POLITICAL opposition members were divided over Hampshire’s new budget, as it was revealed that the authority has “the largest” amount of reserves in the country – despite more cuts being pushed through.

Frontbench Conservatives argued at a meeting on Thursday last week the majority of those reserves, which in 2018/19 totalled £645 million – according to Liberal Democrat leader Keith House - were already earmarked for future projects, such as the Botley Bypass.

They added the un-earmarked cash was needed to be “dipped into” when services needed it.

But Lib Dem members argued that some of these cuts, including £13.5 million from adult’s health and care as well as £9.65 million from the economy, transport, and environment department, are being made “too soon” and these reserves could be used to keep them going.

However, former Lib Dem and now Tory councillor Adam Carew argued that “if we spend the reserves, they are gone and gone forever.”

Nevertheless, Lib Dem member Malcolm Wade delivered strong criticism of the governing party.

“We’re not delivering the services that people of Hampshire have been used to, and that is wrong,” he said.

“Councillors are here to improve the quality of life to the people we represent.

“You’re [opposition Conservative members] are part of the problem, not the solution. We wouldn’t be having these cuts if it was not for your government.”

Nevertheless, this point was rebutted by Conservative members, who commended the budget, which will set the second lowest precept in the country – despite the authority covering the third largest area.

The budget was passed with 51 votes against 18, which will increase council tax by 2.99%.

This will generate £18 million for the authority. Councillors say this will aid a bid to save another £80 million by 2021.

From April 5, taxpayers living in Band D homes will now pay out £1,236.87 during the 2019/20 financial year – up from £1,200.96 in 2018/19.

Labour chief Cllr Mike Westbrook said: “This budget falls between two transformation periods and there aren’t many changes that we didn’t already know about following the previous round of cuts, or as the Tories like to call it efficiency of service.

“There’s nothing wrong of course with efficiency, but when you have efficiency after efficiency after efficiency, eventually you become inefficient.

“I have dubbed this the Valentine’s Day massacre budget,” said Cllr House.

“It’s unfair, wrong, and disadvantages vulnerable people.

“It cannot go on like this.”

However, recreation and heritage chief Councillor Seán Woodward said: “[From what I have heard from opposition members today] it is certainly not the Hampshire that I recognise.

“It’s not broken or damaged. The Hampshire organisation is very much the envy of other Shire counties across the land.”

Councillor Fran Carpenter added: “This council is well run, prudent with its finances, and plans for the future.

“I think you [opposition members] bury your heads in the sand and don’t offer any alternatives or suggestions.”

Last year the council increased its tax by 5.99 per cent, after central government allowed authorities that funded social care to ask residents for more of a contribution.