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.

But frontbench Conservatives argued that the majority of those reserves, which in 2018/19 totalled £645 million – according to Liberal Democrat leader Kieth House, were already earmarked for future projects, such as the Botley Bypass.

They added that 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 that this will aid its 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.

“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.”

As reported, last year the council increased its tax by 5.99%, after central government allowed councils that funded social care to ask residents for more of a contribution.