Strong financial discipline, delivering savings but also reinvesting in new ways of working for the people of Hampshire, will be crucial in addressing what the Authority expects to be its greatest financial challenge yet. That is the message from Leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Roy Perry, as he sets out the County Council’s budget strategy towards 2020.
As a result of massive, recurring funding cuts, by April next year, the County Council will have delivered more than £340 million of savings over the last eight years. This represents an overall reduction in its budget of almost two thirds (63%), during that period. However, as Councillor Perry stresses: “I am proud that we have achieved these savings with minimum disruption to our most important services which remain among the very best in the country. I am determined to protect them for the people of this great County.”
The County Council’s successful financial planning strategy – developed since the start of the national austerity measures – has enabled the protection of core quality services for the people of Hampshire, while at the same time allowed for significant investment in the county’s infrastructure – such as providing school places for every Hampshire child, and repairing and enhancing the county’s roads to boost the local economy.
Following the meeting of the County Council’s Cabinet on 20 June, Councillor Perry explained: “The County Council spends around £1.9 billion on serving Hampshire’s 1.3 million residents – a responsibility which we take very seriously, and one that requires meticulous management of taxpayers’ money, and diligent planning for the future.
“We were put to the test at the end of last year, when Government suddenly changed how it funds local authorities, and this meant we had to close an additional £81.5 million funding gap in our budget for 2016/17. To offset this shortfall we were forced to increase council tax for the first time in six years (still at the lowest level of all county councils), and use up the majority of our reserves. With even deeper cuts to public spending expected in future, the challenge of finding further savings is going to be really tough, and much harder than we have ever experienced before.”
On top of the cumulative annual savings total of £340 million the County Council is set to deliver by April 2017, the Authority will need to find a further £120 million of savings by April 2019 (a further 19% cut to its budget).
“We know that our financial strategy to-date has served the county of Hampshire well,” said Councillor Perry. “Planning ahead, securing savings in advance, reinvesting in new and more efficient ways of working and making careful use of reserves to meet gaps in funding is likely to remain our approach in the medium term – and it’s an approach which we know residents support. We will also continue to invest in Hampshire’s infrastructure to support economic growth across the county – spending another £10 million a year for four years from 2017/18 to strengthen Hampshire’s road network and make our highways more resilient to the effects of extreme weather and heavy traffic.
“However, given that our efficiency programme to 2020 will increase the cumulative annual total of savings to £460 million, against a backdrop of increased demand for vital services, we will have to give some serious thought to what we can do differently in the future. Clearly, we’re not going to be able to deliver services at the same level and breadth without making some changes. We will, of course, consult with residents, as their views are fundamental in helping to shape future plans.
“We are constantly trying to develop new and more efficient ways of working. Activities such as expanding the use of volunteers, sharing services with some partners, selling services to others, maximising new technology, and finding ways of generating more income to help mitigate the impact on services, have already made a big impact, and will continue to do so.