‘Finances stretched’ warn County Council

Hampshire County Council’s ruling Conservative Cabinet say adopting innovative technology like robot grass-cutters and Amazon’s Alexa will help save money and to protect vital services but the Liberal Democrat leader of the opposition has slammed the Council for failing to generate new income and has described the county finances as “a mess.”

HCC admit they are having to “stretch” their finances as a result of demographic changes, inflation and a reduction in the Government grant that councils receive. This shortfall has led the Local Government Association to predict that many councils across England are now heading towards a funding “cliff-edge” in two-years time.

Against this background, HCC’s cabinet meets on June 18 to discuss proposals for their 2020/21 budget and Leader Councillor Roy Perry has been frank about the challenges the Council faces:

“We are going to have to prepare to take some tough decisions about how to plug this projected £80million gap by 2021, as it will come on top of a required £480million budget squeeze since 2008.

“We now face an increasingly difficult balancing act in trying to meet residents’ needs given the backdrop of diminishing budgets and rising demands for services. Even so, as well as meeting all our statutory duties, we will continue to do everything possible to address the issues we know people care most about – from supporting the most vulnerable adults and children, to fixing Hampshire’s extensive road network.”

Hampshire County Council is hoping that by investing in the latest technology, they will be able to provide more responsive and efficient services.  They have recently launched the world’s first trial with tech giant Amazon to adapt Alexa to help vulnerable people live more independently; and are now using robotic grass cutters to keep roadside verges under control.

Councillor Perry added:

 “Over the last decade we’ve had to make a lot of changes to the way we work – and we will continue to exploit every new opportunity we can in order to give our residents the best possible value for their money.”

“It’s important we maintain this innovative and collaborative approach so we can adapt to changing needs in the most cost effective way.  Our sheer scale and in-house expertise secures significant economies of scale and helps to stretch every penny.

“Above all the County Council must live within its means to avoid the type of financial crises now befalling other councils as these threaten to jeopardise the critical and everyday type of local government services we all depend upon. I am proud that the County Council has sustained the highest levels of performance during these difficult years.”

But Keith House, the Leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition on HCC, disagrees with Cllr Perry’s assessment of the County’s performance:

“Hampshire’s finances are a mess as the County has failed to invest to generate new income and instead is cutting more and more vital services for our community.  Youth services have been wiped out, Children’s Centres closed, roads left with potholes, bus services axed and charges for care services hiked up, alongside the biggest ever increase in Council Tax.

Now we will see more buses lost, on-street parking charges around Hampshire and no doubt libraries and local waste centres closed, with pensioners charged for their bus services.  Conservative MPs and their County Council have failed Hampshire.”

The government is currently still working on a ‘fair funding’ initiative that will aim to compensate councils with a high demand for social care and welfare that are unlikely to be funded through business rates after 2020 when the government funding of councils moves away from direct grants to 100% retention of business rates.