At the meeting held on 16 March, Hampshire Leader, Councillor Rob Humby restated the mounting pressures facing upper tier authorities across the country and highlighted the unprecedented challenges faced by Hampshire County Council in future years – with a forecast budget shortfall of £132million by April 2025.
Councillor Humby explained: “We’ve stressed to central Government for many years the dire financial situation facing County Councils such as Hampshire, as we grapple with continued underfunding from Government, increasing costs and growing demand for important local services like social care for higher numbers of older people, adults with complex social care needs and vulnerable children and young people in urgent need of safeguarding and protecting from harm.
“Hampshire has a strong track record of prudent financial management. Since the start of national austerity, we’ve reduced our spending by over £0.6 billion pounds and taken many steps to ensure the Authority is making best use of its money, but what we can raise from council tax (our main source of income) plus business rates income doesn’t come close to meeting the growing demand and inflation costs faced each year. To balance the books in 2023/24, we’ve had to draw on our reserves – crucial funding we’ve set aside to meet shortfalls in our budget in recent years - but when we reach 2025, that reserves pot will be empty, which means the prospect of very difficult decisions on what we can and can’t continue to do in future.
“Meeting with Local Government Minister, Lee Rowley MP has been the next, very welcome step in our extensive lobbying of central Government and an invaluable opportunity to discuss with him in frank terms, the severity of the situation faced by County Councils up and down the country, alongside the crucial changes needed to how councils are funded in order to remain sustainable in future. Having also written to the Prime Minister, Chancellor, and Secretary of State on this critical issue last autumn, we know Government is listening, and we are grateful for the opportunity to have met Minister Rowley to gather his support and keep up momentum.
“We are encouraged by today's discussions but recognise there’s no quick or easy solution to the financial challenges facing County Councils in future. Nevertheless, we remain wholly committed to ongoing discussion and engagement with Government to hopefully influence and inform its Spending Review decision anticipated in 2024, and the prospect of a more positive outlook in the years ahead.