Hampshire Now - your County Council magazine

Further freeze on Hampshire's council tax with core services protected

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Hampshire County Council will keep Council Tax frozen for another year - maintaining the current level for five consecutive years, under proposals to be considered by the Council's Cabinet on 7 February 2014.

The Council is planning to make £93m in savings by 2015 -12 per cent of its budget - which comes on top of over £130m it has already saved.

Despite huge reductions in Government funding and increasing demands on services, early action taken by the Council to respond to a 43 per cent cut in grant, means it is in a strong position to tackle the financial challenges set to continue for some years to come.

Over the last two weeks, Executive Members and Scrutiny Committees have examined proposals to deliver a balanced budget; one that prioritises funding for vulnerable children and adults, and leads to new ways of working to deliver quality, affordable services with less money.

The recommendations to be considered by Cabinet deal with setting the 2014/15 budget and include proposals to achieve the full 12 per cent savings by 2015, some of which will be subject to consultations over the coming months.

Alongside the recommended revenue budget, the £500m capital programme is aimed at supporting economic growth and social wellbeing - building on the unparalleled investment that the Council has made over the last four years into Hampshire's infrastructure.

Council Leader Roy Perry said: "Finding another 12 per cent in savings from an already lean organisation, and keeping the Council Tax the lowest in the south east, is becoming more and more difficult. It means having to do things differently, scaling back, and finding the most cost-effective solutions to delivering services.

"Despite this backdrop, the budget proposals set out how Hampshire County Council is planning to stay 'in business', continuing to avoid any major outsourcing of services and protect jobs as far as possible. Our aim is to maintain the best local services while living within our means, and keep the Council Tax at the same level for the fifth consecutive year.

"However with staff accounting for a quarter of our budget, a 12 per cent cut will mean reducing posts in some areas. For others, it may see recruitment to support business growth and investment. If agreed, the proposals for 2014/15 would see a reduction of an estimated 200 full time equivalent posts. This includes a further ten per cent cut in senior management on top of the 25 per cent made in previous budgets. Voluntary redundancy will continue to be used to reduce staff numbers where service reorganisations are planned, to keep the number of compulsory redundancies to the minimum.

"Reserves will continue to play a vital role in meeting these challenges. Around half are fully committed to existing spending programmes. Other reserves are being spent in ways that generate savings and improve services over the longer term; investments that allow the Council to modernise and develop new ways to provide services, while securing quality and value. Examples include the development of Extra Care assisted living, and the new technology to support shared back-office functions with other public sector organisations.

If we simply used reserves to plug holes in the budget, the holes would still be there the following year and beyond and therefore, would only serve to delay the inevitable. Reserves would soon dry up, and so are better used to fund transformation programmes that secure permanent savings, and protect essential services."

Continuing to ensure value for money we know is important to residents, as indicated in a recent survey, to help inform spending priorities and on-going service improvements. A good example of this is the multi-agency Supporting Troubled Families Programme which is changing the way the Council works in, and with communities to tackle demand and manage costs. This scheme is bringing about improvements that reduce the future demands that these families may place on the public purse, and ensuring effective co-ordination across the agencies involved.

Other examples of service redesign to be considered by Cabinet as part of the budget proposals include:

  • Redesigning work in Children's Services to put more emphasis on preventative work, with the creation of 'early help hubs' to support children and families in need.
  • Integrating more with Health Services to increase focus on preventative services for older people, helping them live independently for longer in their own homes, freeing up resource for those with more complex needs, including dementia.
  • Reshaping and re-provisioning service to meet the needs of children with disabilities and support to their families.
  • Ceasing the community safety service which is not a statutory responsibility, overlaps with responsibilities of Police and other partners, and where we think there are more cost-effective ways of achieving the service
  • Re-provisioning several smaller libraries with the involvement of voluntary and community groups, and limiting the number of under-used stops in the mobile library service.
  • Investing in country parks to make them financially self-sufficient - safeguarding them for the future.
  • Reviewing the enhanced concessionary bus fares scheme and the subsidies that fund lesser-used bus routes that the commercial operators will not run on their own.
  • Continuing to make significant investment into replacing Hampshire's road surfaces after the damage caused by last year's freeze, and the very wet weather this year.

The meeting of the Cabinet is at 10am on 7 February which will be broadcast live.

Final decisions on the budget are made by Full Council on 20 February 2014.

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