HAMPSHIRE County Council is calling for an urgent meeting with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to discuss Government plans to leave Hampshire with a £45 million budget shortfall over the next two years and set council tax bills soaring.

Cabinet members are to form a delegation with other South East counties starved by the settlement.

This comes after previous requests for meetings were refused and is the latest step in the "Hands off Hampshire" campaign to get the Government to reconsider.

The County Council missed out on funding when the Government went ahead with its plans to re-distribute grants to poorer areas in the North and Midlands.

As a result, the Government's share of the County Council's £1 billion budget is less than the county's salary and price inflation and much less than what the Government is directing Hampshire to spend on education and social services.

The expectation is that the grant will continue to be cut over the next few years leaving council taxpayers to pay the rest.

This falls short of the cash needed to maintain current services, let alone the added costs of inflation, pressures such as national insurance increases and other demands.

Without a hefty council tax rise, the County Council would be forced to look for savings through dramatic cuts in services, it says in a statement.

It is estimated that taking into account rises in police and district councils' share of the council tax bill, families across Hampshire will have to pay in the region of 15 per cent more this spring - just for the same service.

Commenting, Leader of Hampshire County Council, Coun. Ken Thornber, said: "If the north needs more money, it should be found from national taxes and not just from Hampshire council taxpayers. Why should our taxpayers have to pay more towards their services than people in the north?

"We are still expected to increase spending on education and social services in line with the Government's plans but with less money to do so.

"What the Government fails to recognise is that Hampshire has areas of deprivation too. As usual it will be pensioners and those on fixed incomes who will be hit hardest by yet another council tax rise above inflation if the Government does not reverse its decision."