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Hampshire County Council blames government as it faces £200m black hole

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CONSTANT budget cuts, a financial black hole and a bleak long-term future are “not of our making”, Hampshire County Council has insisted.

HCC is facing an unprecedented budget shortfall of £200m by 2025/26, coming after £80m was slashed from the budget this year, writes David George of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

But with government funding continuing to fall, council officers and even ruling Conservatives say Westminster is to blame for its troubles.

Cllr Rob Humby
Cllr Rob Humby

At a recent cabinet meeting Rob Carr, director of corporate operations, said: “We have a bit of a perfect storm at the moment, with rising costs in social care, hyper-inflation and reduced funding from central government.

“That £200m deficit figure has been calculated before the impact of the imminent social care reforms too – it’s a situation that’s out of our hands.

“We are considering whether we are actually able to close the financial gap, and what the government can do to help.

“We are lobbying MPs and I am having discussions with government officials about the position we are in.”

A report provided to the cabinet outlined concerns that adult health and social care costs are increasing “at a faster rate” than central government can provide funding for.

Further financial strain has been placed on children’s services and highways – the latter being subjected to inflationary pressures on construction materials.

HCC leader Cllr Rob Humby said: “We are in a position where we’re already looking at 2025/26.

“This isn’t of our doing but it’s still the position we find ourselves in.”

Cllr Edward Heron
Cllr Edward Heron

Cllr Edward Heron, cabinet member for transport and environment strategy, added: “We are confined and constrained by the funding model, and the only thing we have control over is the budget.

“It cannot continue this way.”

But despite the financial troubles, the belief at the county council is that it is in a better position than many other authorities up and down the country.

This, councillors say, is down to early planning and making budget cuts sooner rather than later.

Cllr Heron, who is also leader of New Forest District Council, said: “The earlier we can make a saving, the more we have in reserves and greater flexibility going forward.

“We have to act as fast as we can, but it does worry me that we cannot wait to see if solutions will come from the government.”

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