HAMPSHIRE residents are being asked to help the county council make “extremely tough” decisions as it struggles to balance its books.

The cash-strapped authority is seeking views on which services should be protected as it heads for a budget black hole of £140 million in 2019-20.

The funding gap has arisen from the government’s austerity regime, increased demand for services and rising inflation.

County council leader Roy Perry said: “Although we have been preparing for this challenge for some time, finding these additional savings is inevitably going to be extremely tough.

“This is because we have already made significant reductions in our spending over the last nine years to the sum of £340 million.

“The picture is worsened by the fact that central government revenue support grant funding for Hampshire will cease altogether in 2019/20 – but demand for county council services continues to rise.”

Cllr Perry said the authority had already taken several steps including re-investing in more efficient ways of working and using reserves to meet gaps in funding.

“However, we now have to consider more radical ways of making ends meet, at the same time as protecting vital public services,” he said.

“The Serving Hampshire – Balancing the Budget consultation asks residents and stakeholders to give us their views on a number of high-level, strategic options including potential changes to services, further ways to generate income and potential increases in council tax.

“It is important to stress that at this stage, the county council is not proposing specific changes to services.

“Any proposals will be informed by feedback from this consultation and subject to further, more detailed public engagement.”

The consultation closes on August 21.

Feedback will be used to inform final savings proposals put to select committees and executive members, before consideration by the full county council in October.

The survey can be completed online.

Paper copies may be requested by emailing insight@hants.gov.uk and are also available from libraries in the county.