To consider a report of the Director of Corporate Resources – Corporate Services presenting the high level outcomes from the public consultation exercise on balancing the budget and to consider the overall financial strategy for dealing with the budget gap to 2019/20 in light of the various options available to the County Council.
Cabinet received a report of the Director of Corporate Resources regarding the medium term financial strategy and Transformation to 2019 (T19) savings proposals.
In introducing the item, the Chairman noted the scale of savings that had already been made and the work undertaken to achieve this. A further £140 million was now required from a combination of demographic and inflationary pressures and a reduction in government grant. Specific pressures in areas such as providing support for young adults with complex needs were highlighted. To achieve the savings required, the Chairman favoured careful planning, supporting people to help themselves and enabling community level action by Town and Parish Councils.
The Director of Corporate Resources set out the key sections of the report, noting that it included the outcomes of public consultation, recommendations from individual departments and equality impact assessments relating to the proposals. She detailed a number of areas and drew Cabinet’s attention in particular to section 3 of the report detailing the Council’s commercial activity and its focus on sustainable and low risk investment.
With the agreement of the Chairman, Councillor Dowden addressed Cabinet. He acknowledged that the financial pressure resulted from national austerity measures, but felt that it would cause hardship. He did not consider the consultation that was carried out to be valid and was opposed to the strategy of making equal reductions across the organisation. Councillor Dowden noted that pressure on social care was particularly high and expressed his concern that cuts to community transport would undermine progress by putting community organisations at risk of closure and leading to increased levels of social isolation. He called on Cabinet to seek additional funding from the Government specifically to alleviate pressures on social care provision.
The Chairman thanked Councillor Dowden for his input and confirmed that all of Cabinet were very concerned about the position, but noted that government could not simply keep spending and therefore savings were required. The approach of asking for an equal contribution from all departments and then seeking to provide additional support for vulnerable areas where required was supported.
In discussion of the issues raised, Members were supportive of the direction of travel and of the report. It was noted that the County Council did not have the option of sharply increasing Council Tax as had been done in the 1990s and therefore savings were needed. Furthermore there were statutory restrictions on the way in which some service provision could be changed, despite public support, such as charging for the use of Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs). Cabinet acknowledged that the number of consultation responses had been low and felt that this was reflective of a broad level of acceptance for the proposals. It was emphasised that the goal of improving social outcomes continued despite the financial pressure and confirmed that providing protection for vulnerable children would not change. It was also confirmed that approaches would be made to government regarding the charging restrictions on HWRCs and exploring the options for a pilot scheme.
With reference to the community benefits that could be driven by Town and Parish Councils and the impact of the proposals on communities in Hampshire, it was proposed and agreed that the recommendation at 14.11 be amended to increase the funding available to those Councils to £500,000. It was furthermore proposed and agreed that an additional recommendation be added at 14.12 that Cabinet:
“Requires that officers, as specific decision making processes move forward, continue to explore all viable options to revise or refine these proposals with particular regard to service continuity in areas such as community transport, school crossing patrols and waste and recycling centres, in consultation with partners and stakeholders as appropriate, while recognising that any modification to any proposal must be consistent with the financial and time imperatives of the overall programme.”
With the two amendments detailed above, the recommendations in the report, including the recommendations to the County Council were proposed and agreed. The decision record is attached.