Cllr Roy Perry is the Leader of Hampshire County Council.
Considering the financial problems currently being experienced in Northamptonshire, the residents of “Com Southton” or “Hampshire” as it is more commonly known can be very happy that they live in the southern county of similar name.
The County Council of Northamptonshire now has Government Commissioners appointed to oversee its finances and has had a Section 114 notice issued which more or less prohibits any uncommitted non-statutory expenditure. The first time that has happened in 20 years. In Hampshire, the County Council will set a Council Tax that is indeed 5.99 per cent up on last year but still less in real terms, measured against inflation, than in 2010 – and will deliver services amongst the best in England. To be precise if the council tax had gone up just in line with inflation since 2010 we would have a tax of just on £1,300 for a Band D authority rather than the £1,200 we propose. A Council Tax amongst the lowest in the country with services amongst the best.
Nevertheless like all county councils we have huge financial pressures largely because of responsibility for social care. With an increasingly ageing population coupled at the same time with a rising birth rate all counties are facing a perfect storm of demographic pressures. More children, more young adults with complex needs and more elderly. In Hampshire there are a thousand extra elderly people over the age of 85 every year.
The pressures on social care often get forgotten alongside the more publicised pressures on the NHS but a home care package can easily cost £400 a week or more whilst residential care can be £800 a week or more. We hope the proposed Green Paper promised for later this year will come up with solutions but in the meantime counties must make their own efforts to deal with the problems.
In Hampshire we plan ahead. We use the advantages of our scale and size to seek economies of scale. We are one of the leaders in the use of modern technology to help in social care. The longer we can sustain people in their own homes, the happier they are and the more economic it is to deliver the service.
Our attempts in 2015 to form a Combined Authority with our Districts and neighbouring unitaries of Southampton, Portsmouth, and the Isle of Wight, were scuppered by the insistence back then of a totally unsuitable elected Mayor. That insistence has gone and we believe that by greater cooperation between all tiers including the parish councils there are huge economies to be made. The think tank ResPublica has presented a report urging a unitary local government structure. That could be a solution – but more efficient partnership working could also keep good services with greater economies.
What is clear is that splitting up large and efficient administrations like Hampshire would not only be difficult, time consuming, and expensive, but it would also lose those economies of scale that make it efficient and economic in the first place. We are ready to work with the neighbouring unitaries but are less happy when they seek to subdivide an efficient county like Hampshire.
In Hampshire we sympathise with the problems of our colleagues in Northamptonshire but urge the Government not to be tempted down the road of “Balkanisation” of local government . Aggregation is always cheaper and easier than disaggregation so why split up successful authorities against their will. Furthermore devolution will be meaningless with authorities of just 400,000 or 500,000 people.