County council reveals big spending increases in annual budget

Daily Echo: Council leader Ken Thornber wants to spend more on children and adult social care Council leader Ken Thornber wants to spend more on children and adult social care

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 £252m cash reserves to balance the budget over the next two years.

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 £719m this year to £766m in 2013-14, up £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 the county 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.

Now five new social work teams are to be recruited to boost child protection and reduce high case loads for individual social workers at a cost of £2.5m per year.

It would also reduce the need for expensive agency social workers.

Each team would comprise a team manager, assistant team manager, seven or eight social workers plus support staff and cost about £500,000 per year.

Other spending proposals include:

- An extra £1.5m per year to provide more targeted early help for families to prevent children at risk of abuse or neglect being taken into care.

- £10,000 for each of the 78 councillors to spend on environmental projects in their own divisions. The price tag is £780,000.

- 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.”

Council chiefs aim to achieve two per cent efficiency savings in 2013 and 2014 which they say will not impact on frontline services.

Meanwhile the £543m capital budget over the next two years includes £25.6m to spend on new project initiatives, including rural Broadband and a shared district heating scheme in Winchester.

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