THE blame game was played as Winchester civic chiefs clashed over why the city council’s budget is £825,000 in the red.

Tory finance spokesman Cllr Keith Wood called it “an emergency” but denied his party had mismanaged the books.

Falling income from parking and planning fees was to blame, he said, but opposition Lib Dems disagreed.

At the full council meeting at Winchester Guildhall last Wednesday (September 28) they said the Conservatives were at fault.

It comes after the budget put forward by the Lib Dems in February, before they lost control of the council, was defeated.

In a dramatic move, the Tories, backed by Independents, replaced it with a heavily modified version.

It included scrapping Sunday parking charges, which Tory leader Cllr George Beckett said was welcomed by both shoppers and traders.

He added that his party’s alternative budget, which also shelved kerbside glass collection, was balanced when it was voted through.

However, since February the council has collected less income from parking charges and planning fees than expected, the meeting heard.

Cllr Wood said: “Had the Lib Dems been in charge they’d have exactly the same problems balancing the budget as we do.”

He added: “This is an emergency and we’ve got to find the money from somewhere to balance the budget.”

He also said: “We are having difficulties finding areas to make savings but we’re determined to finish the year with a balanced budget.”

Exact proposals on how to plug the deficit are yet to come forward, although it might include “vacancy management”, councillors heard.

Under such a scheme, vacant posts could be left empty for longer, or sometimes not filled at all.

Lib Dem leader Cllr Kelsie Learney said: “Vacancy management might sound innocuous but what it means is that the council will be doing less.”

She then attacked the Tories’ financial management and accused them of “papering over the cracks” at the authority.

Cllr Wood said the council faced a similar deficit last year while the Lib Dems were in charge.

He added that the difference that time was that the Tories put forward solutions, while the Lib Dems were suggesting none.

Further details about how the council will balance its books are expected to become public in the coming weeks.