IT’S been labelled “undemocratic” and has led to allegations that a council in Hampshire is “hiding” its plans from the public ahead of elections.

This week civic chiefs at Eastleigh Borough Council cut its budget by ten per cent - but refused to say exactly how the money will be found.

Liberal Democrat leaders speaking at the council’s meeting refused to go into details about where £1million of savings will be made as the council’s budget shrinks from £10.9million to £9.8million.

That has led to fierce criticism from opponents over a lack of transparency, while concerns have also been raised about the fact that an authority with an annual budget of less than £10million is set to borrow £154million.

During the council’s budget meeting leader Keith House said services had been protected while council tax was frozen again, saying: “There are no frontline cuts in the budget.

“That’s been the pattern for the past five years and I hope it will be for the next five.

“We can only do that by being ruthlessly efficient in our costs….and opportunities to raise money.

“The way we’re making savings is by doing things differently and more efficiently.

“It’s all about finding smarter ways of working that will cost less. We will see a gradual drift down in the number of staff.”

But while other councils’ budgets detail where cuts, or savings, will be made and the impact on jobs, the borough council budget rubber-stamped this week did not contain any such level of detail.

As reported yesterday, council chief executive Nick Tustian said that while people may be looking for the detail “they won’t be able to find it”.

Opposition councillors had called on the Lib Dem administration to say exactly where the cuts would fall, and county councillor for Eastleigh East Andy Moore has labelled them “undemocratic”.

The UKIP councillor said: “Transparency is important and because Eastleigh Borough Council is a council it should be transparent to the taxpayer.

“They deserve transparency and this is very undemocratic.”

Eastleigh MP Mims Davies has also attacked the Lib Dem leadership, saying: “Council staff and residents alike will be asking whether it is right that a council can hide their plans from the public in this way.

“The lack of transparency on top of clear plans for future increases in council tax means to my mind they are simply delaying doing this until after the May elections.”

She also accused them of being “reckless” by not showing how the “huge” funding gap would be met, while urging them to publish any future plans.

Concerns were also raised about the council’s high level of borrowing.

The council’s treasury management report that was approved by the council this week shows it had £82million of debt at the end of January, with borrowing set to rise to an estimated £154million in total over the next year.

The borrowing is part of the council’s “Capital Financing Requirements”, which details how it is being used to be spent on one-off purchases of land and buildings, or to carry out projects such as the revamp of Fleming Leisure Park.

However no plans were published as part of the budget to say exactly what the borrowed money will be spent on.

It says that the purchase of new “income generating properties is made on the basis that borrowing costs can be met from the rental income stream received by the council”, with any property bought through borrowing expected to pay back an average return of seven per cent over its “life”.

The report also shows that £902,000 will be due in interest payments in 2016/17, up from £489,000 in the current year.

But during this week’s meeting a member of the administration, cabinet member for business, skills and education Suzy Hamel, said with regards to the borrowing that: “We are living slightly precariously - it’s very difficult to know what will happen in the future.”

Speaking to the Daily Echo yesterday, she said: “We are quite a different council in that we invest heavily in assets, whether it is retail or office space, the series of different projects that bring in income to the council which means this council is able to keep a frozen council tax rate.

“But in a year where efficiencies are being made and Cllr House said jobs would be lost, albeit through a gradual drift down instead of having to make compulsory redundancies, I guess it’s a different viewpoint in that I feel if these efficiencies are being made it just seems the wrong way about it.

“I think it is likely there will be an increase [in council tax] in future.”

When asked what exactly the extra borrowing would go on, she said: “I’m not privy to that information”, adding that it sits within Cllr House’s portfolio.

She continued: “Money has been borrowed for Fleming Park and there are other acquisitions on the horizon.

“I think where acquisitions are made that bring in return on the investment it is quite a sensible way forward, but it’s when you look at the net borrowing and interest payable, we’re talking about a considerable amount of money.

“I think the council has a good plan, the money brought in from its assets keeps the council going, without that income we wouldn’t be able to run as we have because of the grant from the Government being cut.”

During the council budget meeting Cllr House said: “The whole point of prudential borrowing is you look at the cost of the asset and pay it off over time.

“We’re not incurring new debt unless there’s more income coming to the council than the cost of servicing that debt.

“If we were building with no money coming in I would agree but we’re not doing that.”

UKIP county councillor for Bishopstoke and Fair Oak Martin Lyon said: “I would expect more detail on what the borrowing is for, I would have expected to see it like it Hampshire County Council where it’s published with the rest of the budget.”

Cllr House and deputy leader Anne Winstanley did not respond to our requests for a comment.