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6 February 2015, 07:18 | Updated: 6 February 2015, 07:20
Hampshire County Council says it's hoping to make it's biggest ever investment in jobs, transport and schools - £876 million over four years.
The budget includes £281 million to build 11,300 new school places 'to ensure a place for every child and maintain Hampshire’s high position on parental choice that outperforms the national average', as well as improvements and maintenance to schools and other public spaces.
£136 million is earmarked for the structural maintenance of roads and bridges. The biggest integrated transport programme for three decades includes 15 major schemes to improve access to key employment areas and smaller local projects to improve traffic flow and safety on the roads.
Around £13.75 million of County Council capital is being invested, coupled with £16.5 million of external funding and Government grant, to bring superfast broadband speeds to at least 95 per cent of homes and businesses across Hampshire, to promote economic growth and get communities better connected to online services.
The Cabinet will discuss the total £1.9 billion budget for 2015/16 today (Friday 6 February) and make recommendations to the full Council on 19 February. This includes the revenue budget that covers the cost of providing services including wages, goods and materials - which must be reduced by 12% in 2015/16 to meet cuts in Government grant and to balance demand pressures linked to an ageing population and children in care.
The council says 'a relentless drive for efficiencies and savings since the period of austerity began, in 2008, will result in a total of £240 million savings achieved by the end of March 2016. The changes to meet these savings were agreed as part of the budget setting for 2014, which means there will be no new savings proposals for Cabinet to consider in February.'
Council Tax looks likely to be set at the same level for the sixth year running, continuing Hampshire’s tradition of levying one of the lowest Council Taxes, despite receiving one of the lowest grants per head from Government.
This is despite the Council losing around 51% of its general grant from Government, on- top of cuts to specific grants in that time. Managing the next round of cuts to find in the region of another £100million by 2017/18, equivalent to 14.5% of the revenue budget, will be much tougher, as savings become harder and harder to find. The Council will consult in the spring on a range of options to deliver the right support to residents at the right time and in the best way, which is likely to mean scaling back some areas and doing some things differently.
Council Leader Roy Perry (pictured) said:
“Our ambitious programme of investment during this time of austerity, when finances continue to be stretched, is a positive sign that Hampshire remains in a very strong position. We will continue to reshape our business to develop solutions that deliver lower cost, sustainable and good services – that meet residents’ needs whilst keeping the council tax as low as possible. At the same time, our capital programme investing in Hampshire’s infrastructure - like schools and roads, will create good employment opportunities and business for local contractors.
“There is much in evidence already - from the quality of our support to schools that led to Ofsted singling Hampshire out as one of the best, with 84 % of our schools good or outstanding - to national recognition for our development of Telecare, helping a greater numbers of people to live safely and independently in their homes for longer.
“We’re pooling resource to increase resilience and capacity, like our work with care providers to invest in service quality, and the work with our health partners to manage demands in the hospital system. We’re also making the most of the expertise of voluntary and community groups to be able to act early and prevent complex problems, like the success of the Village Agents scheme which is being extended to 60 parishes.”
“Time is on our side because we saw the grant cuts coming and took early action. However, we recognise that some changes in service areas across the Council are likely to be more complex and challenging than others, and take longer to implement.
“With these types of challenges, consultation with service users is more important than ever and we’re listening hard to what people are telling us. Following feedback on proposals for short breaks and youth provision, we are diverting £2.8million to support those areas for 2015/16. We are also diverting £12.5million to Children’s Services to meet demand pressures on the budget for looked after children.
“In my talks with Ministers I’ve been assured that Hampshire will be supported for its action to reduce the burden on council tax payers by building the Council Tax freeze grant into our baseline grant, I will continue to press Government to confirm it will fully fund the additional costs of the new burdens under substantial reforms to the Care Act. Hampshire County Council remains steadfast in it commitment to deliver quality public services at the lowest cost to the taxpayer.”