HAMPSHIRE County Council’s budget has been unveiled with some big increases in spending.
The Conservative-run council, which is up for election this May, is planning to dip into its £307m cash reserves to balance the budget over the next two years and fund new initiatives, including speedier broadband in rural areas and a Winchester district heating scheme.
Five new child protection social work teams are to be set up at a cost of £2.5m per year, providing up to 40 frontline social workers under the proposed budget to be considered by Cabinet today.
The aim is to reduce high case loads and ensure the safety of the most vulnerable children at risk of abuse or neglect.
It will also cut the bill for expensive agency staff.
Each team would comprise a team manager, assistant team manager, eight social workers plus support staff and cost an estimated £500,000 per year.
Other spending proposals include: l An extra £1.5m per year to provide more help for struggling families and to prevent increasing numbers of children being taken into care.
l £10,000 for each of the 78 councillors to spend on environmental projects in their own divisions at a price tag of £780,000.
l An additional £11m for adult social care to tackle the rising demand for services from an elderly and increasingly frail population, including home care.
Council leader Ken Thornber said: “What I am proposing in this budget is at least £6m growth all aimed at the most vulnerable children, young people and our ageing population.
“This is as a result of the combined impact of this council’s early, decisive action to plan ahead for these difficult times and the reserves we set aside to cushion Hampshire residents from the impact of the huge budget cuts in Government grant that we all knew were coming.”
The county’s share of the council tax bill will be frozen for the fourth year running, at £1,027 for an average band D household.
Its proposed budget will increase from £711m this year to £756m in 2013-14, up by £46.6m.
This is equivalent to a six per cent increase and comes at a time when other councils, including Southampton City Council, are making drastic cuts.
However £36.7m is a transfer of funding from the NHS as the county takes over responsibility for public health.
Meanwhile the £543m capital budget over the next two years includes £25.6m from reserves to spend on new project initiatives, including rural broadband and a shared district heating scheme in Winchester.
Council chiefs aim to achieve two per cent efficiency savings in 2013 and 2014, equal to £9.6m.
This comes after the council saved £98m over the last two years by slashing about 1,700 jobs and services, including children’s centres, rural buses and day care for adults with learning disabilities