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 and underspend.

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.

However, they say they are meeting the “statutory requirements” of services – but opposition members countered by asking why the authority doesn’t go “beyond the minimum”.

Speaking at Full Council, finance chief Councillor Mel Kendall, pictured above, said: “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 over the years.

“As council leader [Roy] Perry often says, you can only spend the reserves once and then you will still have the same problem the following year.

“We have not fallen into that trap – we will not fall into that trap, as long as your current Conservative administration is in place.”

Nevertheless, the opposition side of the council chamber vocally disagreed with Cllr Kendall.

“The council says it is financially healthy, but residents do no think that, especially with services being cut,” said Lib Dem Councillor Keith House, pictured right.

“Really we all deserve better.”

He added that the council’s budget is “based on smoke and mirrors” as it makes “grand announcements” about , 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”.

“Whilst the Lib Dems and Labour both recognised the difficulties we as a council face, they did not seem to offer any solution,” he said.

“Lib Dems and Labour still think there is a magic money tree.

“They would clearly clean out the reserves if they ever got the chance and then where would we be?

“Fortunately in Hampshire we use our stable and sound finances to give us time to adjust our programmes.”

Lib Dem Jackie Porter added: “Short term cuts are not the solution.

“We must go back and ask for more money from the government. The real challenge is to get the money that we deserve.”