County Council future spending plans take shape this autumn

This autumn, Hampshire County Council will begin important financial planning for the future of local services, taking on board feedback from the county’s residents on a variety of options that could help address a predicted shortfall in the council’s budget of at least £132 million by April 2025

Sep 8 2023

September sees the start of the County Council’s budget planning timetable, with Hampshire residents’ responses to this summer’s public consultation on how to balance the budget at the heart of proposals to be considered by individual Cabinet Members over the coming weeks. Recommendations will then go to the Authority’s Cabinet as a whole, in October, before a final decision is made in November by the full County Council. Subject to agreement by Cabinet and the Full County Council, some proposals may then be subject to further, more detailed public consultation.

Leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Rob Humby said: “The proposals being considered this autumn will set out a range of options for how the County Council could close the £132 million budget gap we face by April 2025 - to cover our running costs in delivering vital local services to Hampshire’s 1.4 million residents. Our costs have risen dramatically because of factors outside of our control. Inflation has pushed up prices, we’ve had years of underfunding of local services by central Government and demand continues to rise for core public services like social care for vulnerable children and adults. As a result, our budgets are close to breaking point and there simply isn’t enough money to go around – a national problem facing the whole of local government.

“We’ve always been very proud to maintain strong public finances for the people of Hampshire, and this has seen us through over a decade of national austerity. But having already reduced our spending by more than £0.6 billion during this period, and facing a £132 million budget shortfall by 2025/26, we have now reached the tipping point, with no further financial safety net to fall back on.

“The results of our public consultation this summer show that more people agree with the way we have been managing Hampshire’s public finances in response to over a decade of financial pressures, and residents agree it’s right we continue to focus the money we do have to help the most vulnerable people in Hampshire. Residents have also told us they agree that it’s central Government that needs to step in to help us balance our budget in future.

“Hampshire is in a better financial position than most other county councils, and while our finances are stable until 2025/26, we do need central Government to fundamentally change the way that local government services are funded, or reduce what councils are legally required to deliver. In the meantime though, we can’t just sit and wait for that to happen. We have to plan on the basis that we’ll have to close the budget gap ourselves, which is why we’re reviewing these savings proposals now.

“It’s clear that we must apply a combination of proposed tactics to help balance the books. By law, we simply can’t spend more than we have coming in and clearly, more tough decisions and deeper savings are needed, together with careful thought about what the County Council can and cannot do in the future.

“I acknowledge some of the proposals being put forward this autumn will make difficult reading and go well beyond what we have previously had to consider in our savings programmes to date and regrettably, we now have no other choice than to look at changing and reducing services. This has meant considering what savings could be achieved from only providing those services that we are legally required to deliver – to ensure we focus every penny on supporting the most vulnerable adults and children in our communities and delivering other vital core services.” 

Over the coming weeks, Executive Members will be asked to consider a range of savings proposals, as well as maximising income generation opportunities and raising council tax by 4.99% (of which 2% would go towards supporting adult social care).

Cabinet and the full County Council will then consider proposals alongside other options to balance the budget, which include:

- Continuing with the County Council’s financial strategy, which includes:
                - targeting resources on the most vulnerable adults and children
                - using reserves carefully to help meet one-off demand pressures

- Continuing to lobby central Government for fundamental changes to the way local government is funded, as well as other ways to help address the funding gap including increasing funding for growth in social care services and for highways maintenance, and allowing new charges to be levied for some services

- Raising council tax by 4.99% in line with the maximum level permitted by Government without a public referendum

- Generating extra income to help sustain services

- Introducing and increasing charges for some services

- Considering further the opportunities for changing local government arrangements in Hampshire.

The public consultation on the 2024-26 budget ran from 12 June to 23 July 2023.

The consultation sought views from residents and stakeholders on ways the County Council could balance its revenue (running costs) budget, and any alternatives not yet considered, as well as the potential impact of these approaches - and still deliver core public services.

The consultation was clear that a range of options would be needed to deliver the required £132 million of savings by 2025/26. The options included:
introducing and increasing charges for some services;
lobbying central Government for legislative change;
generating additional income;
using the County Council’s reserves;
reducing and changing services;
increasing Council Tax;
changing local government arrangements in Hampshire.

A total of 2,935 consultation responses were received.

Together, the budget consultation findings and Equality Impact Assessments have helped to shape the proposals being considered by the County Council this autumn.

View the consultation findings at www.hants.gov.uk/budgetconsultation