Council tax frozen despite 'tough times'By Amy Taylor
January 02, 2013
COUNCIL tax in Hampshire is expected to be frozen for the fourth year running, but the county council has warned of 'tough times' approaching.
Hampshire's annual budget for 2013-14 will be agreed on February 21, and is being prepared on the assumption that the government will pay a grant of £5.3 million towards council tax in the county.
This figure is equivalent to a 1% increase in council tax, meaning that the council will be free to continue a freeze in the precept it charges residents instead of having to raise it to meet the shortfall.
However, confusion still surrounds the figures which have not yet been confirmed in detail.
Council leader Ken Thornber said: "We are most disappointed that although there was an announcement in parliament [on December 19] we still don't have the full detailed information from government. We knew that the outlook for local government finance was likely to continue to be difficult and the headline figures from the government show that once again Hampshire will have the biggest reduction in grant compared to other county councils.
"We are disappointed in the further grant reductions, but we were expecting this and we are confident that our forward planning will stand us in good stead to tackle the financial challenges over the next two years, although there are tough times ahead for the next decade."
He said the early action taken by the council to transform services and create new opportunities for joint working and business development in response to the "tough financial climate" has helped protect front-line resources and delivered its target of £100m savings over the last two years.
"This foresight and planning ahead has put Hampshire in a very strong position to tackle the further government grant reductions from 2015-16 at a time when most other councils will be trying to balance their books for the next two years."
The cutbacks were particularly worrying for the growing shortfall in social care funding, and Cllr Thornber wrote to the government to urge them not to divert further funds from the area.
He said the council had made unprecedented investment both in preventing and intervening earlier where problems arose in social care, while developing specialist housing for the elderly. Up to £45m capital spending has been committed to the area over the next few years.
He said: "Despite the cost reductions we have had to make, Hampshire County Council has continued to make extra budgetary provision for older people, vulnerable children, the disabled and other disadvantaged groups.
"In the coming year I will want to see both adults and children’s social care get more money to cope with a huge increase in child protection plans and an ageing population, whose care needs are becoming more complex."
Overall, the government has announced an average 1.7% drop in the spending power of local councils, with wealthier areas such as Hampshire and Surrey facing heavier cuts than worse-off authorities.
Cllr Thornber praised the council for continuing to keep its council tax low despite the financial strains, while also maintaining some of the country's highest performing services, including its schools, which were recently listed in the top quarter of a new league table which ranks local authorities according to inspectors’ ratings of schools.