Council considering 4% tax rise to fill £80m hole in finances

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Hampshire County Council
Hampshire County Council’s HQ in Winchester

HAMPSHIRE County Council’s administration is considering a tax rise of up to 4% to help close a looming £80m gap in its finances.

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The response is one of several measures being looked at by the Conservative-run authority which this week warned the scale of the challenge meant there would “inevitably” be an impact on public services.

HCC is starting to draw up its budget for 2020/21 and says it will have to make up the predicted shortfall by April 2021.

A 4% council tax rise would mean a Band D household paying nearly £50 more just for HCC’s majority share of the charge.

The idea is being looked at alongside spending more of the authority’s reserves, working more with other local councils, and lobbying government for extra money. Resources will continue to be targeted on the most vulnerable adults and children, HCC said.

The leader of HCC, Brockenhurst’s Cllr Keith Mans, said the authority would have to fill a “significant funding gap” which he said was a “direct result” of the government cutting grants – on top of rising costs and an ageing population and more vulnerable children needing care.

He said: “After more than a decade of cost reductions which have delivered savings of almost £0.5bn to date, understandably it’s becoming more and more difficult to find opportunities for making deeper savings and deciding what the county council can and cannot do in the future.”

Cllr Keith Mans
Cllr Keith Mans, Hampshire County Council leader and member for Brockenhurst

Results from a six-week public consultation that started in June will be used to help set the budget which will be put to the ruling cabinet in October before a final vote by the full council in November.

As reported in the A&T, money-saving proposals included library closures, reduced winter gritting and increased service charges, as well as turning off streetlights for longer and introducing car parking fees at country parks such as Lepe.

Cllr Mans said analysis of the consultation responses showed that residents “continue to support our financial strategy”.

He also made a fresh plea to the government for more funding, warning that even extra money recently announced for local councils nationally would not be enough.

Cllr Mans added: “We’ve been consistently clear with government that they need to be fairer in their funding of local councils. For decades, councils in shire counties have been left behind those in major cities and urban areas, receiving up to 60% less funding.

“The government’s announcement, in the last few days, of more than £3.5bn for council services nationally for one year is positive.

“But it’s unlikely to make much difference to our overall medium term budget position – albeit it provides some much-needed breathing space in the short term to help meet the increasing demand pressures in social care services for next year.

“Consequently, we can’t afford to take our foot off the pedal with our longer-term financial plans.”

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