County's council tax rate set to be frozenBy Amy Taylor
February 13, 2013
COUNCILLORS look set to freeze Hampshire's council tax and agree significant increases in spending on social care and environmental projects, despite heavy cuts in government funding.
Hampshire County Council's cabinet agreed to recommend that the authority's precept should remain the same as last year, at £1,027 for a band D property, while the overall year's budget is proposed to increase by nearly £50m.
Authorities that agree a freeze are eligible for a government grant equitable to a 1% rise in council tax.
The cabinet committee met last Friday (February 8) to approve a series of budget recommendations, which would see an additional £100,000 spent on cultural projects, an extra £980,000 in the energy, transport and environment budget and £6m overall for adult and children's social care.
The spending increases were recommended despite Hampshire's cuts of more than £9m to early years schooling, services for the over-65s and to highways and street lighting, and they have come about as a result of the council's forward planning, shedding hundreds of jobs and removing services such as rural buses and closing residential homes.
Council leader Ken Thornber said that despite the difficult decisions over the past two years and the fall in funding from the government, savings had been made.
"Within those stark terms, there's growth," he told the meeting.
"Children's services will increase by £2m, on a half or first-year basis for social workers and their teams, meeting the ever-increasing needs to look after the children of this county."
Five new social work teams will reduce the caseloads for individual social workers and cut the council's reliance on contracted agency workers who are more expensive.
A "transitional grant" was also being allocated to adult social care, added Cllr Thornber.
"Adult care [is] getting £4m as we slowly close residential homes and gently move our residents that remain into other accommodation," he added.
"There is a double cost in terms of staffing, hotel costs, energy, and so on and so this is a £4m transitional grant."
In total, the economy, transport and environment department will receive £980,000 over the next three years.
A fund of £100,000 is also being allocated to Hampshire's culture and community projects, specifically to commission events to mark the centenary of the First World War, while a further £9,250 was allocated in the budgets for both this year and next for developing rural broadband.
A full council meeting will now debate and finalise the council tax and budget arrangements for 2013/14 on February 21.
For more on this story, see this week's News & Mail, out on Thursday, February 14.