Hertfordshire's County Councillors have started planning ahead for next year's budget and early estimates indicate they may have an easier time of managing the purse strings than they did in the current financial year.

But that does not mean it will be plain sailing for 1999/2000, council leaders warned this week.

The council may still face a gap of £11.4million -- between what it needs to spend and the money available.

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The process of setting the budget will take place between November and February next year, but councillors will keep a close eye on finances all year around.

A report on early estimates for next year was presented to the policy committee recently to help councillors plan for the future.

The £11.4million gap predicted between what the council would need to spend to maintain services and what will be available, takes into account inflation and pressures on services like growing numbers of children to educate and old people to care for, according to the policy committee report.

The gap councillors faced in setting this year's budget was £27.2million.

Figures are estimates based on the current system of Government funding for councils, which is being reviewed and could affect how much grant the county gets or how much it can raise through council tax.

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