gap. We have listened carefully to the feedback, and several options are now being proposed on which a final decision will be made by the full County Council on 2 November.
“Residents have told us they continue to support our financial strategy – planning ahead and securing savings early, investing in new ways of working, and making prudent use of reserves. This sound approach has enabled us to protect front-line services, as much as possible, to-date. However, the scale of the financial pressure now has forced us to seek savings across all areas, including those we’ve previously been able to protect – but only after all other options have been explored and exhausted.
“For several years now, we have been working hard to innovate, which has included generating additional income through selling and sharing services. This is something that residents have told us they would like us to do more of, and to continue to ensure that resources are targeted to those who need them most. Identifying more efficient and cost effective ways of working will remain crucial to this – which is why Cabinet will be asked to consider investment in new digital and IT solutions to support different ways of delivering services.
“Increases in council tax, in line with Government policy, will have to play an important role in helping to contribute towards balancing the budget – residents have told us they understand the need for this and that they are prepared to pay a bit more.
“Whilst this latest round of efficiencies and savings represents an immense challenge, Hampshire is as well-placed as any council, and better than most, to tackle the task, highlighted by our strong track record. We remain in a very strong financial position and continue to deliver some of the best public services to Hampshire’s 1.3 million residents – providing good value for money relative to most other councils.”