UP TO £7.6 million has been approved to plug a forecast gap in the county’s children’s services.

Hampshire County Council’s (HCC) cabinet met on Monday 5 February and approved extra spending for the department for this financial year.

The recommendations come as the number of children looked after (CLA) grows and other areas including agency staff and Home to School Transport face further pressures.

Liberal Democrat opposition Councillor Keith House questioned the adequacy of the CLA services strategy and said, “rather like Northamptonshire,” the council is only authorising essential spending.

Executive member for children’s services Councillor Keith Mans said: “One has to deal with demand in children’s services, you can make an estimate for what it is but if it turns out not to be in line with that estimate, our policy is to ensure we have sufficient reserves to deal with that contingency.

“By adopting a cautious approach, we are in a position to be able to cover any extra costs that may arise. That to me is an example of a responsible council that does its budgeting well and ensures there are sufficient reserves for contingency to deal with things that happen which are often outside our control.”

“One of the areas where our budgeting turned out to be not as good as it might have been was totally outside our control and that was the number of unaccompanied children asylum seekers. That’s just one example but there are others aswell.”

Cabinet also approved recommendations to increase council tax by 5.99 per cent, upping Band D equivalent by £67.86 to £1,200.96 for households.

HCC council leader Roy Perry said he was “reluctant” in doing so but the council had statutory duties to provide, particularly for adult and children’s social care, and has to set a balanced budget.

However, under the plans, services including household waste recycling centres (HWRC), school crossing patrols and community transport schemes, which were facing the axe as part of plans to save HCC £140million by April 2019, could be saved.

Cllr Perry had put forward proposals to stop the cuts, including a charge for older people’s bus passes and a £1 charge for visiting HWRC, but he told cabinet members the money would instead be found through the council tax rise as the government was “not particularly minded to accept” the new charges.

Cllr House added: “To increase council tax, by next year that would have been a 22 per cent increase in four years. Just to do the maths that is £200 for most residents as council tax is a regressive tax. Is this a fair strategy?”

Cllr Perry added that despite the council tax rise, the county’s precept was still likely to be one of the lowest in the country.

The budget report will go to a full council meeting for approval on 22 February.