RIVAL councillors clashed over the state of Hampshire’s budget, after civic chiefs claimed that it was in a “healthy financial position”.

But opposition members condemned the report, saying that residents would disagree as the authority continues to slash services.

Currently, the Conservative-run authority has an overall budget of £1.9 billion, but as central government continues to throttle its grants, Hampshire civic leaders say they too have to save cash by reducing spending.

They say they are meeting the “statutory requirements” of services, but opposition members argue the authority should go “beyond the minimum”.

Finance chief Cllr Mel Kendall told councillors: “The council is in a healthy financial position, but it is thanks to the fact that we have been very careful in the way we have managed our cash-flow.

“As council leader (Roy) Perry often says, you can only spend the reserves once.

“We have not fallen into that trap – we will not fall into that trap.”

However, opposition councillors hit back. Lib Dem Keith House said: “The council says it is financially healthy, but residents do not think that, especially with services being cut. Really we all deserve better.” He added that the council’s budget is “based on smoke and mirrors” as it makes “grand announcements”, but this money, he claims, comes as a result of underspending.

But council leader Roy Perry disputed Cllr House’s claim, adding the opposition thinks “there is a magic money tree”.

Winchester Lib Dem councillor Jackie Porter added: “Short term cuts are not the solution. We must go back and ask for more money from the government.”

It comes as the council looks to save £80 million by 2021, after already announcing it would need to find an anticipated budget shortfall of £140 million by April 2019.